Minneapolis mayoral candidate bio: Bob Fine

Minneapolis mayoral candidate, Bob Fine. (MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

Fourth in a series.

Bob Fine has gotten a lot of mileage out of his last name over the years. His lawn signs tout him as the “FINEst choice for Minneapolis.” They used to say “Fine Parks.”

The four-term Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner hopes his name recognition will help him overcome fundraising and polling numbers that lag his competition. While many Minneapolis mayoral candidates started campaigning last year, Bob Fine waited until August to jump in the race.

He’s the only candidate for mayor who’s been elected citywide, as one of three at-large members of the Park Board.

While the park board has a lower profile than the city council, Fine argues it’s more innovative.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the city was run as well as our nationally renowned Minneapolis parks system?” he asked during a debate at the Minnesota State Fair.

Since 2002, the property tax levy for the city of Minneapolis has nearly doubled. The park levy went up by only 40 percent during that same period.

Fine has pledged to cut the city’s levy by five percent if he’s elected, but he hasn’t specified what cuts he’d make to achieve that goal.

“All you have to do is audit city departments, and I believe that five percent is not that unreachable at all,” he said.

Fine says the parks system has been able to limit tax hikes by increasing efficiency and finding new sources of revenue.

The Park Board used to lose money every year on concession stands. In 2004, it began outsourcing food service.

Fried fish and beer replaced hotdogs and candy bars, and now the Park Board collects hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in rent from popular restaurants like Tin Fish and Sea Salt.

While the Minneapolis parks system is widely regarded as one of the best in the county, the park board developed a reputation for conflict and controversy during Fine’s 16 years there.

In 2003, the board was looking for a new superintendent to oversee the city’s nearly 200 park properties. The only two finalists had abruptly withdrawn themselves from consideration, and a group of commissioners decided to offer the job to Jon Gurban, then-president of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association.

Gurban had not applied for the job. Several commissioners doubted whether he was qualified and decried what they saw as a backroom deal to give him the job.

Fine was Park Board president at the time, and voted to approve Gurban’s appointment. The motion narrowly passed, and the meeting ended in a shouting match, with cries of “Shame on you, commissioners!”

It was one of many bitterly divided 5-4 votes the Park Board took during that time.

“There may be conflict on the board. But we do an awful lot. Whenever you do a lot, you have conflict,” Fine said. “But, how is the Park Board operating? Great. No park system operates as well as us in the country.”

In addition to his position on the Park Board, Fine works as a real estate attorney and owns eight investment properties.

Among his holdings is a 20-unit apartment building in downtown Faribault.

“It’s kind of in disrepair,” Faribault City Council Member Kay Duchene said of the Security Bank Building.

City records show building inspectors complained to its manager “numerous times” about a malfunctioning elevator in the 143-year-old building. In 2011, they threatened to close part of the building if the problems weren’t addressed.

Other records show recent problems with cockroaches, illegally installed air conditioners and a broken dumpster.

Despite those issues, the city doesn’t consider the Security Bank Building a “problem property,” Community Development Director Peter Waldock said.

Fine owns a share of the building but says he has no role in managing it.

  AGE: 64

• Member, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation.
• Former member, Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights

• Real estate attorney
• Commercial landlord

KEY ENDORSEMENTS: None listed on website.

WEBSITE: fineformayor.com