About that Minneapolis DFL Convention: No Way to Pick a Mayor

17 Jun

Full disclosure: I am a supporter of Betsy Hodges for Mayor of Minneapolis. These are the views of someone who was at Saturday’s  Minneapolis Convention as a supporter and who worked as part of the campaign floor team. But I am also someone who has attended many a DFL Convention, has worked for DFL endorsed candidates and has never worked for someone running against a DFL endorsement.   I am a party officer, representing the party on the Democratic National Committee. I became involved in the party working on campaigns and feel the integrity of the processes we follow is essential to encouraging those not involved to become involved.

There is, as one would expect, a lot of chatter in the political class about Saturday’s Minneapolis DFL Convention.  The convention adjourned after fourteen hours with no endorsement after a quorum call made before the fifth ballot showed that there were not enough delegates left at the convention to make one. Given that the mayoral campaigns had been gearing up for the convention for months, it is understandable that delegates and candidates alike left disappointed that the ultimate prize—the DFL endorsement—was not won by any of the DFL candidates at Saturday’s convention.

But what became clear as the convention wore on, was that two strong frontrunners emerged and that the delegate support was so close that neither would be able to persuade enough supporters of the other candidate to reach the 60% necessary for the party to endorse.

While candidates and campaigns have had the opportunity to express their opinions about the end result and how it came about, so far we haven’t heard much about the problems of process with the convention itself.  That is my focus here.

Conventions should be transparent, without unnecessary delays, unifying and, above all, without even a hint of bias.  On this, Saturday’s convention failed.

Party process must be inclusive and trusted

The party and its conventions should demonstrate inclusiveness and unity.  If a delegate goes into a convention supporting a candidate and that candidate drops or withdraws, it cannot feel inclusive to see a minority of the convention then insult that candidate. That is exactly what happened on Saturday to the candidate who had a strong third place finish on the first ballot, City Council Member Gary Schiff. Frankly, I’ve never seen a competitive DFL candidate, intending to withdraw from the process, be denied the right to briefly address the Convention to make that announcement. Although some press reports say that Schiff had not reached the 20% threshold to stay on the third ballot, that is incorrect.  Schiff was voluntarily withdrawing from the third ballot, and allowing a candidate in that circumstance to address the convention is done routinely at conventions as a matter of course.

But on Saturday, this noncontroversial request devolved into an hour and a half fight over suspension of the rules to allow council member Gary Schiff to speak. Although the vast majority of convention delegates (including many Andrew supporters) voted to allow Schiff to speak, the third hand-counted vote showed the motion fall just shy of the 2/3 needed for a suspension of the rules.  Again – neither I nor anyone I know who has attended DFL conventions has ever seen anything like this.  And it took an hour and a half, delaying a third ballot into the early evening.   All this just to silence a three-times DFL-endorsed sitting city Minneapolis council member.

An inclusive party cannot afford even the appearance of bias

It is detrimental to the DFL when any candidate or campaign can reasonably question whether a person making extremely important decisions at a convention is truly impartial. It was inappropriate that two of the four convention chairs were public supporters of Mark Andrew. In fact, it is standard practice for most DFL conventions to be chaired by disinterested party leaders from different jurisdictions.  Before the convention, reasonable requests were made that convention chairs be publicly neutral on their opinion in the mayor race.  These requests were ignored. This one is particularly hard for me because Convention Co-Chair Rick Stafford is a friend.  I’ve known him for years and, while I do not question his integrity, I’ve seen him wield a convention gavel strongly and sometimes controversially.  All that is fine, but when you combine that with the fact that he is a public supporter of one of the candidates, Mark Andrew, common sense says he should not have been asked to chair and he should not accepted.  The Hodges campaign formally requested that chairs be neutral, and I personally appealed to him well before the convention, as a friend, to do the right thing – to step down so that there wouldn’t even be the appearance of bias.  He refused. He committed to the Hodges campaign manager that he would only chair non-mayoral parts of the convention—a commitment he broke as soon as the convention began.

