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September 8, 2005
Minneapolis, Minn. — Dave Bicking was so upset that R.T. Rybak and Peter McLaughlin supported the new Twins ballpark that he decided to seek the DFL endorsement for mayor himself. He walked into the DFL convention last May with the hopes of encouraging others to withhold endorsement for Rybak and McLaughlin.
"When I spoke at the DFL city convention, I really felt that I was speaking to some issues that people were not hearing addressed from their leaders in the DFL," Bicking said. "There was some tremendous response to that."
Bicking failed to get the endorsement, but so did Rybak and McLaughlin. Bicking is now running for city council, not as a DFLer but as a member of the Green Party. He says he left the DFL party because McLaughlin, Rybak and other DFLers support public money for stadiums.
"It served for me, and I think for other people, as a symptom of a much larger problem in this city," Bicking said. "When our leaders are neglecting public opinion on an issue that is so public one wonders who are they working for. Who are they listening to? And what's going on in all of the other issues in city government that the public can't pay attention to?"
Stadium politics are nothing new in Minneapolis. In 1997, Minneapolis voters approved a charter change that would forbid the city from spending more than $10 million on a stadium without voter approval. Green Party mayoral candidate Farheen Hakeem is hoping voters are as angry about the stadium issue now as they were then.
Hakeem has been telling voters that she's the only major mayoral candidate who's opposed to using public money for a new ballpark. At a debate last month, Hakeem said she'd prefer to see the money go to other priorities.
"It was so difficult for me to justify $350 million being given to this when I see our schools failing," Hakeem said. "One of the arguments for the stadium is the creation of jobs, that it was going to create more of these jobs. But what you realize is that $350 million could create so many more jobs in public schools."
Hakeem's idea isn't that simple. State lawmakers and Gov. Pawlenty have to approve any new local sales taxes, and a sales tax increase for schools is unlikely. The stadium proposal is attractive to several state lawmakers because it pays for a ballpark without using state money.
The plan would increase sales taxes in Hennepin County by .15 percent. The county would pay $353 million for the downtown Minneapolis ballpark and other improvements. The Twins would kick in $125 million.
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who's running for mayor, voted for the sales tax increase. He likes the proposal because Minneapolis residents aren't the only ones who will pay.
"You have all of the people in Hennepin County paying but there are lots of people who either shop in Hennepin County or work in Hennepin County who don't live here and they'll be contributing to this stadium as well," McLaughlin said. "It really does spread the economic burden pretty broadly."
McLaughlin and Rybak say a new ballpark would boost bar and restaurant business in the Minneapolis warehouse district and keep jobs in the city. Rybak opposed public funding for stadiums when he ran for mayor in 2001. He reversed course after he was elected. Rybak says he supports the ballpark proposal but would also like to see sales tax money go to other needs.
"People have a tough time with this because of the priorities," Rybak said. "They hate to see things that they love and that are more important cut at a period of time when we're doing a ballpark. I agree with that so let's build a ballpark and let's not stop there. Lets create a regional funding strategy that lets us do transportation, public health and public libraries and affordable housing and some of the other needs that a great region really needs."
Both Rybak and McLaughlin say they want Gov. Tim Pawlenty to call a special session on the issue. They both also oppose a countywide voter referendum on the tax increase. With both democrats in the race in favor of the stadium plan, Farheen Hakeem hopes the anti-stadium vote will go to her on Tuesday night. The top two finishers in the primary will move on to the November general election.