The queen of Downtown

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June 16, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Bob Gilbert
Bob Gilbert

Lisa Goodman wins big margins in her 7th Ward, but not always on the City Council

Though a Chicago native, Lisa Goodman became partisan about her adopted city of Minneapolis long ago. She collects its memorabilia - Downtown hotel dishes, restaurant menus, postcards of Loring Park and everything else reminiscent of the 7th Ward she has represented on the Minneapolis City Council since 1998.

\"People would call me a transplant, and theoretically, they would not use that in a positive way,\" said the outspoken Goodman, one of four women on the council and its only Jew. \"Yet I am very much connected to the city since I moved here in 1989. I am a big believer in the quality of life that has been established here as it pertains to libraries and parks and neighborhood commercial nodes.\"

According to Goodman, her ward is the most diverse in the city. Her constituents include people who pay the highest taxes in the city and others who don\'t make enough to pay taxes. That includes Kenwood, where 98 percent of residents enjoy homeownership, and Elliot Park, which is 95 percent rental. She represents the Downtown Central Business District, Loring Park (where she owns a condo) and lakes-area neighborhoods such as Lowry Hill, East Isles, Bryn Mawr, Kenwood and Cedar-Isles-Dean.

Goodman\'s votes reflect a similar diversity. She is a relentless supporter of city-subsidized affordable housing and has been an implacable foe of city-subsidized development such as Block E and the Downtown Target. But the liberal pigeonhole doesn\'t fit this DFLer: she also opposes some city social-service spending, decries over-regulation of businesses at nearly every turn, and supports Target-subsidized police cameras that would watch Downtown streets for criminal activity.

She rarely hides her feelings and views, which has earned her fans.

\"People who deal with her have no question about where she is coming from,\" said Tom Hoch, who chairs the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association board and heads a group that manages several Downtown theaters. \"I happen to like that style. The passive-aggressive style of Minnesota Nice is not something she subscribes to.\"

Her style has also earned rebukes. In 2002, she ran for council vice president on a slate with Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) for council president. Ostrow won, but Goodman was rejected.

She barely mourned the loss, saying that leadership duties were less vital than working with constituents and going to neighborhood meetings.

It\'s the sort of rationalization that normally produces eye rolls - but Goodman attends nearly every neighborhood-group meeting in her ward. That\'s not something every councilmember does.

Goodman practically sings the joys of ward-heeling. \"People elected me to be their representative, and I get involved,\" she said. \"I get to interact with people about issues that are really important to them on a day-to-day basis. When they have a crisis, I help them solve it. ... It\'s the biggest thing we do.\"

Eleventh Ward Councilmember Scott Benson, a friend who often votes with Goodman, says, \"Nobody fights harder for her ward than Lisa. She is tough, smart, hardworking and doesn\'t give up. On the council, she is clearly a leader in community development issues. She doesn\'t let any project go through without asking a lot of questions, and thank God that we have somebody in that role.\"

Constituents agree. In 1997, she won by the narrowest margin among 13 council races. In 2001, her margin was the biggest.

Still, Goodman has found herself in the minority on two successive councils. In her first term (1998-2002) she often laced into then-Council President Jackie Cherryhomes and Cherryhomes\' allies over generous subsidies and profligate spending.

She ultimately supported R.T. Rybak in his 2001 mayoral win over incumbent Sharon Sayles Belton and appeared poised to make her fiscal philosophy council policy. While that has happened - partly at the barrel of the state\'s gun - Goodman often finds herself in the minority, arguing that her colleagues are not penny-pinching enough.

Should she run in 2005 - and there\'s no evidence she won\'t - she will represent almost all of Downtown, in a ward some speculate (not for attribution) was redrawn for her. Opponents of a single Downtown ward - who wanted its wealthy residential base kept in the relatively poor 5th Ward - mocked her as \"the Queen of Downtown.\"

When Goodman heard this, she just laughed it off.