This is relevant given the role Stafford played in one of the longest delays of the convention: the counting of the third ballot.  The long time it took to count the third ballot, and the reasons behind the delay, are the best example of why many left feeling that the process was inappropriately biased. As results were being tallied, the Hodges campaign noticed significant discrepancies between the precinct ballot counts and how they were being recorded to be reported out. These were immediately brought to the attention of the teller room; subsequently the Convention Chair, Rick Stafford, became involved. Although there was very clear evidence that significant errors had occurred in counting, it took over an hour to get the Chair to even agree to recanvass the precinct totals, a relatively common request.

There was a subsequent discussion with Stafford, who wanted to release the unconfirmed (and ultimately proven to be incorrect ) totals to the Convention.  Those initial numbers (which began circulating through rumours on the floor) showed a 54-44 lead for Andrew.  Once the recount was actually done, it was clear to everyone there was indeed a problem—a very big one.  142 votes were being dramatically misreported because vote totals in over thirty instances were being transposed, with Andrew being attributed Hodges votes and vice versa.  The real result of that third ballot: 48-47. Amazingly, over 90% of errors found were in Andrew’s favor. That final number, however, does not even include one entire precinct that had overwhelming support for Hodges; its numbers were thrown out entirely because somehow the ballots were lost between the first count and the recount.  Lost. Rather than delay the convention further by having that precinct re-vote, they decided instead simply to throw out the entire precinct.

Put yourselves in the Hodges’ campaigns shoes for a second at this point.  The convention chair had been insisting on releasing numbers showing a 54-44 Andrew lead when in reality the confirmed result was 48-47.  Even after a problem was pointed out, he wanted to release numbers that were wrong, numbers that no one could deny would have had a dramatic impact on the mood of the convention.

Although that was the reason for the delay, instead of being transparent about the problem, Stafford chose instead to express exasperation from the podium, framing the delay as being the fault of one campaign questioning the process.  An impartial chair might have said “we want to get the count right and that is what we are doing.” Instead, as  MinnPost reports,  Stafford said from the podium, “Where I get angry is when the campaigns make charges that have no basis in fact or evidence” He seemed to be purposely inflaming the crowd against the Hodges campaign (everyone knew who he was talking about) despite the fact that, having been in the teller room, he was 100% aware that there was evidence of a problem – he had been presented with the evidence.  And, in the end, facts were on the side of those insisting on a thorough count.

Errors in counting happen.  But the integrity of the process demands that we be rigorous, and it should be unquestioned that, if a problem is suspected, that problem will be researched and verified.

These flaws led to a long-drawn out debate and recount caused many delegates to leave as the convention dragged on and people felt increasingly jaded about the process.

A Mayor’s race should not be determined by a torturous war of attrition.

The problems for delegates began before the first ballot. No one should be expected to register for a convention at 10am and only see a first ballot at 2:45pm.  No one should have to commit to being away from their family and personal obligations for twelve hours to participate in the process of choosing a DFL endorsed candidate. And it is simply not realistic to expect people to sit for hours on end, past the point when the convention center even stopped serving food.  Delegates are there because they believe in the party and often to support a specific candidate.  It is the party’s job to make them feel like their time and their energy matters, and that it is an inclusive process. A majority of the convention’s delegates voted with their feet, deciding that there was no way the convention could arrive to an endorsement, or an untainted one.

Looking Ahead: RCV, here we come.

And where does this leave us? First, looking forward to future conventions, we must demand a fair, impartial and efficient process that leaves the choice of whether and who to endorse to delegates and delegates alone. Second, DFLers must come together after a convention that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. While the DFL delegates did not decide to endorse, they did clearly voice support for two strong frontrunners as we head into this next phase of the election. Moving forward, these candidates will need to get out there and expand that support to include people from all across the city, in every neighborhood.

