Naomi (naomikritzer) wrote,

Election 2013, Volume 3, Issue 1: Park Board At-Large

First, I want to note that Cam Winton found his way to my blog, read my critique of his website, and then left me a reply to my Facebook comment saying that the best way to get in touch with him was through Facebook. He also noted that when he first launched his campaign, he handed out about a thousand business cards with his personal cell phone number on them and then realized this was probably not a good idea. (I asked him at what point he realized that it had been a bad idea, and he said, "Probably about the fourth time I got a voice mail demanding my response to the caller's plan to revamp the national currency, or bring peace to the Middle East, or end global warming, or...[insert-worthy-yet-national issue here].")

Second, I also got a message from Jason Stone asking me to support him for Park Board (I endorsed him in 2009 when he ran for the District 5 Park Board seat.) This is the first time I've ever had a politician preemptively contact me to seek my support! ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. Anyway, this prodded me to go and look at the Park Board race. There are ten people running for three seats, and when I did some preliminary Googling last night, I was dismayed to see that they ALL have websites and in fact ALL appear to be thoughtful, qualified people who would probably do a decent job running the Minneapolis parks. This is good news for the city, but means I will have less to snark about.

Steve Barland
John Erwin (incumbent; DFL-endorsed)
Meg Forney
Casper Hill
Ishmael Israel
Mary Lynn McPherson
Tom Nordyke (DFL-endorsed)
Jason Stone
Hashim Yonis
Annie Young (incumbent)

There are three open seats; the other incumbent at-large Park Board Commissioner is Bob Fine, who's not running again because he's running for Mayor. I think most of these people identify as DFLers, but Annie Young is a Green.

I would have liked to know a bit more here about how the DFL endorsing process went. They endorsed Park Board at-large candidates at the City Convention, but unfortunately every single article I found about the convention was focused on the fight over mayoral endorsement. I am 99% sure that there are three open seats here (which may mean that voters can rank up to nine candidates -- but I'm not sure, and the sample ballot isn't up yet.) There are two DFL-endorsed candidates. I'm not even sure which of these candidates tried to get DFL endorsement, other than Not Annie Young the Green.

Annie Young is actually rather popular with the local DFLers so it's possible people maneuvered to endorse only two as a back-handed way of saying "...and go ahead and vote for Annie." Or it's possible they deadlocked. I really wish someone, somewhere had written about the other stuff that happened at the City Convention (clearly, this is what happens when I move to St. Paul) (though to be fair, I was out of town that weekend and I bet I wouldn't have thought about the City Convention when making my travel plans. Or if I had, I might have thought, "meh, they're going to deadlock on the mayor and this way I don't have to spend 14 hours in the Convention Center.")


Steve Barland

Webpage is and it's competently designed but with very little content. He's a volunteer coach and his primary concern seems to be youth sports. Back in 2009, I observed that his website was bland and that he seemed to be very into youth sports but I was concerned that he might not be well-versed in other issues; I'd say that's still a legit concern. There's a little bit of info up online from 2009. You can watch the speech he gave at the DFL Convention asking for endorsement, though he doesn't really say much and his supporters are overly fond of the "interruptive slow clap" approach to making it look like the guy is super popular. There's also an interview with Minneapolis Park Watch Watch (that's not a typo: watch watch is correct) here but the hot issues of 2009 are not really in play this time around. (Back in 2009, there were people suggesting that the Park Board be eliminated and the City Council ought to take over responsibility for the parks; at the extreme other end were people saying not only that the Park Board ought to be independent but it ought to be able to set its own park-specific taxes. I was a fan of the status quo, an independent Park Board that gets handed a budget. This year, the status quo doesn't seem to be in dispute.)

Anyway. I am not super impressed by Steve Barland. I absolutely want Park Board Commissioners to support youth sports, but not necessarily at the cost of everything else the park board does. The Park Board oversees a lot of stuff -- some functional, some environmental, some recreational, and some aesthetic. Youth sports matter, but so do the other stuff.

