In Senate District 59, can community activism trump name recognition?

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December 5, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
For Northeast Minneapolis residents, Dziedzic, Wagenius and Ostrow are household names.

Based on name recognition, those DFL candidates have the upper hand in a special primary for the Senate District 59 seat that isn’t likely to have a high voter turnout.

But two young newcomers hope their aggressive campaigning of University of Minnesota students and the large Somali community in Cedar-Riverside will help them upset the three DFL veterans.

Senate District 59 includes all of Northeast, the University of Minnesota area and Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Political followers say the Dec. 6 primary for the seat vacated by longtime Senator Larry Pogemiller is one of the most crowded they’ve seen.

Peter Wagenius is the son of 25-year state Rep. Jean Wagenius, who represents South Minneapolis in the Legislature. He’s also been Mayor R.T. Rybak’s policy director for the past 10 years and unlike his boss, he opposes public subsidies for a Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Wagenius says the Dec. 6 election is referendum on the Vikings stadium.

Kari Dziedzic disagrees. She’s also the child of a longtime DFLer. Her father Walt represented Northeast on the City Council for 20 years. Kari Dziedzic is a policy aide, working for Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein.

She says job creation and education are more important issues for the district.

Paul Ostrow is no stranger to Northeast voters. He served three terms on the Minneapolis City Council, representing the First Ward and also serving as council president for four years.

While Dziedzic picked up many endorsements early in her campaign, getting the support of firefighters, cops and construction workers, a relative newcomer, Mohaumud Noor, has wrangled some important endorsements for himself.

Noor, who ran for school board in the last election, has the support of the teachers union, the professional employees union and Stonewall DFL, which supports GLBT causes. If elected, Noor would become the first-ever Somali to serve in the state Legislature.

Finally Jacob Frey is hoping his community activism will translate into voter turnout in December. A lawyer with the same birthday and originating from the same part of Northern Virginia as Paul Wellstone, Frey has worked pro bono to help North Minneapolis tornado victims and Somali women. He also organized the Big Gay Race, which raised over $30,000 to fight the constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

Peter Wagenius

Age: 40

Neighborhood: Prospect Park resident of 14 years, raised in Minneapolis

Occupation: Mayor R.T. Rybak’s policy director

Education: Bachelors in Political Science, Carleton College

Family: Wife

Endorsements: Rybak, Sierra Club, Council members Cam Gordon, Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels, School Board member Hussein Samatar, among others.

Stance on public subsidies for Vikings stadium: Wagenius said he is strongly opposed to any public subsidies for a Vikings stadium especially at a time when the Legislature won’t raise money for schools, transit, health care and colleges. He said does not support gambling expansion to pay for the stadium either.

Top issues/priorities: Wagenius said he supports a robust bonding bill in 2012 that will put workers back on the job. If the U.S. Congress shuts down the St. Anthony Lock, he will fight for state and federal funds to relocate riverfront businesses so “we can reclaim and restore the riverfront.” Wagenius said integration aid money that helps Minneapolis schools is going to sunset soon, and he will fight to keep race and poverty as factors for school funding formulas.

Paul Ostrow

Age: 53

Neighborhood: Windom Park resident of 23 years

Occupation: Assistant Anoka County Attorney, former Minneapolis City Council member (1998-2009)

Education: Law degree from University of Minnesota, B.S. in Political Science from St. Olaf College

Family: Wife and two children

Endorsements: None as of press time

Stance on public subsidies for Vikings stadium: Ostrow said he could support public funding for a Vikings stadium if it was a fair deal for the state of Minnesota, but he would not support a city or county sales tax. He said stadium financing should be statewide. Ostrow called gambling expansion proposals “morally bankrupt.”

Top issues/priorities: Ostrow supports a 1 percent city sales tax that would generate $60 million for Minneapolis and end the city’s reliance on the Local Government Aid program. That plan would also relieve city of any debt toward stadiums. Ostrow said he would support a “GI bill for teachers,” which would forgive teachers of their student loans. He also supports campaign finance reform that would require all campaign contributions to be reported as well as a ranked-choice election system.


Mohamud Noor

Age: 33

Neighborhood: Noor has lived in the Audubon Park neighborhood since 2009 and has lived most of his life in Minneapolis

Occupation: A former systems administrator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Noor resigned his position because of a federal law that prohibits him from campaigning while working at a job that accepts federal funds.  

Education: B.S. in computer science from Metropolitan State University  

Family: Wife and three children

Endorsements: Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, Stonewall DFL, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers

Stance on public subsidies for Vikings stadium: “I think I’ve made it clear, I do not support public subsidies for a Vikings stadium,” said Noor, who also said he is opposed to a casino at Block E.

Top issues/priorities: Noor said schools need more funding and he supports the state’s request for a waiver to get out of No Child Left Behind. Noor said he would like to see job creation through investments in the green economy as well as partnerships with the University of Minnesota.  He said he would take an active role in health care issues.


Jacob Frey

Age: 30

Neighborhood: Three-year resident of Nicollet Island/East Bank

Occupation: Frey had been an attorney for Faegre and Benson, but had to resign in order to campaign. He was also a professional marathon runner, winning the 2008 Austin Marathon and finishing fourth in the 2007 Pan Am Games marathon in Brazil.

Education: Law degree from Villanova University and B.A. in Government from the College of William and Mary

Family: Wife

Minnesota NOW

Stance on public subsidies for Vikings stadium: Frey said he is “absolutely” opposed any public subsidies for a Vikings stadium. He does not support gambling revenue to help fund a stadium, and he would have to see specific plans before he could support a Block E casino that generated revenue for non-stadium causes.  

Top issues/priorities: Frey said he supports a job training subsidy in order to spur job creation. He said employers are ready to hire, but don’t want to spend money on training employees. The state, he said, could pay the first three months salary for new employees. Win or lose the election, Frey said he is dedicated to fighting the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that will go before voters in November 2012.


Kari Dziedzic

Age: 49

Neighborhood: St. Anthony East resident of 17 years. Dziedzic has spent all but a couple years of her life in the district.

Occupation: Policy aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein

Education: University of Minnesota Institute of Technology

Family: Single

Endorsements: Women Winning, Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, Minneapolis Fire Fighters Local 82, Teamsters Joint Council 32, City Council members Kevin Reich and Barb Johnson

Stance on public subsidies for Vikings stadium: Dziedzic said she does not support any of Rybak’s stadium financing proposals or those offered by Ramsey County commissioners. She would, however, support a user fee or ticket tax to pay for a stadium, she said. She praised Rep. Phyliss Kahn’s (DFL-59B) idea for public ownership of the team. Asked if she would support expanded gambling to help pay for a stadium, Dziedzic replied, “I can’t say since I don’t have anything in front of me, but I have serious concerns.”

Top issues/priorities: Dziedzic supports a
$1 billion bonding bill for public infrastructure in 2012 that would help create jobs. She supports raising taxes on the richest Minnesotans to better fund education and to provide property tax relief.


Note: Alicia Frosch filed to run in the DFL primary, but has since announced she has ended her campaign. Ben Schwanke is running unopposed in the Republican primary. The general election will be held Jan. 10.