While Saturday’s convention was no way to determine an endorsement, now DFL delegates and the city as a whole will have the next five months to hear from the candidates.  Come November, everyone will have an opportunity, through Ranked Choice Voting, to express support for one or more of the candidates who competed last Saturday and probably a good number more.  May the best vision win.


21 Responses to “About that Minneapolis DFL Convention: No Way to Pick a Mayor”

  1. Erik Hare June 17, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    While we have one Hell of an IRV election coming up, bear in mind that voters will get to pick only their top 3 choices. There will likely be at least 6 people on the ballot, perhaps more. That means that after round 3 some voters will drop off completely. Whoever achieves a “majority” in the process that has been defined will likely not have a majority of the votes cast, even with IRV.
    So a deeply flawed convention is about to be followed by a deeply flawed election – unless something changes fast.

  2. N. Jeanne Burns June 17, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    You make a lot of good points, Javier. But it all assumes that the party nomination matters. When was the last time the city elected anyone outside of the DFL as mayor? That means a DFL party nomination is essentially equivalent to a very small minority of the city picking the next mayor, making an election unnecessary. We should let go of the nomination process and let all the citizens of Minneapolis pick the next mayor. And do something else with the $20,000 and tens of thousands of volunteer hours dedicated to the convention.

  3. longwalkdownlyndale June 17, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    Great points all around but I especially think the “inclusive” argument can’t be stressed enough. Ken Martin gave a big speech about why it’s so important for the party to have an endorsement during the convention. Fair enough, as party chair that’s his job. But for the life of me I wish we could also remember that we have a pretty important election coming up in 2014 too and alienating new people is incredibly counter productive considering they are the people we need to be involved next year.

    If you are involved in the DFL you often are told about how us city dwellers need to do more to reach out people in the rest of the state, don’t say “outstate” say “greater Minnesota” etc. This is correct in a narrow sense, we should work at reaching out to everyone we can, and yes control of the state legislature usually hinges on a small number of rural and suburban swing districts. But at the same time our state goes from overwhelmingly voting for Democrats in presidential election years to electing Tim Pawlenties and Ron Grams during the midterms. Lower involvement by Minneapolis voters and volunteers in midterm elections is no small part of this. We need these new people in 2014, and unfortunately we did a lot to alienate them on Saturday.

    • elarsson June 18, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      Longwalkdownlyndale makes the important point. When you attend the conventions, committees, and caucuses, you get the distinct impression that you are there just for show, while the incrowd makes all of the decisions. That’s great for jerking off the incrowd, but it doesn’t build grass roots activity.

      Lets start holding briefer, action-oriented meetings, while we vote securely online, and get something done.

  4. Betty June 18, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    Javier – Yes the process is fatally flawed, but in this piece you skirted around the fact that your candidate pulled her delegates and staged a walkout. That decision had a tremendously adverse effect on the outcome and the people involved. There are a lot of negative political tools that have been used in the past, and walkout is one of them, but that doesn’t make it right or fair to all concerned; therefore it reflected negatively on Betsy when she bought into that maneuver. I question the wisdom of her advisors introducing old school tactics into a process.
    As to the bias of certain chairs: one solution in future, given the toxic nature of Minneapolis politics, is to recruit chairs from outside of the city for the convention – a procedure which was enacted in this year’s Ward 3 convention.

    • thuginpastels June 18, 2013 at 9:28 am #

      Betty –

      The problem with concerns about parliamentary maneuvers is that often people think they’re brilliant when their own candidate pulls them, a scourge when their opponent does. I understand that it is frustrating that a majority of delegates voted with their feet, which I did mention. But that’s just it. There were no magical pied pipers involved. That could only happen because of the level of frustration people felt at, for example, the “old school” parliamentary maneuver of holding up the convention for an hour and a half for the sole purpose of preventing a three-time DFL-endorsed sitting city council member from speaking for one minute.

      That was quite upsetting to a lot of people, too.


