'Minor' mayoral candidates determined to be heard

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October 2, 2013
By: Michael Rietmulder
Mayoral candidate Captain Jack Sparrow.
Michael Rietmulder
The under-the-radar mayoral candidates are finding creative ways to get their message out

As downtown Minneapolis workers were beginning their end-of-day commutes, a small, hodgepodge crew quietly assembled on the Government Plaza last month. The six men convening under the shade of the Hennepin County Government Center had very disparate resumes — a street musician, a former ad man, a University of Minnesota grounds worker and an “Occupirate” stood among them. But they are all seeking the same job.

“I’m Merrill Anderson, the next mayor of Minneapolis,” chimed one of them during the meeting’s opening minutes.

The open consortium of candidates vying to replace Mayor R.T. Rybak calls itself the Mayoral Council and gathers every Wednesday to coordinate outreach efforts and support each other’s campaign principles. Its bespectacled ringleader Bob “Again” Carney Jr., a perennial candidate pushing a “transit revolution,” said by banding together they are better able to get their voices heard.

With nearly three dozen candidates aspiring to be the next City Hall head honcho, being heard amid the talking-point cacophony isn’t a given — especially for those with limited resources who aren’t considered top-tier candidates by the media and debate organizers. Some of these dark horse mayoral hopefuls are using methods as variegated as their platforms to try to create awareness of their campaigns.

The “Occupirate,” Captain Jack Sparrow, didn’t intend to campaign in full pirate garb when he threw his buccaneer’s hat into the race. He previously adopted the “Pirates of the Caribbean” character’s name and fashion sense while rallying with the Occupy movement, but after it scored him some press he decided to run with it. “It draws attention to the fact that you have to do something really bizarre or outlandish or have money to get noticed,” said Sparrow, Carney’s first mate in the Mayoral Council. “It shouldn’t be that way. I shouldn’t have to wear a pirate costume. I shouldn’t have to have money. It should be based on my ideas.”

Those ideas include placing homeless people in vacant foreclosed homes and increasing the checks and balances system in the police department.

Another candidate, airline luggage handler Jeff Wagner, made a splash with a viral campaign video last month, which was picked up by the national media and has generated more than 576,000 YouTube hits. The minute-long video (which cost $100 to make) shows Wagner in a bathing suit emerging from a lake and shouting at the camera, “Wake the [expletive] up!”

“Love it or hate it you’re going to share it on social media,” he said.

Wagner, who supports renters’ rights and admits to suffering from bipolar disorder, said he’s planning a similarly edgy music video urging voters to make him their second pick under Minneapolis’ ranked choice voting system. He acknowledges his approach might turn off “grandma and grandpa,” but said he isn’t concerned about being too controversial. “I might be eccentric, but I think that’s what the people need,” he said.

Kurtis Hanna is a lot of things: an activist, a waiter, a window cleaner and a Rastafarian to name a few. But admittedly, he’s not the most experienced fundraiser. By necessity, the Pirate Party candidate (no connection with Sparrow’s swashbuckling) has relied on thrifty means of self-promotion. In lieu of campaign literature, he said he stays active on social media, trying to “create a new narrative” on the impact of government surveillance and individual privacy — two cornerstones of his platform.

Hanna has also leveraged his ties within the activist community to raise awareness of his mayoral bid, coordinating with Occupy Minnesota, the Minnesota Pirate Party and Minnesota NORML, a marijuana law reform group in which he serves on the board of directors, he said. He also recently won the Libertarian party endorsement. “It’s very much a campaign that’s lodged within these various organizations,” the Whittier resident said.

Despite this year’s extensive candidate buffet, Tom Fisk, a campaign volunteer for Tony Lane of the Socialist Workers Party, said getting their message out hasn’t been any more difficult. If anything, the wide field makes people realize that there are major party alternatives, he said.

One of the most effective ways their campaign has connected with voters is good old fashioned door-knocking, Fisk said. “When we go door to door we campaign in a very deep way,” he said. “We’re not able to canvas the entire city, but we develop discussions.”

Through all their differing philosophies and outreach tactics, many outsider candidates boast that they are raising issues others are not. Win or lose, perhaps Mayoral Council affiliate Mike Gould said it best during that Wednesday meeting last month: “We don’t want our campaign to be in vain.”