John Erwin (incumbent; DFL-endorsed)

Website is and you know, you should check out his accomplishments page because it's really damn impressive and incidentally illustrates exactly what I was noting above, that there's a lot the parks do other than youth sports. I was impressed by his ideas when he ran in 2009 and I feel vindicated by my endorsement of him last time around. I'd vote for him again. So would pretty much every elected official in the city as well as the Sierra Club, the local unions, and the DFL.

He actually flirted with the idea of running for mayor but apparently decided against it. Just as well, because he's really good at what he's doing right now.

While looking for information on Erwin I found this really excellent article about some past Park Board drama. Gurban's been replaced by a woman who has actual people skills, and this reminds me why one of my vague negative associations with mayoral candidate Bob Fine was nepotism, or at the very least, overly invested in his personal network.

Meg Forney

Website is here:

So, here's the thing. As you might gather from the comment about the "independent park board" fights of 2009, not to mention that article about Gruban, the issues this year are really different from the issues in 2009. So the fact that Meg hasn't updated her website at all, even to say that she's running for an at-large seat instead of the District 6 seat, or to fix the Election Day (which is not November 3rd this year) does not impress me. She has a Facebook page but the only thing she's put up there this year is a new cover photo and a photo from a house party held for her last January.

She has a blog on her campaign website and the last post was from 2009. There are 25 comments on that post and I thought, "Maybe there was some interesting give-and-take that will show me how she interacts with people!" so I clicked to look at the comments and they were all spam.

It's mid-September and while a lot of people are not going to start paying attention to the races for another month....that shouldn't be the case for the candidates.

(Edited 11/2 to's now up to date with her current priorities, which are egalitarian access; fiscal viability; and quality of life.)

Casper Hill

Website is -- Casper also has a Facebook page.

The Park Board seems to attract a certain number of candidates who found something annoying about the parks and got in the race. In Casper's case, he's a runner who is annoyed by paths that need to be repaved. As a biker -- no, let me be more specific. As a biker who is married to a fellow biker who rides a road bike and doesn't understand the appeal of hybrids or comfort models because geez, Naomi, your bike weighs a ton, how can you even stand it....let me just note that his concerns here are legit. A few times we got calls from city surveys asking what our priorities were for the parks and we always told them we wanted something repaved.

That said, it was never really our sole priority (also, now that I live in St. Paul, at this point I'd be happy with goddamn striped lane and for them to repave Hamline, which is a disgrace and is also one of the only north-south streets which has lights at the major intersections and is quiet enough that I don't feel like I'm taking my life in my hands to bike on it. But I digress.)

His other big suggestion is that we should provide water-bottle fillers (and drinking fountains, obviously) throughout the system because bottled water is bad. It's funny, but his particular set of irritations mesh very well with mine and Ed's. If he added (a) add more porta-pots to provide year-round places to pee through the parks and along the trails, (b) step up the cleaning schedule of the porta-pots during winter thaws, and (c) fix the benches when they get vandalized, he'd probably have gotten my vote if I still lived in Minneapolis.

Ishmael Israel

Ishmael has a Facebook page for his Park Board race but if he has a website, I couldn't find it. However, I will note that he has a name that is rather difficult to Google. (You definitely need the quotation marks, at least, to get anything at all related to him.)

Ishmael is a Northsider and an African American, which would bring some geographic and racial diversity to the board. Geographic diversity is somewhat provided by the division of the city into Park Board districts, but good grief, look at all those white people. (Annie Young apparently identifies as white, according to this now slightly outdated article, which surprises me as I'd always assumed she was mixed-race.) I note this in part because he does; he notes a lack of diversity on the current board as being one of the reasons he's running.

Anyway, here's what I'd say about his Facebook page. First, there's too much stuff about national issues rather than local issues; he talks about equality and links to a piece about Robert Reich talking about income inequality. If you want to say that this is relevant to the Minneapolis Park Board, you need to make a case for this with some local specifics. Are the parks funded unequally, with the parks that serve children in the rich neighborhoods getting better hours, programs, and equipment than the parks that serve children in the poor neighborhoods? Even one picture of neglected playground equipment would be helpful to make that case. John Erwin has goals to do direct door-to-door outreach in the poor neighborhoods to inform parents about programs for kids in the parks (and arranged for the community centers in the poor areas to be open late to give teens a safe place to hang out); what are Ishmael's specific ideas?

