A political action committee opposing the Brooklyn Center mayoral candidacy of incumbent Mike Elliott has launched as residents in the two weeks leading to the Nov. 8 election started receiving mailers supporting his opponent, April Graves, and two allied City Council candidates, Teneshia Kragness and Dan Jerzak.
Citizens for Safer Cities registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board on October 13 and listed a Brooklyn Center post office box and a phone number belonging to Soderberg Properties.
A week earlier on October 6, a nonprofit with a similar name registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State using a Saint Paul address that appears to be an agent that accepts mail for businesses. Mshale couldn’t immediately determine if the two are connected.
A court in September found Kragness and Jerzak violated state law when they both accepted illegal corporate campaign contributions from Soderberg affiliated LLCs. The Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings fined each of them $1,200, according to Sun Post.
Current Councilmember April Graves, who is challenging Elliott for mayor admitted to Sun Post that she also received illegal corporate donations but refunded the checks without spending them.
“I did receive checks from several Soderberg properties who contacted me as concerned stakeholders who wanted to support my campaign,” Graves told the Sun Post. The total Graves returned to Soderberg was $4,800.
Glossy postcard mailers by the Citizens for Safer Cities began arriving at addresses in Brooklyn Center this week. The post cards promote the candidacies of Graves, Kragness and Jerzak.
Mailers are a rarity for council races outside of the two big cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Campaign Finance Board filing by Citizens for Safer Cities lists two people linked to Soderberg that was forced in September to take back the illegal corporate contributions and replace them with personal ones: Chris Kohler is listed as the chair of the PAC while Erik Falkman, the chief operating officer at Soderberg is listed as treasurer. Falkman uses a Soderberg company email address and phone number in the official filing.
The Elliott campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Falkman also had not responded to a phone message by the time of this posting.
Elliott is the city’s first Black mayor. The local chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, at its Freedom Gala awarded him with a plague for his leadership. That leadership was put to the test after the killing of Daunte Wright by former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter.
Outside of groups that believe Potter should not have been prosecuted for killing Wright, many credit Elliott with leading the city through the crisis and providing the needed leadership.
The PAC registration appears to be an effort by Soderberg to get around campaign contribution limitations as they make a last-ditch effort to unseat Elliott, and also ensure Elliott supporter, Kau Guannu, does not make it to the council.
Guannu, an attorney, came in third in the crowded August primary, behind Kragness and Jerzak, to secure a spot in the November ballot. In the August primary, voters chose the top four candidates to proceed to the November election to fill the two open council seats. Andrew Johnson is the fourth candidate in the ballot.
State law allows PACs to spend unlimited sums of money in support of candidates as long as they do not coordinate those efforts with them. The mailers residents started receiving this week appears to be one of Citizens for Safer Cities’ efforts to bolster the candidacies of Graves, Kragness and Jerzak as a ticket.
If they succeed in getting the three elected, Soderberg will ensure a friendly majority in the small council of five members. The five includes the mayor. The company owns the largest apartment complex in the city, the sprawling Lake Pointe Apartments that has 310 units. They also own others in the city including Melrose Gates, located just off Highway 252, which has 217 units.
Minnesota Compass, the data center for the Wilder Foundation, estimates 40% of the households in Brooklyn Center are renters.