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Steve Hildebrand in the Race for Sioux Falls Mayor? What a Wild Ride [OPINION]

Used with permission
Used with permission

Steve Hildebrand might throw a huge rock in the gears of Sioux Falls city government.

I mean that in a good way.

Hildebrand said in an interview on The Patrick Lalley Show on Tuesday (June 27) that he is seriously considering a run. It’s potentially the best platform from which to help people who need it, he said.

That’s his broader vision – make the world a better place while you’re in it.

Coming off a successful ballot initiative that drove the payday loan industry from South Dakota last fall, Hildebrand is looking forward to the next challenge.

That is, beyond the work he already does of running Josiah’s, a successful downtown coffee shop and hangout for political faces of all sorts.

Our next mayor will be elected in April of 2018. That’s still quite a ways off for municipal politics but the field of hopefuls is already coming together.

That’s because Mayor Mike Huether is term limited. Any time there’s an open seat for a high-profile gig in politics, it attracts a lot of attention.

We’ve got a few other open seats coming up in 2018 on the statewide level that maybe you’ve heard about. Gov. Dennis Daugaard is done next year so there’s that. And since Congresswoman Kristi Noem is running for Daugaard’s spot, her job also is open.

Those campaigns are already underway, with lots of posturing and money raising and announcing going on.

But for my money, the most interesting race in the state next year could be Sioux Falls mayor.

If Steve Hildebrand gets in, that goes up by a factor of 10.

Before you get your undies in a bundle out there, this is not an endorsement of Mr. Hildebrand. I just find him to be a potentially fascinating variable in this scenario.

We’ve not seen a candidate with Steve’s perspective and experience on the local level.

Let’s look at how the landscape is shaping up. We have a few very credible candidates already announced:

  • Jim Entenman, former city councilor and reliable ally to Mayor Huether, particularly on the campaign to build the T. Denny Sanford Premier Center. Entenman and his family own J&L Harley Davison.
  • Greg Jamison, former city councilor, current Republican state legislator and unsuccessful challenger of Huether in 2014. Jamison is also the son of long-time city commissioner Bob Jamison.
  • Kenny Anderson Jr., is a former city councilor and often the voice of working-class citizens while on the council. Anderson is the son of the late Kenny Anderson Sr., who was the first African American to serve on the council.
  • David Zokaites, a data programmer with no political experience.
  • Nick Weiland, the co-owner and manager of Parker’s Bistro, his family’s restaurant in downtown Sioux Falls. He is the son of former U.S. Senate candidate and current political activist Rick Weiland.

As usual with open mayoral seats, there will likely be more candidates. In 2010 when Huether got into the run-off against former city councilor Kermit Staggers, there were eight declared candidates to start.

The trick with the system, particularly when there is a large number of opponents, is to find that unique coalition from the wide swath of voters. You need to understand how to target and attract voters, specifically your voters, and not waste time on the folks who aren’t ever going to vote for you.

That’s not to say, you don’t have a broad vision for the city, you have to. But when it comes to organization on the ground you can’t waste time targeting voters you’re never going to get.

You know who knows how to do that? Steve Hildebrand.

Today, he’s the mild-manner and well-connected coffee shop owner.

But in his previous life Hildebrand was the seasoned political organizer, rising to the level of deputy campaign manager on the Obama campaign in 2008.

So there’s that.

After his time on the big stage, he went into consulting where his firm was enlisted to work on the campaign of none other than Mike Huether, then a political neophyte.

That relationship soured pretty fast, but that’s not the point here.

All these factors mean Hildebrand has a background and experience in straight campaigning that we’ve not seen in a candidate.

He’s also an unapologetic – and direct — in his advocacy for working people in the city.

During our interview on Tuesday, he was passionate that this city needs to bring together all the stakeholders to begin a serious conversation about poverty in Sioux Falls.

He points out – correctly – that half the elementary school students in the Sioux Falls School District qualify for free or reduced lunch.

That means they are officially living in poverty.

Hildebrand believes the mayor’s office must address these issues. It’s not enough to focus on business development and streets. The mayor can and must bring everybody to the table, including business groups, educators and non-profits.

Poverty and the challenges of the working and under classes affect us all.

There’s no doubt that Hildebrand leans left, hard left in some cases. But he also points to conservative-leaning points such as city spending on a new administration building.

Can he bring all those forces together? That question is long way off.

But if he does get in, expect the conversation to be as spirited — and direct — as we’ve ever seen.

To me, that’s a good thing.


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