Winton: City needs fresh eyes and a back-to-the-basics approach

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June 21, 2013 // UPDATED 5:20 pm - June 25, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

Editor’s note: The Journals have been profiling the self-declared candidates for mayor. This is the seventh profile in our series. We have previously profiled Mark AndrewJackie CherryhomesDon SamuelsBetsy HodgesJim Thomas and Gary Schiff, who dropped out of the race June 19. We will be publishing stories on other new candidates in coming weeks.

Note: This story has been updated to include information on Winton's role in helping raise money for Minnesotans United for All Families. 

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A black Toyota Prius pulls up and stops. On the bumper adheres a “Vote No” sticker, a sign of support for same-sex marriage. The man in the car often speaks about the importance of affordable housing, equality and how much he likes public buses. He works in the wind energy field.

Out of the car steps Cam Winton. He’s a Republican. He’s running for mayor of Minneapolis as an Independent. According to politicos, he’s got a realistic chance of winning the race in a left-leaning city.  

“I think the city is absolutely eager to elect someone who is not part of any political machine,” Winton said in an interview. “I think the city is absolutely eager to elect someone who is offering fresh eyes and fresh thinking.”

After Winton steps out of his car, he stands inside of a pothole, where he holds a press conference with reporters, telling them about how the city has neglected street paving over the past dozen years. He’s got a list of numbers to outline his point, and he’s quoting things like the pavement condition index and explaining the material used to fill potholes.

Winton’s major campaign theme is that he will focus city resources on the basics: boosting road paving and hiring 100 more cops. He’d do so by consolidating 911 services, cutting public art and bicycle budgets and reducing city spending on back room services, he said. He would also consider contracting out some of the city’s work on streets, he said.

“City Hall needs to be in the business of delivering services effectively, and I will get that done,” he said.

Winton also has raised the idea of asking for the Minnesota Legislature to give the mayor the power to appoint school board members, allowing him as mayor to have some ability to reform schools, including tying teacher pay to performance.

Winton, who isn’t invited to all of the DFL mayoral events, has gotten creative in finding ways to attract attention for his campaign.

Along with the pot hole press conference, here’s what Winton has done since declaring a run for mayor in January: Sent letters to the city’s deputy development director calling on more transparency for a subsidized development near the Vikings stadium; held a press conference from a bus going down Nicollet Mall to promote an enhanced bus system over streetcars; and entered into a deep political discussion at a forum with University of Minnesota professor Larry Jacobs.

Jacobs said Winton could surprise people in the race.

“If I were at the track, he would be the guy I would be betting on. At the track you’re looking at long odds and a big return,” Jacobs said. “I am not going to bet the house on it, but he is one of these guys who I think can really surge, particularly if the frontrunners continue to ignore him.”

Meet Cam

Winton grew up a Democrat in Swarthmore, Penn., about 15 miles outside of Philadelphia on the Crum Creek. According to second hand accounts in local newspapers, former Vice President Spiro Agnew called the town “the Kremlin on the Crum” because of its liberal leanings.

In 1999, Winton, then a college student at the University of Pennsylvania, was planning to spend the summer on a backpacking trip with friends.

But two weeks before the trip, Winton broke his ankle. He needed something else to do for the summer, so he got a job on Sam Katz’s Philadelphia mayoral campaign. Katz was a liberal Republican and was running against Democrat John Street in a city that was over 75 percent Democrat.

Katz narrowly lost that election to Street, who took 49.52 percent of the vote to Katz’s 49.12 percent. It was a difference of about 7,200 votes.

“Sam Katz had an ability to unify a coalition across the spectrum behind the notion of being financially responsible and socially inclusive," Winton said. “(He was) pragmatic, problem solving, whatever label you want to put on it. That’s what Sam Katz did. That’s what I am doing here.”

Winton, after working for Katz, spent several years supporting Democrats: Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. He volunteered for the first two and voted for all three — although he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, he said.

Winton moved to Minneapolis in 2006 after finishing law school. His wife, Emily Pryor Winton, is a Minnetonka native, DFLer and attorney for Dorsey & Whitney.

