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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Strib on Greg Gray vs Mark Stenglein

Seems like the Strib just made an independent expenditure for Mark Stenglein's campaign.


At 6 feet 4, Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein is a big man -- and, as he pushes his case for reelection, he is a big target.

He led the drive last year to scale back Hennepin County's smoking ban, drawing the ire of the state's anti-smoking lobby.

He cast a crucial vote for a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins, and faced critics who wanted a referendum on the 0.15 percent countywide sales tax that will pay for a large chunk of the $522 million project.

He is an independent who supported President Bush but now backs DFLer Amy Klobuchar for the U.S. Senate.

He represents the minority neighborhoods of north Minneapolis and is being challenged by two other candidates, including Gregory Gray, a former legislator and well-known black leader who claims Stenglein is out of touch.

In most years, running for reelection as a Hennepin County commissioner would relegate Stenglein to the back pages.

But this year, he is front and center -- largely because of the stadium -- and faces what may be the toughest challenge of the three commissioners who voted for the stadium and are now seeking reelection.

When it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of campaigning, Stenglein, who was first elected in 1996, is an old-style politician. He can be found hammering in a lawn sign under a street light after sunset, chatting with widows whose husbands served as firefighters with his dad and handing out campaign fliers that include a free Minnesota Vikings schedule.

As he knocked on doors in northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods two weeks ago, Stenglein was greeted with smiles and open arms by homeowners Mary Jo and David Nye. "Another happy customer," said Stenglein, whose district stretches from suburban Plymouth across Minneapolis to St. Anthony.

Oh give me a break. Are these the owners of Nye's bar?

But Gray said that, for all of Stenglein's gregariousness, there is little substance. "Where are the results?" asked Gray, who said he would push more transportation and public safety issues. He also challenged the African-American Men's Project, an initiative largely begun by Stenglein to help divert black adult men into more productive lives. "Nice start," said Gray, who nonetheless added that so far results have been spotty.

Gary Cunningham, the project's director who is also black, said Gray is the one off target. "We're working our butts off," said Cunningham, who said the project is helping clients "at the ground level" with everything from drug addiction to finding an apartment.

Stadium fallout?

Even those who have rallied to Stenglein's side on other issues wonder how much the stadium vote could hurt. Sue Jeffers, a bar owner who cheered Stenglein for pushing through exemptions to the smoking ban, said she told him last month that the stadium is "going to cost him the election." Jeffers, who herself is running for governor, said Stenglein simply replied, "So be it."

Hennepin County Commissioner Penny Steele, a onetime Stenglein confidante, also has become a critic. Steele said Stenglein's constituents "deserve a higher standard of ethics" than what Stenglein is delivering, and that he is disengaged with the people he represents.

"This is craziness," Stenglein said of Steele's criticism. He said she remains upset with him over the stadium, which she opposed.

This is about so much more than that. I signed on to the complaint because I was appalled by Mark Stenglein's very poor standard of ethics. Penny Steele is exactly right. As a constituent, I am embarrassed and appalled by the stories I've heard about my county commissioner. It's worth noting, I've not published most of the stories.