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Mayoral Candidate Check-Writing

Mayoral Candidate Check-Writing

The drive for campaign dollars is heating up in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Businesspeople are evaluating their donation strategy.

Wide-open mayoral races on both sides of the Mississippi River mean an increase in campaign solicitations for executives in Minneapolis and St. Paul. While some are contributing to specific candidates, others are writing checks to political action committees (PACs) for business associations.

“My expectation is that we will support multiple mayoral candidates,” Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, tells TCB.

He anticipates the Downtown Council’s PAC will give contributions to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and competitors Tom Hoch and Jacob Frey. In effect, the Downtown Council is hedging its bets. “The mayor’s race is very competitive,” Cramer says. “It’s more like when a longtime mayor steps down than a one-term incumbent seeks reelection.”

While the Downtown Council does not make candidate endorsements, Cramer says “providing financial support” is viewed as a “tacit endorsement.” That goes for the mayor’s race and City Council contests. “The stakes are really high on the council side,” he notes, where he characterizes “left-leaning” incumbents are being challenged by candidates who are “much further left.”

The Downtown Council has expressed strong concerns over crime downtown and economic policies, such as a city minimum wage, that would create an uneven playing field.

In both cities, ballots will feature ranked choice voting, so the municipal races are much different than state or national contests that emphasize a few major-party candidates. Instead of narrowing candidate fields through endorsing conventions and primaries, most “candidates are looking to the November election, and that is a lot more expensive,” says Elizabeth Emerson, director of government relations at St. Paul-based Goff Public.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman will be leaving office after 12 years, and many candidates want to succeed him. Instead of focusing exclusively on ideological purity, Emerson says, she advises business clients to think about making contributions to candidates “who might be the most effective in office and who have the best chance to win.”

Emerson also suggests there may be safety in making contributions to business PACs, such as the Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Council: “No business leader wants to be associated with investing to defeat an incumbent and be wrong.”

—Liz Fedor