      • Betty June 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

        Javier – At that moment, Gary was not wishing to speak as a council member; he was wishing to speak as a mayoral candidate. I have known other examples where elected officials have been denied access to speak (reference: DFL CC meeting in Robbinsdale earlier this year). Other mayoral candidates weren’t automatically handed the mic when withdrawing. There’s nothing “old school” about that.

        The majority of democrats voted with their feet by not attending caucus or convention in the first place, therefore losing their power by refusing to vote. Those who went through the cumbersome process of becoming a delegate then exiting in the 11th hour before adjournment – whether to let the dog out or to stage a walkout because their candidate was behind in the vote count – also lost their power. It’s hard to spin that into a win. That is not the best advise to give a candidate, IMHO.

      • thuginpastels June 18, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

        Betty, you are not being honest here. Name a convention where a candidate who was vying for the endorsement was not allowed to address the convention – in fact, where an hour and a half rule fight wad undertaken to prevent that. Please. This was extraordinary and it was – just like a quorum call is – a parliamentary tactic. As I said earlier, when it comes to parliamentary tactics people only think they’re brilliant when their candidate uses them and horrible when others do. Just like some people say women candidates should always always be supported, until they happen to be supporting a male candidate. Then that logic goes out the window,

  5. Laurie savran June 18, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    The whole point of the endorsement is to be included in the sample ballot that the DFL puts out just prior to the election. Without the sharing of the costs from the mayor campaign it gets very expensive for the other endorsed candidates

  6. J.L. Vinje June 18, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    Good report Javier. As a former long-time DFL member, this is just the tip-of-the-iceberg of one of many reasons why I left that Party. This kind of behavior has been demonstrated in the past by several Party Chairs … and is just swept under the rug. No one who wants to be involved in politics should have to put up with that kind of behavior.

  7. sota767 (@sota767) June 18, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    After attending my first (and last) ever DFL caucus for ward councilmember a month ago I’m shocked by how ridiculous and drawn out the entire process is. From campaign workers chasing you around asking a million times “Do you know who you’re voting for?”, to scribbling your candidate choice (and name!) on each ballot, multiple indecisive ballots, to easily manipulated hand counting. Complaining about how unfair and cumbersome a process is *that all the candidates wanted* is absurd.

    How to endorse a candidate in one morning:

    1) Each candidate gets a 10 minute speech.
    2) All candidates participate in an hour Q&A session with questions from the audience. Response time is limited to 2 minutes.
    3) All delegates go over to some computers, enter their assigned unique ID, and rank their 1-through-N favorite candidates.
    4) Computer tallies votes, candidate with most votes is endorsed.

    4 hours tops and you get a clear winner. Done. Everyone can go home.

    The system the DFL uses now is like going back to the 1800s.

  8. Chronic Delegate June 18, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Nice post! I’ve been to a bunch of DFL conventions over the years, and I don’t think I’ve ever left one feeling like it was efficient or a good use of my entire day. Unfortunately, while I was a delegate this year, I had to be out of town for work… so I just watched it all unfold on twitter (comfortably from the Ferry Building in San Francisco — much better than from the inside of the convention center).

    There are two things which, if implemented, I’m convinced would exponentially improve DFL conventions:

    1) Recognize that RCV exists, and that it’s possible for the DFL to have multiple worthwhile candidates. So, allow for the endorsement of multiple candidates. That way, both Betsy and Mark would, if decided by the body, be labeled as “DFL endorsed” and the actual election would be decided by the entire electorate, instead of just those people who were able to give up their entire saturday. So, the DFL can focus on labeling candidates which will uphold DFL values, and not on just one person.

    2) Have a time certain adjourning time. Let’s say 3pm. If you haven’t endorsed a candidate in 5 hours, then it would require a 2/3rds vote to suspend the rules to allow for further balloting. Otherwise, by default, we adjourn without an endorsement. And no thinly veiled threats that the central committee could endorse. I would love to be able to sign up for a convention and feel like it’s ok to make evening plans… and not have my day hijacked by a chair who can’t run a meeting. Or by a campaign that thinks their 51% will eventually turn to 60% if we just wait long enough (as happened at my ward convention).

