Election 2013: Mayoral Free-For-All, So-You-Want-To-Be-A-Kingmaker Edition.
So, R.T. Rybak, who has been Mayor of Minneapolis for over a decade, announced a couple of months ago that he's not going to run again. Minneapolis city elections (with the exception of school board races) do not have primaries: instead, they use Instant Runoff. So you get the full list of everyone running and get to rank at least your top preferences (I think you're limited to three). Here is FairVote.org's explanation of How Instant Runoff Voting Works -- I'm not going to get into the details here.
Last time around (in 2009) there were 11 candidates. Now, last time, that didn't really matter. R.T. was going to win; Kolstad was going to come in a distant second; everyone else was going to be a footnote. This time, there will be a selection of quite a few serious contenders, and no primary to winnow them down to the top two. When R.T. won the first time, we went into the primary with four serious contenders. This time, there are already way more than four serious candidates, although sifting out the "considering a run" people from the "actually running" people is still pretty confusing. Betsy Hodges, Don Samuels and Gary Schiff are all running; they're all current City Council members. Jackie Cherryhomes is running. (Note: at this time, I would like to formally endorse ANYONE ELSE IN THE RACE. I am not a fan of hers.) Mark Andrew (former Hennepin County Commissioner) is running. Hussein Samatar (school board member) is running. Bob Fine and John Erwin (both Park Board) are both maybe running or maybe they're just considering. Tom Hoch (director of the Hennepin Theater Trust) is maybe running. I am quite sure this is only a partial list.
And I'm only talking here about candidates and potential candidates who have political experience, actual qualifications, a campaign committee, etc. Anyone who files (which they can't actually do until June) and doesn't withdraw will be on the ballot. While some cities have some significant hoops that you need to jump through (a large fee, a petition with some non-trivial number of signatures on it, etc.) I'm pretty sure that Minneapolis makes it easy.
My point here is that the ballot is going to be long. Really long.
DFL endorsements are always helpful to Minneapolis candidates, but this year, the DFL endorsement could be absolutely critical, to help the individual who gets it stand out from the (ludicrously) long list. All or nearly all of these people are Democrats. (Any who aren't, are Greens. Minneapolis Republicans who want to win elections have to pretend to be conservative Democrats. Actually, no, that doesn't work either. Minneapolis Republicans who want to win elections have to move to the suburbs.) The DFL endorsement could easily swing the election.
What this means is that alert Minneapolis residents have the opportunity to grab some seriously out-sized political influence if they act soon, and provided that they are available on April 16th (for an hour or two in the evening) and June 15th (for the entire day).
April 16th is when the Precinct Caucuses will take place. Here's the info page. They'll start at about 7 p.m. The "Ward Caucus and Convention Details" link will tell you where yours is. Go to yours; sign up to be a delegate to the City Convention. (There's a Ward convention, as well, where a City Council candidate will be endorsed; you'll have to do your own research into whether you care about being a delegate to that one.)
It is possible that your precinct caucus will be so well-attended that you'll actually have more people wanting to go to the City Convention than they have delegate slots. I think that in theory, caucus attendees are supposed to vote for delegates when more people want the job than there are slots, but in practice, the people who run the precinct caucuses don't want to deal with that and someone gets talked into agreeing to be an Alternate. Being an Alternate usually works out just fine; since the actual City Convention isn't until June, a lot of people volunteer to be delegates and then don't show up.
If you get a slot, block out June 15th on your calendar: you can't be a kingmaker(/queenmaker) in absentia. The City Convention is on a Saturday. You'll need to be there at about 9 a.m. and it will take the whole day and possibly part of the night. You are allowed to bring your small children but they will find it boring; if you can line up babysitting, you'll want to. (Occasionally, a candidate's campaign will arrange for on-site childcare. Note to candidates: providing childcare -- not just to your own delegates, but to everyone -- sends a powerful and positive message about your commitment to the inclusion of groups that often find barriers to participation.)
Sometime before June 15th, you really will want to pick a candidate.
You'll have lots of help making your choice. I should warn you that if you sign up for this, you are signing up for phone calls. Lots of them. Not because they want to hit you up for money (yet), but because they want you to support them at the City Convention. You may get some initial calls from volunteers, but if you want to talk to the actual candidates before you make up your mind, you will get to. Would you rather receive an e-mail that addresses your particular concerns? The candidates would gladly write to you. Do you want to meet the candidates in person? They would love it if you'd come to their group meet-and-greet but if those don't work out for you, a personal visit can probably be arranged because there just are not that many delegates. (I mean, there are a bunch of them. But there are a lot fewer delegate than there are Minneapolis residents, so that sort of very personal connection is much more manageable when the candidate is campaigning.)
Read their stuff, talk to their volunteers, go to their meet-and-greets, and pick the one you think will be an awesome mayor. Pick a second-favorite and third-favorite, too, and if there's anyone you absolutely, positively DO NOT want to win, you might keep that in mind, as well.
On June 15th, pack a bag of the supplies you would need if you were going to be stranded in the auditorium of a public school for 18 hours with nothing to do but listening to speeches from public officials. When you show up, you'll be offered stickers from all the campaigns; take your candidate's sticker. If you're undecorated, you're signalling that you are still uncommitted, which means you are a ripe, juicy target to be HOUNDED FROM ALL SIDES. (Of course, if you're still undecided, then by all means display your indecision and see what sort of pitches you get; you will have to make up your mind eventually, right?)
Speaking of hounding. If you HAVE picked a favorite, then once you're checked in and have your credentials and so on, take a walk around and look for friends who appear to still be uncommitted. It is FAR more persuasive to get that last-minute pitch from someone you know personally. (Be sure to bring stickers! People feel weirdly obligated once they're wearing a sticker.)
Your candidate sticker (/button/t-shirt) is important for a couple of reasons.
1. It's your admission ticket to the candidate's campaign room. At a city convention, this isn't anything fancy, but there will probably at least be pop and pizza in there, and you can go in and help yourself to snacks between ballots or during the boring parts of the convention.
2. Those stickers tell the campaigns who they need to get messages to. A floor fight at a political convention is a fast-moving, confusing operation, and sometimes they have a very brief period to get critical instructions to all their committed delegates. They can't do that unless they know who you are.
There will be a series of ballots and candidates will get eliminated. When candidates get eliminated, they have an opportunity to request that their supporters throw their support to someone else. You're not obligated by this; you can follow your candidate's pick or go with your own, if it's different. When a candidate drops out, their visible supporters are likely to get pounced on by people hoping to swing them in a new direction. You can play that game as well; you'll be seated in precincts, and you may find that you get to know the people sitting near you pretty well as the day wears on. It's a good opportunity to make a case for your favorite candidate as a fallback for them, if you want.
Anyway. Here's my main point.
In a lot of races, in order to have an impact, you have to commit either a lot of money, or a lot of time. In this particular race, you can commit a small but very specific amount of time and potentially have a huge impact. This is true even if you can't be a delegate (because you're 16 years old, say) -- block off June 15th to volunteer at the City Convention and help run the floor (or help run for pizza, or help buttonhole the undecided delegates...)
You can be the one to make it happen!