Fundraising dynamo

There are many reasons for Goodman\'s ascent, but one is consistent: she\'s not afraid to ask people for money.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a political science degree in the 1980s, she worked as a fundraiser for many progressive Democratic candidates, including former Wisconsin governor and U.S. Senate candidate Tony Earl.

Earl lost his race, and Goodman moved to Minnesota, where she had friends. Jeff Blodgett - then managing the U.S. Senate campaign of a relative unknown named Paul Wellstone - hired Goodman as his first fundraiser in November 1989, at a time when Wellstone\'s staff numbered six.

\"She was working for a candidate who thought that everything was important except fundraising,\" Blodgett said. \"Wellstone had a view that somehow fundraising was unseemly, so it fell to Lisa to do it. That\'s why I call her courageous. She wasn\'t afraid to pick up the phone and ask people for money. She helped raise over $1 million.\"

Blodgett said Goodman could have gone to Washington with Wellstone, but she said she had already fallen in love with Minnesota. Her honeymoon was shortlived, however.

A month after Wellstone\'s victory, she hit an icy patch of road and became part of a 22-car pile-up near the Metrodome. She shattered her arm, spent 10 days in the hospital and was incapacitated for the winter. Her parents told her to come home to Chicago. But she convalesced here instead, serving on the DFL State Central Committee and the DFL Feminist Caucus Board.

She soon got a job as Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Council. They hired her because she was young and had fundraising experience, she said. She stayed for five years.

Good evaluation

When 7th Ward incumbent Pat Scott decided to retire in 1997, Goodman launched her own campaign. She knocked on doors for six months and persistently courted DFL delegates. Her women\'s rights activism formed her initial base of support.

She won the DFL endorsement over Chris Bacon, who had garnered the support of five City Councilmembers and two others from the Hennepin County Board. Her win over Bacon left some hard feelings; she initially supported him against Scott, but after Scott dropped out, she and her allies felt she would be a better candidate in an open race.

Despite the DFL\'s nod, Scott endorsed Goodman\'s opponent, Robert Landis. Goodman persevered, winning 54 to 46 percent. Four years later, she won reelection with 84 percent against an opponent who didn\'t campaign. She called it a performance evaluation.

Downtown neighborhood leader Hoch said Goodman understands that a big part of the job is to be accessible to neighborhood groups and constituents.

Hoch is also Chief Executive Officer of the Pantages, the State and the Orpheum Theatres. He said that Goodman offered tremendous support to save the Pantages from demolition with a $9 million city-financed rebuilding. Despite her opposition to other subsidies, Goodman said the Pantages is a nonprofit with historic-preservation value.

That, in part, explained her opposition to Target\'s Nicollet Mall projects. The public subsidy was excessive, she said, but also the Physicians and Surgeons Building was demolished to make room for it, which she called a beautiful and historic building that gave character and value to Nicollet Mall.

Blodgett has heard that Goodman can rub colleagues and underlings the wrong way. \"I can\'t comment on her management style,\" said Blodgett, \"although I will say in general that successful politicians who win and hold political office, tend to be personal perfectionists. When you are a politician, one problem is that you cannot control everything that has to do with your own name and work. You have to rely on aides. Oftentimes, the perfectionism that drives a politician gets overlaid on everyone around them. Paul Wellstone was like that, too.\"

Fears for the future

In the wake of the city\'s current budget-cutting and a $30 million state-aid cut, Goodman worries about her adopted home\'s future. She considers herself a \"fiscal moderate\" who never voted for a tax increase when Sayles Belton was mayor.

Under Rybak - whom she supported after initially endorsing Lisa McDonald - Goodman notes that \"now I have had to vote for an 8 percent tax increase [as part of a five-year plan adopted by the Council and Rybak] because I do not know how we can operate the city with the current level of resources. We have had to lay off firemen and cops and one-third of the public works department, we\'ve eliminated the health department, and we don\'t even have a receptionist in our office when you come to City Hall. We are that barebones.

\"If people continue to demand services that we do not have the resources to provide for, ultimately I think you will see a large amount of frustration. We are all feeling the same way, but our hands are tied.\"