  9. solar bloom June 18, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Corporate-party political mindset, people — what do you expect? Great expose with insightful, concise perspectives for a peripheral observer like myself who does not have an inclination to participate in such sketchy shenanigans, and who gave up on this party twenty years ago for precisely the same reasons outlined here — well done!

    Jeanne Burns, above — your assessment also hit the nail on the head. Couldn’t have said it any better! Think of the substantial assistance that might have been delivered to a bunch of people hurting in our city if all that time, energy, focus and money had gone towards something creative and in service to the citizens. A shame, and one that clearly indicates the priorities of the political strata who are involved in these predictable and unnecessary dramas, year after year after year. Time to walk the walk, friends, time to walk the walk….

  10. 1st timer June 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Several points from a 1st timer:
    1. There were/are 6 candidates and 5 carry strong qualifications. Most delegates expected a “no endorsement” convention.

    2. “No endorsement” is OK per Martin Sabo. Recent examples: Rybak vs. Sayles-Belton, Rybak vs. McLaughlin.

    3. Jim Thomas wanted to speak after his elimination. We denied that request as we did Gary Schiff’s request (even though he had not been eliminated as reported). The concern was an extension of political statements when we wanted to continue voting. Allowing Gary to speak would have opened up the possibility of statements from other candidates.

    4. Rick Stafford seemed fair as he was attempting to move the ballot along.

    5. Betsy instructing her delegation to walk out was poor form – see Strib editorial

    6. The process is antiquated, indeed, like the 1800’s. Verification of delegate status is a problem. The use of computers would help but a cost estimate would probably make that option prohibitive.

    7. RCV would help but most don’t understand/trust the process yet.

    8. As a 64 year old, my 76 year old friend and I choose to bike home at 8:30 before dark.

    9. If a primarily democratic city that went 80% for Obama loses in November to an Independent or Republican candidate, I would be shocked but the party may deserve it.

  11. Betty June 18, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Nice to here from a 1st timer – and I’m hoping she/he will stick around. I particularly agree with points 5 & 6.

    Javier – When you disagree with me it doesn’t follow that I am being dishonest. We will have to agree to disagree. My points are true: Gary was speaking as a candidate, and other examples of elected officials not being handed the mic have occurred.

    Good luck flogging the notion that I only support women candidates. Though my passion is to achieve gender parity, that equation includes all genders. Nice sparring with you. Cheers!

    • thuginpastels June 18, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

      Betty “disagreement” suggests we have a difference of opinion, when here we are arguing different facts. I have said that it is commonplace for a convention to allow a candidate vying for an endorsement to address the convention when s/he withdraws. I personally have seen it countless times, as has everyone I know in DFL politics. You say it has happened before that “elected officials” haven’t been given the mic. Different issue. Are you saying that it is not customary to allow a candidate withdrawing to address the convention? Because I’d love to see the evidence for that assertion. Jim Thomas should have also been allowed to speak. That’s what normal conventions do.

      And can you imagine another scenario where not only is the candidate not allowed to speak but a minority of the convention holds up proceedings for an hour and a half with parliamentary maneuverings all to keep him from speaking and draw out the process? (And, oh yeah, someone even questioned whether he was a delegate!) It was appalling, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

      My point is, you absolutely have a right to be upset with the parliamentary move of a quorum call. Just as others have a right to be upset about the hour and a half orchestrated disrespect shown to a candidate through just as annoying parliamentary tactics.

      And, yes, I know you don’t only support women candidates. That’s the point – because when you do you have used that talking point: “we must support women candidates.” I know. I heard it very recently.

      Consistency is all I’m asking for.

      • Betty June 19, 2013 at 7:31 am #

        Your point is well taken that we argue different facts, and it is understandable that we get appalled by different things.

