October 30, 1997
Tuesday marks election day around the country. Among other things, 11 mayors' jobs are on the line. One of them is in Minneapolis. Fred De Sam Lazaro of KTCA reports.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Minneapolis has long had a reputation for quiet prosperity, a cold climate, and liberal politics, a place where Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey began their careers.
SPOKESPERSON: The people of Minneapolis have spoken and they said Sharon!
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Four years ago Minneapolis elected Sharon Sayles Belton mayor. It was particularly noteworthy because over 80 percent of the voters were white, according to University of Minnesota Urban Affairs Scholar Judith Martin.
JUDITH MARTIN, University of Minnesota: I don't think it was in any way, shape, or form a reflection of racial politics at all, so in that sense the fact that the mayor, who was elected four years ago, was a black woman is almost incidental to the fact that she was a council member who'd been a successful leader on the council and wanted to move forward.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Four years forward Mayor Sayles Belton says Minneapolis is enjoying unprecedented economic prosperity. She says property values are up; property taxes are not up; and unemployment is at a record low 2 percent.
MAYOR SHARON SAYLES BELTON, Minneapolis: As we speak, there's a billion dollars' worth of investment going on in downtown, 2 1/2 million square feet of office space under construction, none of it's subsidized by the taxpayers, happening because people are confident in Minneapolis's economy, ten thousands jobs having been created in the last four years. These things, again, bode well for our city.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Prosperity typically bodes well for political incumbents as well; however, Sayles Belton faces a challenger who is anything but typical.
BARBARA CARLSON, Mayoral Candidate: I am known to be outspoken. I am know to be bright. I am known in many circles to be outrageous. I speak my mind, and I tell the truth.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fifty-nine-year-old Barbara Carlson is a former Minneapolis City councilor, and she was once married to the current governor, Arne Carlson. But Barbara Carlson's notoriety comes mainly from her six-year stint as a talk radio host when she often worked from her hot tub at home or this one at the Minnesota State Fair. D.J. Leary edits a weekly newsletter "Politics in Minnesota."
D. J. LEARY, Newsletter Editor: This is a woman who kissed a cow on a main street in downtown on the front page of the newspaper, had a tattoo put on her derriere on everything but on C-Span. I mean, she's done everything public you can possibly do and shared rather intimate knowledge of her relationship with the current governor. Barbara is extraordinary at drawing attention to herself and her issues.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The big issue Carlson has drawn attention to is one that polls show most worries voters: crime.
BARBARA CARLSON: Everyone needs to know how rampant drugs are and how they've been allowed to be rampant in the city of Minneapolis.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Carlson wants to add 300 officers to the Minneapolis police force to combat a sharp increase in drug-related crimes. Although down from a peak two years ago, Carlson said crime has increased 9 percent in the city during Sayles Belton's term. Carlson said the main culprits are newcomers from rust belt cities like Chicago and Gary. Many, she charged, are attracted to Minneapolis by its welfare system.
BARBARA CARLSON: We have very generous benefits in the state of Minnesota, and people will never tell you that they will move here for those benefits but they'll say it's the quality of the schools, or it's the parks, or it's the possibility of a new job. But we have a group of people that are not being responsible. We have a group of people that have terrorized this city. We have a group of kids that are selling drugs openly on our street corners.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sayles Belton said she set up programs to provide young people with alternatives to crime, as well as cracked down on criminal activity through beefed-up neighborhood policing. The mayor also takes issue with the way Carlson describes newcomers to the city.
MAYOR SHARON SAYLES BELTON: If they're here to make a contribution or to improve the quality of their life because it's better here than someplace else, that's okay. I've got people who come in all the time from other places, and they settle well in this community, and they make a contribution.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Everyone agrees Minneapolis has attracted significant numbers of people living in poverty, and the city has also become a new frontier for drug dealers from cities like Detroit and LA, where markets are relatively saturated. The changes have strained public services, those of both the city and the independent school district. Along with migration from the rust belt Minneapolis has seen growing refugee populations from East Africa and Southeast Asia. Continuing a trend of the past decade, minorities now account for about 30 percent of the city's population, nearly double their numbers since the 1980 Census. Children of color now account for 2/3 of all pupils in the Minneapolis Public Schools.
JUDITH MARTIN: It's become a much more diverse city. The metropolitan area is slowly becoming a more diverse place. We're becoming more like other cities in the United States. It's come to public attention, I think, much more in terms of what you read in the newspaper and what you see on the evening news in terms of who's being arrested and who's being shot on the streets and all of those sorts of things. So there's I think been a growing consciousness about the racial complexity of Minneapolis that wasn't there even just four years ago.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Supporters of Carlson say she's tried to lead a civic dialogue on issues of race and social problems.
BARBARA CARLSON: I believe the only way we are going to change our neighborhoods--
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, in this debate, held in the city's historically black Near North Side Carlson had trouble living down the sins of her shock radio days. For example, she tried to explain a war of words she once had with an African-American gossip columnist, who's had run-ins with both candidates.
BARBARA CARLSON: I said, how would she like it if I were to go after her in the way she's gone after my kids, how would she like it if I were to call her a "black bitch." That's what I said. I did not call her a black bitch. I said, how would she like it if I were to do so, and I want you to know, sir, that was an inappropriate thing for me to say!
MAYOR SHARON SAYLES BELTON: It never ever came to my mind that I would ever call her a name because I was mad, never. When we're in the public's eye and have leadership position and have the opportunity to shape attitudes. We have to be careful; we have to be thoughtful.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Tensions rose during this debate and after it, placards carried by Carlson supporters, most of them white, antagonized many black audience members. Later in a scuffle the mayor's driver, a black police officer, shot at a Carlson supporter's car. Both candidates said it was not a racial incident but Sayles Belton charged Carlson's style--an emphasis on crime and welfare migration--have been provocative.
MAYOR SHARON SAYLES BELTON: You know, some of that language, in my opinion, is race baiting. And I think it's deplorable. I think it's right for everyone to challenge and aggressively go after anybody who comes from anywhere to bring crime and violence into our community. And we should attack them with a vengeance. And I certainly am doing that as the mayor.
BARBARA CARLSON: I'm talking about pubic safety. I'm talking about children, and that is not race baiting. That is reality. This is a city with a crime problem. This is a city with lack of leadership. This is a city whose schools are in a very difficult, tenuous position today. And this is a city that is at a crossroads without leadership.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One recent poll showed Sayles Belton with about a 10 percent lead over Carlson. Polls also show weaknesses in both candidates, the low-key style of Sayles Belton and exactly the opposite from her challenger.