On a gorgeous Saturday morning, Lisa Goodman sat alone on a grassy hillside in Bryn Mawr, collecting her thoughts. She was about to go into Anwatin Middle School to deliver a speech about why she should remain the City Council member for the Seventh Ward, which she has represented for 20 years.
Newcomer Janne Flisrand was making her own pitch to delegates and voters inside, touting her community activism and pushing for change within the DFL, a theme that has echoed across the city. Over in north Minneapolis, in fact, a similar debate was going on in the Fourth Ward between another 20-year veteran council member, Barb Johnson, and challenger Phillipe Cunningham, a senior policy aide for Mayor Betsy Hodges.
It was an episode of “Family Feud,” Minneapolis style, that ended in two deadlocked conventions. Goodman got 55 percent of the needed 60 percent of delegates, falling just short of the nomination. It was the first time either Goodman or Johnson failed to get their party’s endorsement, though the dynamics were different.
The Fourth Ward race is more about which candidate better represents the area, incumbent Johnson or Cunningham. The Seventh Ward is a reflection of the millennial push to dismantle the status quo, regardless of philosophical alliances. Flisrand caucused for Bernie Sanders and in her convention speech painted herself as the “true progressive,” a term she mentioned numerous times during the 15-minute talk.
Leaders like Goodman and Council President Johnson, both elected in 1997, “were well suited to issues we faced in the 1990s,” Flisrand said. But those challenges have been replaced with new ones that can best be fought by new faces, she said.
Flisrand ticked all the buzz words: Affordable housing. “Dismantling racist institutions.” Black Lives Matter. She rides her bike to work, grows food in her yard in Lowry Hill and she knits.
So now we have a choice between two women of roughly the same age and race: Goodman, the youngest woman to ever be elected to the council and a former aide to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, and Flisrand, who sees transformational change in heeding the call of a 75-year-old white man who has been in office for more than 25 years.
Be the change.
Goodman began her pitch with a video, which stalled a couple of minutes into the presentation, creating a few awkward moments in the dark. It may have been a fortuitous glitch, however, allowing Goodman to do what she does best — think on her feet and show her keen grasp of the issues.
“Everything does not always go like it’s supposed to,” Goodman said, taking the stage. “A lot like government.”
Goodman then recalled moving to Minneapolis to work for Wellstone (Google him, millennials), a nod to her solid progressive roots, then extrapolated on a litany of successes during her tenure that depicted “action, not just talk.”
She spoke of how she fought against the destruction of a historic house for a parking lot, how she has “spent my entire career working on affordable housing,” successfully getting 2,000 units approved in the past four years. She talked of how she championed the birth of sidewalk cafes and food trucks and fought against discrimination against Section 8 housing residents.
In a conversation after the convention, Flisrand recalled moving into the ward in 1996. There was a Hollywood Video across the street and Goodman was elected a year later. Video stores became obsolete, and now Flisrand is trying to unseat Goodman.
Flisrand has repeatedly said that Goodman doesn’t listen to everybody in the ward. “When I’m calling people, this is where I’m hearing that people are not represented in City Hall,” Flisrand said.
Flisrand’s campaign page lists numerous Goodman votes that might seem inconsistent with a progressive agenda. Reading them, you might think Goodman is against composting and gardens, for example. But the votes listed were always more complicated in real life.
For example, Goodman’s opposition to “allowing community gardens to sell produce to their neighbors” was actually a vote against letting them do it 75 days a year in residential areas, where garage sales are limited to twice a year.
During the convention, when Goodman said that downtown retail could succeed if people thought the area was safe, some people booed.
Yet Flisrand told me essentially the same thing: “It’s time for a vibrant and safe downtown,” she said.
Goodman said the campaign has made her a better candidate, but hoped the party could unite in the end.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t get the DFL nomination because it matters to me,” Goodman said. “But 55 percent is a win.”
“The majority of what City Hall does is nonpartisan,” Goodman added. “There is not a Republican or Democratic way to plow snow. In order for progressives to move forward we need to come together. Beating each other up over who is a darker shade of blue is not changing the game for progressive values.”
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