        I, too, strive for consistency. Here is some of my criteria: When a candidate is female and the most qualified candidate in the race, I go to the wall for her. My first choice is currently for the person I see as most qualified – Mark Andrew – a male candidate who shares my progressive views, has a track record of demonstrated leadership on issues of equality, and is a proven feminist. I know this because we worked together on the same issues when he was chair of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners and I was a legislator. I am less familiar with accomplishments of Betsy, was not approached by her campaign, and the only conversation I had with her several months ago was when she assumed my #1 issue was Dog Parks. (I don’t own a dog).

        There’s still a number of months before the election, so there’s time to become more familiar with both candidates and their stances on important issues of the day. Whether or not there was an endorsement, most candidates likely would have continued on the ballot anyway, which speaks to the irrelevancy of the current DFL endorsing process in Minneapolis. We agree that that needs fixing.

      • thuginpastels June 19, 2013 at 7:54 am #

        Agreement! The endorsement process needs fixing. Cheers and see you on the campaign trail.

  12. Jenny June 18, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Nice post- Thanks Javier. I am supporting Mark Andrew but I have been thinking a lot about the convention process, and am frustrated. I don’t feel like endorsements are representative of my communities (low income, and communities of color). Caucus is confusing- I was not elected a delegate as well as other mostly low income women of color in my ward (5-5) while people who are delegates every year were chosen. Then convention day- there is no childcare- fortunately I was staff for Andrew so I could pay a babysitter for work, but many people do not have this option. Not to mention having to take an entire day off of work to vote, many cannot do this. It is also difficult for elderly or differently-abled people. It is frustrating but I am new to the process and hope some positive changes are made in the future. Also, regarding the Betsy walk out event, I have heard good arguments from both side. My only issue is the deceptiveness- some of my friends were Betsy delegates and said they felt tricked when they were told to go get pizza and didn’t know the campaign was planning to break quorum of they wouldn’t have participated. This is another example of the process favoring those who are deeply involved in local politics- and difficult for those new to the process. Either way- I prefer ranked choice voting and grassroots organizing for the November election so I am happy with the results, let the people decide. Peace- Jenny Belsito

    • thuginpastels June 19, 2013 at 1:26 am #

      Thanks for the note Jenny. I was really happy to see young organizers on most of the campaigns, people who will ask all the good questions about the party process that you make here. When you think about it, the vast majority of people in Minneapolis had no idea we were at the Convention Center on Saturday. There’s something not right about that. We need a more inclusive process.

      I’m also especially glad you wrote because one of the things I hate most about conventions and intra-party candidate contests is that people who are normally friends who work together on issues suddenly start acting like complete asshats to each other. Believe me, I’ve been guilty of it myself. But after years of doing this and experiencing, for example, becoming really close friends with someone who I’d treated like the enemy because we were in opposing camps at some time – well, that made me rethink things. I’m not saying I don’t cross a line now and again, but I try to remain mindful of the long game.

      I wish you well in whatever you take on next.


  13. Lynnell Mickelsen June 19, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    I go to DFL endorsing conventions because:

    a) I’m an active, progressive DFLer;

    b) Minneapolis is currently a one-party town so the DFL endorsing convention is usually the defacto election for city positions.

    c) if only a couple hundred–or a thousand–people are going to decide elections, I’d rather be in that room.

    But I actually don’t believe these things should be decided by a few hundred people. I’d much prefer these things went to general election where a lot more people will weigh in. I think that is far more democratic.

    I wish the convention would have used RCV to narrow the field to the top three candidates and then given all three DFL endorsement/approval or whatever.

    I think the keening over Betsy breaking quorum (and OMG serving PIZZA to people on the sidewalk!!!!) is just drama. Breaking quorum is a time-honored tradition at conventions. I’ve seen it done many times before.

    Of course, I don’t like it when opponents do it and my candidate is then denied an endorsement. But since I have severe misgivings over what DFL endorsements do for the democratic process in Minneapolis anyways, I can’t get too worked up about it.

    If the DFL still wants to put its seal of approval on candidates, I’d rather than gave it to more than one candidate.

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