Six Minneapolis Mayoral Candidates Face Off For First Time At Forum

Six Minneapolis mayoral candidates came to a forum held at Calvary Church at 2608 Blaisdell on March 8. Tane Danger from Theater of Public Policy moderated the forum, leading off by asking why anyone wanted to be mayor in the city’s “pseudo weak mayor” system.

Aswar Rahman identified himself as a film maker and a web designer “and I have a lot of irons in the fire.” He said that “anyone who looked at the city budget as closely as I did would be running for mayor because it is a mess.”

City Councilmember Jacob Frey recalled running the Twin Cities Marathon and “falling in love with the city.” He said he believes that Minneapolis can end homelessness in five years, can fix the affordable housing crisis, and can be the greenest city in the country. “I believe we can be world class.”

Representative Ray Dehn noted that Minneapolis is one of the fastest growing cities in the whole Upper Midwest, but that “We’ve been running from crisis to crisis and we need a long term design.” He added, “We are at the top of the largest disparities between white people and people of color and indigenous folks, and that didn’t happen by accident.”

“Trump has cities in his sights and he’s coming after them,” warned Mayor Betsy Hodges. She said the city needs “someone with a spine of steel, who has been tested, who has experience standing up to Republicans in the statehouse and now to Donald Trump. I posit that I am that leader.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds identified herself as a law professor, civil rights attorney, mother, and former Minneapolis NAACP president, and said she “had a chance to walk hand in hand with people in Minneapolis who were sick and tired of the status quo” and tired of hearing about racial disparities in reports issued year after year. She said she will help usher in “change that will transform our city and make it a leader in equity and justice for all.”

Tom Hoch is a theater executive who has also been a public school teacher and worked for the Minneapolis Community Development Agency and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Hoch said Minneapolis is losing momentum, falling behind other cities like Boulder and Indianapolis and Austin (Texas) instead of thinking big and acting big. “Where’s our South by Southwest?” he asked, saying that Minneapolis needs to grow an economy and opportunity for everyone.

Questions Cover Wide Range Of Topics

Video below: Voter interviews following forum

Questions ranged from the affordable housing crisis to city support for bike lanes and pedestrians — but the $15 minimum wage question, combined with questions about fair scheduling and legislative pre-emption of city labor laws, stirred the most spirited disagreement.

Betsy Hodges, Ray Dehn and Nekima Levy-Pounds all endorsed the $15 minimum wage, while Aswar Rahman opposed it, calling it a “very irrational idea.” Tom Hoch and Jacob Frey both said that they wanted the citywide listening sessions to come to a conclusion before deciding what should be done about a minimum wage, and both cited the need for a “nuanced” conversation. Hoch pointed out that there is no specific proposal before the city council right now, and Frey said that an eventual proposal might have different wage levels for different sizes of businesses.

Hodges pointed to her work with the Working Families Agenda, and noted that Minneapolis was the first Minnesota city to pass an earned sick and safe time ordinance. “It is ridiculous,” she said, “that there are people working full-time and living in poverty.”

Dehn called the pre-emption legislation a “clear attack on our democracy,” noting that it is ALEC-drafted legislation moving forward in several states. He said that cities should lead the way on minimum wage increases, but that the $15 wage is one part of an equation that also includes public safety, education, and housing.

Levy-Pounds agreed that “someone needs to have the guts to lead, and it needs to be the city of Minneapolis, just like we did with sick and safe time.” She said that passing the $15 minimum wage is the right think to do, and one way to move toward equity.

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