A while back I wrote about working on the Saint Paul Planning Commission, and how rare "public comments" become influential in the city planning process. Sending in a brief comment is an example of how to actually create change in city policies. A rare case of effective and easy politics. People can spend hours complaining, meeting, or arguing about land use, development, or transportation, but it will can little difference. On the other hand, sometimes small gestures have large effects. Sometimes a few people sending letters to the city can change an outcome.
The same exact principle holds for the notoriously catty Minneapolis DFL endorsement process, which starts next week. I was talking to a Minneapolis City Council candidate the other day, and he made the following sales pitch for attending the city caucses:
Be one of the few hundred people that will decide the election for the 11,000 people who live in your Ward.
That about sums it up. Precinct caucuses and the DFL nomination can have a large impact on the outcome of a race. For better or worse, DFL endorsements sway fundraising, tilting the scales for local elections with microscopic turnouts. Most of the time, a DFL endorsement decides the race. And only the people who show up to all the painstaking, petty, and tedious caucus rigamarole get to vote for the endorsement. In short, this is a rare times when your lonely voice will be heard.
At least that was my experience during the last Saint Paul city election. In my ward (between Como Park and Rice Street), there was a contested race between an untested challenger, Amy Brendmoen, and an incumbent, Lee Helgen. During the campaign, I ended up liking what Brendmoen was saying and I went to my precinct caucus. My old neighborhood in the North End is working class, and only two or three people ever show up to these kinds of things. So I easily became a delegate, and ended up at the Ward Convention, organizing a few folks to support Brendmoen.
As the evening went on through a few rounds of balloting, the tension mounted in the room. The vote was exceedingly close. Helgen was just a few votes shy of the 60% nomination threshold. There was a bit of contention about the voting process, how exactly you should write the names on the slips of paper. The acoustics in the room were terrible, and hardly anyone could hear the speakers. It seemed like nobody knew what was going on, and the evening quickly became a bit petty. It reminded me of high school, which wasn't helped the fact that it was in a high school cafeteria.
But in the end, democracy was served. Neither candidate achieved the 60% nomination threshold, and Brendmoen went on to narrowly win the election. She's now the City Councilmember in Ward 5, and making decisions for the city. If the DFL nomination had gone the other way, it might have made the difference. At the very least, it would have made defeating an incumbent much more difficult.
The point is that every vote counts in these races. Unless your name is Chad and you're hanging from a Florida ballot, the City Council caucuses are one of the only opportunities where your vote will really count. So few people participate! If you like or hate your City Councilmember, if you support a one of the many great candidates, show it. Go to your caucus next week, and be one of the few voices that will change Minneapolis.
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