News : Counterpoint 

The dog days of politics

Will Hardberger make us wait all summer? Will Roger run? Get out the suntan oil and wait.

When I was a child in Minnesota, I spent the summers sneaking into the neighbor’s raspberry patch, swimming in our stock-tank swimming pool, and inventing contests that ended with my brother having to fetch me another piece of sugar-and-cinnamon toast. Now, I spend the days between the last and first days of school worrying about the aquifer level and surveying the political landscape for signs of instability. Election cycles, like dormant volcanoes, can erupt when you least expect them to blow.

Word from the Hardberger camp indicates things could stay volatile for a while. Chief political aide Christian Archer insists that, no matter how many journalists posit the question, the mayor will not announce anytime soon whether he’ll be running for reelection next spring. The mayor, says Archer, wants to stay focused on his proposals to limit chain restaurants on the river, purchase the Voelcker Tract for a Northside park, and turn Main Plaza into an actual plaza.

This discretion has kept the chattering classes, such as they are in SA, busy. PR consultant TJ Connolly shot his wad two weeks ago with the phony revelation that Hardberger was throwing in the towel at the end of his first term. Second-place finisher Julián Castro quickly assured the public that he would not run against Phil again if the news turned out to be false. But that hasn’t stopped the grapevine from buzzing with tantalizing rumors (I’m putting them in itals to emphasize that these are rumors, not news. Do not repeat them!) : Roger Flores is courting Tom Frost in case the banker is angry enough about Hardberger’s Main Plaza end-run to support an opposition candidate in ’07. Connolly is merely trying to make Hardberger look like a lame-duck mayor so it’s easier to derail the proposed formula-restaurant ban.

I’d like to think that Flores and Castro are too wise to wish Hardberger an early retirement. After all, Hardberger’s planned political legacy includes repealing the term limits that make our City Council akin to Kindergarten — the two, two-year terms are just long enough to learn the rules of the classroom, and then the councilmembers are booted out. Now that I think about it, our City Council is more like a piranha breeding tank. Loosed on a weary public after two or four years, the sharp-toothed creatures swarm free, seeking the next public feeding pool. Several councilmembers, including Flores, are going to be out of a job next spring, with nothing better to do but run for another office. But I digress.

The public is unlikely to approve term-limit reform unless the current council, including the mayor, exempts itself. If Hardberger’s popularity remains strong — and council manages to avoid embarrassing itself — and he pushes through term extensions, the mayor who follows him into office will benefit. Potential challengers who think that Hardberger can accomplish this task may decide to wait another two years — start a poverty institute, write a book, or whatever. But if Hardberger looks weak, the piranhas will swarm, and potentially drain the political capital he needs to extend term limits.

Archer says, “Term limits are gonna be part of what he gets done, but that’s not gonna be the defining thing about Phil Hardberger.” What will the defining legacy be, then? “People believing in City Hall again, and because people believe in City Hall, they’re willing to invest in the city again.”

Amen. But will people keep faith with City Hall through the dog days of July if Hardberger lets them speculate too long whether he’ll stick around to fight for his ambitious proposals — some of which could take a year or more to finalize? I’m sure Team Hardberger has a plan, but as a pol watcher, I’d enjoy the summer more if the mayor would lay all this speculation to rest and get to work on those term-limit reforms.


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