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Minneapolis' crowded mayoral contest

New York isn’t the only city with a colorful mayoral race this year.

A record 35 individuals have filed to run for mayor of Minneapolis, including two current city council members, an activist named Captain Jack Sparrow and a Stalinist who espouses the belief that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God.

By comparison, the mayoral race in next-door St. Paul has only three candidates challenging incumbent Chris Coleman (D).

A variety of factors explain the crowded field in Minneapolis.

For one thing, the city is experimenting with a ranked-choice voting method, which eliminates primaries. Under this system, voters on Nov. 5 instead select up to three candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of first-choice voters, there are a series of instant runoffs that eliminate candidates with the fewest first-choice votes and redistribute second- and third-choice votes.

The city used this system in its 2009 mayoral race, but popular Mayor R.T. Ryback (D) got 74 percent of the vote on the first round against 10 challengers. Since Ryback decided against a fourth term earlier in the year, this will be the city’s first race in 20 years without an incumbent mayor.

The race is further complicated by Minneapolis’ comparatively low filling fee.

While St. Paul charges $500 to file for mayor, Minneapolis charges only $20. City Clerk Casey Carl proposed a measure to raise the fee to $500 earlier in the year, but the City Council deferred the issue until after the election.

So who is ahead in this 35-person field? An early September poll conducted for the Minneapolis Star Tribune shows no clear front-runner. City Council Member Don Samuels and former Council President Dan Cohen both led the poll at 16 percent among likely voters. Council Member Betsy Hodges and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew followed at 14 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Samuels, Cohen, Hodges and Andrew are all Democrats, and none has managed to win the endorsement of the DFL, Minnesota’s Democratic Party equivalent that has dominated Minneapolis politics for years. Party activists deadlocked in June over whether to endorse Andrew or Hodges.