There’s a lot of talk this year about Hennepin County never having had a person of color serve on the board. It’s a big deal, if not surprising. It needs to change. But if you haven’t entirely tuned into the campaign in District 4, you might have the false impression that the arguments here are entirely about identity. They’re not.
Conley is experienced, having worked in state and local government for the past 20 years. As a current employee of Hennepin County, she knows what it’s like to provide essential human services to the public. She’s credentialed, with a Masters in Public Administration. She’s connected to the experience of the people in the district: there was a time when she was a transit-dependent mom on public assistance. She’s focused on issues, down to the smallest details (when I ran into Conley at a recent public meeting, I noticed she had filled an entire page with notes about a controversial bus stop). She’s a community leader and president of her neighborhood organization.
Go find yourself in conversation with Angela Conley and she will win you over. I trust her to set priorities for Hennepin County’s projected $2.4 billion budget, on issues ranging from transportation, housing, human services, racial equity and criminal justice reform.
It takes some real audacity to spend a year of your life challenging a powerful longtime incumbent like Peter McLaughlin (take a look at this list of DFL power brokers who were broking their power on his behalf at a fundraiser a few days ago). It takes real talent to have organized a campaign to win the most delegates at the DFL convention (denying McLaughlin the party nomination for the first time) and competed to a stalemate in the recent primary. It takes a special leader to have inspired so many volunteers to achieve so much over the last year.
This is a difficult thing Conley has attempted, and she has run her campaign very well. It’s the kind of thing people start out advising can’t be done. Right now, despite being massively outspent, it looks like she can.
There are good reasons to replace Peter McLaughlin. I recently put on my reporter pants and talked to some white guys. Surely they could offer me the real story on Peter McLaughlin. I asked a trusted local source for his thoughts and he said this:
He wields immense power with regards to transit in this region and seriously neglects funding incredibly cheap and incredibly impactful projects like [bus rapid transit], instead focusing all his energy and tons of money into light rail.
Another told me: “McLaughlin personally is putting all his political might behind light rail” but doesn’t show the same commitment to investing in bus infrastructure.
I found a third white guy, willing to use his own name, criticizing McLaughlin for “neglecting the part of the transit system that provides the vast majority of rides so [McLaughlin] can go to a ribbon cutting once a decade.” Of course, you could put a positive spin on this argument and simply say that McLaughlin has been a dogged champion of light rail.
Local treasure Naomi Kritzer doesn’t like how McLaughlin has been an occasional advocate for stadium subsidies: “He helped pass a county-wide tax to build the Twins ballpark, and to circumvent the law saying they were supposed to hold a referendum on it.” Kritzer endorsed Conley.
I am similarly uncomfortable with Peter McLaughlin’s leadership. During a candidate forum in April he made the case for his re-election: “If you elect me you’re electing the network I’ve developed over 30 years of service.” It occurred to me that I’m not entirely comfortable with empowering that network.
(Full disclosure: earlier this year I saw Peter McLaughlin engaged in deep, extended consultation with Carol Becker at a DFL convention. Carol Becker is the very strange elected official who filed trademark paperwork for “Wedge Live” in order to steal the name of, and possibly shut down, the website you’re reading right now. I can’t guarantee that this hasn’t tainted my perception of Peter McLaughlin.)
McLaughlin was Conley’s age when he was elected to the Hennepin County Board almost three decades ago. This year Conley disregarded the advice of those who told her to wait to run until McLaughlin retired. She shouldn’t have to. She’s ready right now. This isn’t Angela Conley’s chance to replace a longtime incumbent; this is our chance to have an amazing leader — someone who reflects the values and experiences of the people in her district — serve on the Hennepin County Board.