Attack mailing roils Burnsville mayoral race

Undetermined party sent mailing against Kautz

Burnsville mayoral candidate Jerry Willenburg is challenging his opponent, Elizabeth Kautz, to apologize for her statement attributing a pre-election attack mailing to his campaign.

In a Nov. 2 Star Tribune article, Kautz is depicted as blaming Willenburg for a citywide mailing of a flier leveling attacks at the mayor’s conduct in office. The flier bears the name of the “Coalition of Better Businesses in Burnsville” and doesn’t include Willenburg’s name.

Reached Monday morning, Kautz told Sun Thisweek: “I’m not accusing him, but there are only two candidates. Who’s behind it? It would be supporters of Mr. Willenburg, would it not? Because there are only two candidates.”

City Clerk Macheal Brooks is taking steps to investigate whether the mailing violates state campaign finance law.

The Nov. 6 Kautz-Willenburg rematch follows the closest election of the mayor’s 17-year career in 2008, when she defeated Willenburg by four percentage points.

“It’s an unpleasant turn of affairs that we have gotten to this kind of malicious tactics in Burnsville,” Kautz said of the flier. “Never, never in this history of this community have we gotten this malicious, nasty and hateful.”

In a statement Sunday night, Willenburg repeated what he’d told the Star Tribune: He had no knowledge of the mailing.

Willenburg said in the statement he had planned to send out 10,000 of his own campaign literature pieces but couldn’t raise the money.

Willenburg accused the mayor of “slander” and challenged her to call a press conference and apologize no later than 4 p.m. Monday. He indicated he would stand side by side with her.

“I would make a brief statement accepting her apology and encouraging the residents of Burnsville to search their hearts and minds and make an informed decision on Tuesday,” said Willenburg’s email statement, which he sent to Kautz, the other members of the City Council, City Manager Craig Ebeling and Burnsville media.

There would be no press conference, Kautz said.

The four-sided mailing accuses Kautz of underreporting losses at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center; acting to have a stoplight installed directly across from her condo in the Heart of the City; not supporting the now-departed Grossman Chevrolet when closure was threatened by General Motors and instead ushering in a Costco store on the property; conflicts of interest stemming from her one-time employment with developer Aravia Group Inc., which did business in Burnsville; and overselling the success of the Heart of the City despite vacant condos and some business failures.

Kautz dismisses the allegations, saying, for example, that the financial performance of the PAC is in audited reports and that conflict-of-interest allegations over construction of a road refer to a 2002 project. She worked for Aravia for five months in 2004 and left the company because it wasn’t meeting its contract terms with her, Kautz said.

“I realize and I am sympathetic to what the Mayor is going through,” Willenburg’s statement said, but “that does not give her the right to assign the blame to me for this action. We are at the threshold of the election and it is virtually impossible to undo the damage done to me by the false allegation by the Mayor.”

The flier, he wrote, includes statements “that I have no firsthand knowledge of, and as such I have never addressed anywhere, nor would I or have I speculated as to the accuracy of those items.”

Kautz maintains there are indications, such as a Facebook posting from Willenburg and phrases used on his campaign website, that he was aware of the topics in the flier. She maintains he was in a position to stop the mailing.

The mailing went out in late October, addressed in some cases to “Resident” and in others to specific people.

State law requires candidates and election-related committees to file with the proper election authority within 14 days of raising or spending at least $750, according to Brooks.

As of Monday she hadn’t received a filing from the “Coalition of Better Business of Burnsville.” She said she began counting down the 14 days from two weekends ago, an approximation of when the mailings went out.

If she doesn’t get a filing by Friday, Nov. 12, she said she’ll file a complaint with the state Office of Administrative Hearings.