For Doug Mann’s mayoral campaign, the most important date looming on the calendar isn’t a debate or rally, it’s a hearing.
The long-shot Green Party candidate aims to get a question on the November ballot seeking voter approval for the use of city funds on a new Vikings stadium — just as the city charter requires for sports stadium subsidies greater than $10 million. The stadium bill signed in May 2012 by Gov. Mark Dayton sidestepped that charter provision, but Mann maintains the plan violates the state constitution.
Mann petitioned for a writ of mandamus in July, and Hennepin County District Court Judge Philip Bush scheduled an Aug. 20 hearing. In a statement issued two weeks before the hearing, City Attorney Susan Segal reiterated the city’s position that “the legislation can and did override City Charter provisions relating to stadium funding.”
City Council Member Cam Gordon [Ward 2], who was on the losing side in the 7–6 vote that dedicated some local taxes to the stadium, said the legislature probably “crafted a design that will hold up in court,” but said having a judge examine the issue was “worthwhile.”
Should Mann prevail, “there will be a lot of people who hate his guts and a lot of people who admire him,” predicted David Tilsen, a former Minneapolis School Board member and longtime acquaintance.
“Those are the kind of things that put people on the map,” Tilsen added.
Mann’s name already should be familiar to some voters. He has run eight times for School Board, advanced several times to the general election, but never won. He entered the 2005 Ward 8 City Council race, but finished near the bottom in a 10-way primary.
“What keeps me at it is I’m running for a cause,” Mann explained recently in an interview. “Running for office has been a vehicle to promote an agenda — a social justice agenda, essentially.”
As he has in his School Board campaigns, Mann plans to make the city’s racial disparities a focal point.
Mann, 56, is a licensed practical nurse employed for the last year-and-a-half by New Millenium Health Care, a company that operates two local group homes.
He grew in St. Paul Park, a small town on the Mississippi River about five miles from St. Paul that today is wedged between the larger suburbs of Woodbury and Cottage Grove. He was the second oldest of four children, with one older brother and two younger sisters.
In the ’60s, when Mann was still a child, his parents were active in the civil rights movement, even traveling to the South to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s effort to register black voters. The organization’s “Freedom Rides” were often met with protest, sometimes violent.
“One fairly vivid memory I have is when they gathered myself and my siblings together and told [us] they were going down to Mississippi and we’d be staying with friends who had agreed that if they didn’t come back, you know, they would adopt us,” he recalled.
Their example rubbed off on Mann, who started raising issues like school desegregation and the enforcement of fair housing and employment laws in the classroom.
“I was advocating at the age of 10, 11, 12 what I’m still advocating today,” he said.
Focus on discrimination
In his campaigns for School Board, Mann has repeatedly argued district practices concentrate low-income and minority students in less rigorous classes — what he calls “watered-down curriculum tracks” — and in schools with less experienced teachers. It’s a point he raised again in his campaign for mayor.
“He was kind of a pain in the [butt], but he was right a lot of the times,” said Tilsen, who also pointed out the Minneapolis mayor has little say in district policy.
“What can the mayor do except meet with the superintendent?” he asked.
If elected, Mann, who identifies as a socialist, plans to beef-up the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, expanding its powers to root out discrimination by local employers. The department’s complaint investigations program was allotted about $730,000 in the city’s 2013 budget; Mann would budget “millions of dollars annually” for investigations, he said.
He would also expand the powers of the Office of Police Conduct Review, which reviews police misconduct claims and can recommend various actions, including investigation.
Under current plans, completed investigations are to go to a panel made up of two officers and two civilians, who will review the findings and recommend action to the chief. Mann proposed an all-civilian panel with a say in any disciplinary actions, decisions now in the hands of the chief alone.
And although drug laws are a matter of state and federal policy, Mann said he would advocate for legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of other drugs as mayor, and work with the police and city attorney’s office to “relax drug law enforcement.”
Debra Ramage, a supporter who has known Mann for three decades (and even dated him for a few years early on), called him “one of the most capable and principled activists I’ve worked with.”
Ramage and Tilsen are both members of the Minneapolis Farmer-Labor Association, a small, recently formed, independent political group positioned to the left of the DFL. Based on his answers to a questionnaire, the group gave Mann an “A” rating, the highest of any candidate except for City Council Member Gary Schiff, who dropped out of the race in June.
“We see his candidacy as a way to force people to think about and talk about these ideas,” Ramage said.
Still, they both acknowledge the long odds facing Mann. Even the candidate, noting he’d just come off of a 2012 School Board campaign, said he “preferred someone else step forward” from the Green Party, but joined the race when it was clear no other Greens would.
Tilsen said Mann “will get one of [his] three votes” come Election Day, when Minneapolitans use ranked-choice voting to select a mayor for the first time. Still, if he was limited to one choice it might not be Mann, Tilsen added, “because I don’t know how much of a chance he has.”
Ramage said she planned to vote for Mann, but added: “I’m also hedging my bets and I’m doing some work for the Betsey Hodges campaign.”
At a glance: Doug Mann
Profession: Licensed practical nurse
Family: Mann is married but lives separately from his wife, Linda. They have a son, David, 22.
Education: Practical nursing and associate of arts degrees from Minneapolis Community and Technical College; holds a legal nurse consultant certificate
Fun fact: Mann reads books in six different languages (besides English): Swedish, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and German.