The next mayor of Minneapolis might be one of two City Council members. It could be one of two former City Council presidents, or a former county commissioner. Or maybe it will be Captain Jack Sparrow. Or the hairy dude who comes striding out of a lake in an online campaign video, points at the camera and promises to stop visiting strip clubs if he’s elected. It’s a weird and wide-open race for mayor this year in Minnesota’s largest city. With no incumbent on the ballot, an exceptionally low candidate filing fee of $20, and the city’s continuing experiment with a novel voting system, the November general election has a whopping 35 contenders on the ballot. “It’s like mayor soup,” said Katherine Milton, a Minneapolis voter and arts consultant who is one of many trying to figure out the city’s “ranked choice” voting system. “It’s like putting together a 5,000-piece puzzle.” The cluttered contest comes at an important moment for this city of 393,000, as its population has begun to shoot up after decades of decline. Popular outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak made himself a high-profile booster-in-chief by luring young professionals and empty nesters with the city’s dozens of parks and lakes, many miles of bike trails, thriving restaurant and nightlife scene, diverse cultural amenities, pro sports venues and legal gay marriage.
After 12 years, Rybak, 57, is calling it quits. That means the first serious test for ranked choice voting, which asks voters to pick a first, second and third choice for the job. Those selections come into play if no candidate gets more 50 percent of the first-choice votes, triggering a series of automatic runoff counts.
That’s put the candidates in an unusual position.
“It’s an unnatural act for a politician to ask to be somebody’s second choice,” said Mark Andrew, a Democratic former county commissioner who’s among a handful of front-runners. “But if people tell me they are supporting someone else, then I ask to be their second choice.”
That dynamic has even led to political opponents – gasp – saying nice things about each other. Betsy Hodges, a Democratic city councilwoman and another leading candidate, has had kind words for Don Samuels, a fellow councilman, and Cam Winton, a Prius-driving, gay-marriage supporting moderate Republican who hopes that ranked choice is his opening in this heavily Democratic city.