The second and last Candidate Forum for At Large Commissioner was held on October 20, 2017. The June 1 forum featured 5 candidates, one of whom (Scott Vreeland) dropped out of the race after getting less than 20% support at the Minneapolis DFL Endorsing Convention in July. At the second forum 9 candidates were expected and 8 showed up. The 3 DFL endorsed candidates Londel French, Russ Henry, and Devin Hogan, along with incumbent DFLer Meg Forney were joined by Green Party endorsed LaTrisha Vetaw, Republican Party endorsed Bob Sullentrop, Jonathan Honerbrink (GOP), and golf nut Charlie Casserly. The unexplained absence of phantom DFL candidate Mike Derus may have been fallout from the ham-handed attack ads aimed at the DFL endorsed Henry, Hogan, French juggernaut by Save Our #1 Parks Committee, a PAC organized by current MPRB Commissioners Wielinski, Tabb, and Erwin. When you follow the money in Derus’ campaign, the influence of the Conservative-wing of the local DFL is clear. Can Brian Rice be far behind? Not likely. Nor it seems is Steve Minn, the developer and lobbyist behind the right-wing Minneapolis Works PAC, significant contributions to Derus have come from the Minn family. Here’s the flyer put together by conservative DFL hit squad and distributed by Southside Pride.
This sad example of negative campaigning by current and former MPRB Commissioners turning on candidates endorsed by their own party must be taken as an example of sour grapes, defense of the neo-liberal status quo, and the politics of division. In no way should it be considered truthful or accurate. I did not include a photo of the back of the flyer because I did not want to spread the negative information included. A question about the flyer and the hastily formed PAC responsible for it was asked at the forum, but unfortunately only of the second panel of candidates; Hogan, Vetaw, Honerbrink, and Henry. So Meg Forney, endorsed by the PAC, and Londel French, a target of the hit piece, did not get an opportunity to respond to the unsubstantiated claims made by the conservative DFLers, their GOP supporters, and the current MPRB Commissioners on the flyer. The good news was that Devin Hogan, Russ Henry, and LaTrisha Vetaw got a chance to speak to the issue. Vetaw defended accepting contributions from current and former MPRB Commissioners, citing Annie Young. Hogan and Henry received donations from Commissioner Brad Bourn. Focusing on which Commissioner gave money or endorsements to which candidate misses the point, I think. The problem here is that a PAC, organized and controlled by current MPRB Commissioners, attacked the candidates that have been endorsed by their own party. I suspect that Vetaw was included in the flyer because they needed to endorse 3 candidates for the 3 at large seats, and the old guard was so soundly trounced during the campaign that they are out of options. That is not intended as a slight of LaTrisha Vetaw. She did very well at the forum and deserves endorsement by organizations that are serious about parks and their role in the health of Minneapolis residents. The Save Our #1 Parks Committee does not meet those standards. It is clear that the primary purpose of the PAC is to divide opposition to conservative, Rice and Minn – funded candidates, and save their privileged, neo-liberal control of the MPRB. It was unfortunate that Vetaw was caught up in their political games.
Beyond the negative attack ad and the no-show by Derus, the future of Hiawatha Golf Course was a major part of the forum, even though none of questions addressed it. Charlie Casserly and Bob Sullentrop had little to say that was not about saving the drowned golf course. I was stunned when I found that Sullentrop was endorsed by the GOP, or any political party. He started his clueless performance by telling us that he was running for MPRB because it was a part-time job and did not seem to require much effort. It was downhill from there. He was unaware of major programs run by the MPRB, such as childcare and the Urban Agriculture Plan, while claiming that the impending shut down of Hiawatha Golf Course was the “biggest catastrophe” facing the Minneapolis Parks system. If he has any shred of respect for our city or our parks, he’ll drop out of the race as soon as possible. The main beneficiary of Sullentrop’s half-hearted attempt to be a viable candidate was Casserly. Next to Sullentrop, Casserly sounded more reasonable, even though he added little to the conversation beyond golf. But when you listen carefully to Casserly, his answer to every question was to enhance MPRB outreach, yet had few ideas about how that might be accomplished. His suggestion that Minneapolis Park Police should corral their horses in their backyards was laughable. If any one reading this article supports saving Hiawatha Golf Course, I urge you to consider voting for Jonathan Honerbrink. He supports the cause and managed not to look foolish when he discussed other topics. The only other candidate to address the golf course issue was Russ Henry and he was against it.
Questions about how to reduce costs for childcare and increase services at the parks, as well as the future of the Park Police, were put to both panels. Devin Hogan reiterated his idea to transform the Park Police into Park Rangers. Londel French underscored the huge differential in funding for Park Police and Park Programming, roughly 2:1 in favor of the police. He, Honerbrink, Vetaw, and Henry described the rude and disrespectful ways the Parks Police interact with people in the parks, particularly people of color in the parks. Despite Sullentrop’s conclusion that the Park Police do not need to change because they are doing a good job, most candidates agreed that some kind of reform is needed.
I edited the forum content to collate it by candidate. Taken together, these 8 videos present the entire forum. There was no back-and-forth between candidates, so nothing was lost by reorganizing the content. In fact, putting the responses for each candidate together gives potential voters a better opportunity to compare and contrast the candidates. Here are the links:
LaTrisha Vetaw – Green Party Endorsed
Devin Hogan – DFL Endorsed
Russ Henry – DFL Endorsed
Londel French – DFL Endorsed
Meg Forney – DFL Incumbent
Jonathan Honerbrink – GOP
Bob Sullentrop – GOP Endorsed
Charlie Casserly – Golfing Gadfly
Mike Derus – Phantom Candidate