On Nov. 5, Minneapolis chooses its next mayor, beginning a new era for the city after 12 years of R.T. Rybak’s reign. Tuesday night, seven of the leading candidates to replace Rybak answered questions focusing on the challenges involved in “reinventing” the state’s largest city. The discussion included the problems and opportunities presented by the city’s changing demographics, efforts to close income and education achievement gaps, political leadership, police-community relations and the effects of Ranked Choice Voting on the election. The discussion was led by Prof. Nekima Levy-Pounds, a University of St. Thomas law professor whose specialties include Civil Rights and the community.
The forum, organized by The UpTake, was live streamed from the University of St. Thomas campus in downtown Minneapolis. Candidates in attendance included DFLers Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels, as well as independents Dan Cohen and Cam Winton and the Independence Party’s Stephanie Woodruff. Also watching in the crowd were several lesser-known candidates including Merrill Anderson (Jobs & Justice), John Hartwig (Independent), James Everett (Green Party of Minnesota) and Jeffrey Wagner (DFL).
Taking questions from the audience and via a twitter-feed, the candidates were all under the close watch of moderator Nekima Levy-Pounds, a University of St. Thomas law professor who specializes in civil rights issues. Levy-Pounds, who is known for not accepting vague answers from politicians, dominated much of the debate with her insistence on concrete answers from candidates.
“As I mentioned earlier, I’m not from Minnesota; I’m from California. And I’m used to just being straightforward,” Levy-Pounds said before the opening statements. “I’m not trying to be tough, that’s just how I am.” Levy-Pounds also encouraged the candidates to be authentic and highlight how they are different from the others through their answers. “Put the political speak aside and just get right to the heart of the matter,” she requested.
Highlights of the debate included:
Cohen went up against the other candidates about the pending Vikings stadium stating that if mayor, “I will refuse to have this city participate in that contract.”
Samuels said that Cohen’s strong disapproval of the stadium was “an emotional reaction” and that Minneapolis could host a Superbowl game in the future. When the audience laughed, Samuels clarified his prediction by saying he did NOT mean that the Vikings would be playing in a Super Bowl anytime soon.
Woodruff added that the stadium was a “raw deal” but said she didn’t know what she would do about it if elected mayor.
Andrew called the dependency on gambling revenue for funding the stadium “fool’s gold.”
Cherryhomes brought up the issue of the dissolving Minnesota Orchestra and said that in a balanced city, “You have the professional sports and your have the orchestra. We can’t be a city with no orchestra. What does that say about us? We got sports but we got no orchestra? That’s not the kind of city I want to live in.”
Levy-Pounds asked how candidates will ensure that struggling communities have “equitable outcomes.”
Hodges said her main platform was bridging the economic and educational gaps between whites and people of color.
Woodruff said her background in business would help create jobs for minorities in Minneapolis.
Cohen said he “will extend every effort I’ve got” to make sure there was equity for communities of color but was unclear about leadership vision for reducing disparities. He also touted his hiring of black employees for his campaign. “My campaign is staffed overwhelmingly by African-Americans,” he said.
Cherryhomes said, “Streetcars are not going to happen fast enough to save West Broadway.” She added that candidates need to build up community positive qualities instead of always calling the Northside the “have nots.”
Winton said he opposes a new streetcar system but he wants to invest in public buses, including heated waiting enclosures.
Hodges said West Broadway streetcars could “spur an upward spiral of growth and development in North Minneapolis.”
Hodges said she would find the money to pilot test police body cameras in order to monitor their behavior.
Woodruff said that past police misconduct, especially an incident in which police officers used slurs against gay communities, was saddening and “pissed her off.”
At the end of our debate, The UpTake’s Executive Editor, Nick Coleman, gave the seven candidates blank note cards and asked them to write the initials of the person — other than themselves — who they think would make the best mayor of Minneapolis. When the “ballots” were collected and counted, there was a tie: Two votes each for independent Cam Winton and DFLer Jackie Cherryhomes.
Needless to say, it was not a scientific survey.
– Story by Kathryn G. Nelson
Stay on The UpTake for upcoming in-depth interviews with the leading candidates and a host of briefer, three-minute Q-and-A’s with more than a dozen of the “minor” candidates among the 35 candidates on this year’s ballot.