In 2007 and 2008, he served as treasurer on DFLer Ashwin Madia’s campaign against Erik Paulsen in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District. Winton and Madia had been colleagues, attorneys and close friends at Minneapolis law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.

Madia said he and Winton are both fiscally conservative and socially moderate, though he may have closer political views as other mayoral candidates.

“Frankly, there’s probably some of those DFLers that if you went just issue by issue I would probably agree with on more than Cam, but I look at it as, I know him to be honest, I know he works his butt off, he’s smart and he’s a decent guy,” said Madia, who is serving as Winton’s campaign treasurer.

In 2009, Winton was hired by Outland Energy Services of southwest Minnesota. The company serviced wind turbines, which were springing up across the country.  At the same time, Cam and Emily were starting a family. Having children and helping run a company changed some of his political beliefs and during the 2012 election cycle Winton gave $1,000 to the Republican Party of Minnesota, records show.

“It made me realize that certain values I had about living within our means, about enabling individuals to flourish in a private enterprise system, were better represented elsewhere than the Democratic Party as I knew it,” he said. “That said, my commitment to equality has been unwavering. I will go toe-to-toe with anyone on commitment to marriage equality.”

The Wintons, in 2012, co-hosted a fundraiser with Alex and Amy Phung and other neighbors. The event raised over $2,500 for Minnesotans United for All Familes, according to Alex Phung. 

When Winton started as an attorney for Outland, the company was growing and it was his role, he said, to negotiate contracts with utility companies, including Xcel Energy. He also marketed the company to potential clients and wrote and priced bids. 

In November 2012, Outland Energy Services sold to Duke Energy Corporation. Winton said all 120 employees were offered their same jobs in the same locations at roughly the same pay, although some got slight increases and some got slight decreases. All employees also received payouts based on their tenure and position, he said. 

Steve Scott is Winton’s boss. He’s the former president and CEO of Outland, and is now a general manager in renewable energies for Duke. Scott said Winton has a talent for negotiating with clients by relating to big utilities like Xcel as well as tiny wind farms. That was particularly important when Winton joined Outland, because the economy was in a recession, Scott said.

“Cam is the type of person that when the chips are down, you can count on him,” Scott said.

Winton said he does not own any Duke stock and the second half of his bonus for the sale will be paid only if he works at Duke until December 2014. But Winton said he would quit if he is elected mayor, surrendering a “significant” amount of money.

“If I’m mayor, just to avoid even the remotest hint of any impropriety or pressure upon my decision making, I would make sure that I don’t personally own any big electrical utility stocks,” he said.

Minneapolis is negotiating a new utility contract with Xcel. Some would like the city to go the route of municipalized energy, but Winton said he favors a new contract with Xcel that requires the utility to increase renewable energies. He said he would push for a five-year contract instead of a 20-year deal like the city has previously reached.

Chances?

While Minneapolis’s mayoral race is non-partisan and Winton takes the label of an Independent, he doesn’t deny that he is a Republican.

It’s not unheard of for a Republican to win a big-city mayoral race in modern times. Jerry Sanders won two terms in San Diego in 2005 and 2008. Tomas Regalado won Miami’s election in 2009 and is running for re-election this year.

In 2012, 17 percent of Minneapolis voters supported Mitt Romney for president. That means Winton, in a ranked choice voting election, could get at least than many votes on a first ballot. To win, Winton is reaching out to Democrats and Independents and building a coalition.

“I’ve got people from across the spectrum, and that is the type of approach I would bring as mayor to City Hall.”

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At a glance: Cam Winton

Age: 34

Neighborhood: Fulton

Profession: Senior Counsel for Duke Energy, specializes in wind power

Community involvement: Member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, frequenter of Pershing Park with his kids

Family: Wife is Emily Pryor Winton, two children, ages 10 months and 2 years

Education: University of Pennsylvania, London School of Economics and Georgetown Law.

Fun fact: He writes and performs parody songs at his friends’ weddings.

Website: wintonformayor.org

Twitter: @cam_winton

Facebook: facebook.com/wintonformayor