A trio of Deephaven businessmen, acting as a team, are staging a write-in campaign in next week’s election against three otherwise unopposed City Hall incumbents.
The write-in hopefuls in the small Lake Minnetonka city launched their campaign in September under the slogan “Save Deephaven,” criticizing elected officials’ handling of a variety of issues.
The three have held meetings in parks, distributed yard signs, launched a website and been active on social media.
“I would say there’s very much of a grassroots groundswell for our candidacies,” said Jim Friedlander, who’s running for mayor. “We’ve done a pretty good job of getting our names and our message out.”
Write-in campaigns are rare but not unheard of. A Farmington City Council member won as a write-in candidate two years ago, and a Falcon Heights City Council member served several terms after winning a write-in campaign in 2005.
Friedlander, a 23-year Deephaven resident and an accounts director for a medical device company, is challenging Mayor Paul Skrede, who first won elective office in 2002.
“It’s not uncommon to see somebody run for a council seat with minimal to zero experience,” Skrede said. “It’s fairly unique to see someone walk in and want to be the mayor.”
The Deephaven Three said they didn’t plan to run as a group; in fact didn’t even all know one another before running. Residents urged them separately to do it, they said.
“It was like a blind date,” said J.D. MacRae, an architect and third-generation Deephaven resident. He and Lynn Hooper, a real estate broker and 30-year resident, are running for two at-large City Council seats against incumbents Steven Erickson and Kent Carlson.
By campaigning as a threesome, “they’re basically running as a built-in quorum,” said Council Member Melissa McNeill. If all three are elected, they would outnumber her and the other council member, she said, and “my vote no longer counts, basically.”
Skrede agreed that the partnership gives the write-ins an advantage: “If Steve and Kent and I teamed up like that, we wouldn’t even be able to have a strategy session without breaking the open-meeting law.”
The current council members said the trio lack experience in city government and aren’t well-informed about its procedures. The write-in candidates cite their professional experience in business, architecture and real estate.
A catalyst for their run occurred in February, when the owner of a local nursing home applied to relocate to a different part of town. Because the new site was not zoned for nursing homes, the move required redesignation and a change in city code. The council declined, saying it would set an unwanted precedent.
“That was my watershed moment,” Hooper said. The city should not have “dragged everybody through that, including the nursing home people, rather than just say no” in the first place.
Skrede said that might have been possible if the owner had approached the city first. But once he submitted an application, “you have to go through the process before you can deny it.”
The write-in challengers then were angered when the council granted a variance to a homebuilder over neighbors’ objections. The council hands out variances “like they’re candy on Halloween,” MacRae said. Erickson said they’re often necessary because of residential lot differences.
If the challengers win, Skrede said, they might be surprised by what’s required of them. “If you walk in cold as a council member and you think you’re going to turn the world around on a dime and it doesn’t happen, you’re there for four years,” he said.
In 2018, contractor Joshua Hoyt was a write-in candidate for the Farmington City Council and beat out six opponents on the ballot to win a council seat. He ran to protest the council’s dismissal of the police chief.
In 2005, attorney Pam Harris ran as a write-in candidate for the Falcon Heights City Council and not only won but went on to serve several terms. The year before that, a 17-year-old girl was a write-in candidate for mayor of St. Marys Point and got 20% of the vote — and an interview with TV host Jimmy Kimmel.