Well, specifically he wants to stop more trash burning in Minneapolis (I think that's a City Council issue, rather than a Park Board issue, though). He wants to increase the programming budget (which pays for things like youth sports, art classes in the community centers, etc.) He expresses concern about handicapped accessibility in bathrooms (saying that he was surprised to hear from people that many park buildings have exemptions from providing this). An article about him and Hashim Yonis talks about his experience with city governance; he serves on the Minneapolis Neighborhood Community Engagement Commission, and he's the executive director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council. He talks a lot in that article (and you'll see this attitude some on his Facebook page) about how we need to do outreach so that people know what the Park Board does. I'm not entirely convinced that it matters; I mean, I need to know who does what if I want to productively complain about something, but even if you're pretty well-versed in city governance, the parks in the area are run by a half-dozen different entities, actually. The worst bike path in town might be the one through Fort Snelling Park, and that's not a city park and the Park Board doesn't have jurisdiction. Although there's a dog park back there and I think the city does have jurisdiction over that. You know what, seriously, what I want from my park board is that they maintain stuff well enough that I don't have to figure out who to complain to and I don't need to worry about how it all works and who exactly is in charge of what.

I think the Neighborhood Community Engagement Commission and the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council are really well-suited to his interests, honestly. I'm not blown away by his campaign for Park Board.

Mary Lynn McPherson

Again, no web page, but a Facebook page which she created a few days after she filed for office. Her personal page, which at first was all I could find, shows her with a lawn sign. I don't understand people who print up lawn signs but don't set up a web page, even if they do put their e-mail address on their lawn signs.

So, according to her Facebook page, she wants to see the parks "thrive and grow" (note: I have not yet found a candidate for Park Board who wants the parks to wither and die, though I'm not going to rule out the possibility of someone like this running); she wants all the parks to be maintained well, not just the ones in the rich parts of town; and she wants to be "your VOICE."

On August 28 she visited some parks and ticked off the stuff that annoyed her: baskeball hoops that needed to be replaced, no Senior programming, uneven recycling programs, and buildings that aren't being used during part of the day.


Tom Nordyke (DFL-endorsed)

Given that Tom Nordyke is DFL-endorsed and a former at-large Park Board commissioner (he lost his seat last time around, when Bob Fine, Annie Young, and John Erwin were all elected) I was not expecting to have a hard time finding information about him. I mean, he'll have a website, obviously, with the same URL he used four years ago, NordykeforMinneapolisParks dot com, because OBVIOUSLY YOU WOULD DO THIS.

He hasn't done this. There's nothing at that URL but the CenturyLink "oh hai you could buy this URL!" page and I could not find either a web site or a Facebook page for him which means that despite the fact that he's got the DFL endorsement, he fails one of my fundamental "am I actually running for this office or did I just file because seeing my name on ballots gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling?" litmus tests.


I don't ordinarily send candidates an e-mail to yell at them for not having a website, but I'm going to make an exception in this case. (His e-mail is on the paper he filed with the city, which also has a line for your website, which he left blank.)

Tidbits I found about him online: a profile from 2005 that mentions his partner. I was a little startled by the word "partner" until I checked the date. He mentions that he's chaired the Minneapolis Arts Commission, and volunteered with the Central Community Housing Trust, the Children's Miracle Network and the Minnesota AIDS ride. Back in 2009 he was endorsed by the reformers. He served on an advisory commission to find a location for a new dog park. He got a resolution honoring him when he lost his seat -- do other elected bodies do this? Passing a resolution recognizing your service when you've just been displaced because you got beaten in an election seems hilariously passive-aggressive and kind of cruel, but maybe everyone does it.

I'll let you know if he writes back.

Edited 11/2 to add: he wrote back to say something like, "no website, but feel free to e-mail me with questions" but he now appears to have an extremely basic Facebook site:

Jason Stone

It's lucky for Jason that he contacted me personally with a link to his web page, because Google doesn't find it if you search for "jason stone Minneapolis parks" (which is what I did.) It did give me a hit right off with just "jason minneapolis parks" because it's -- you can maybe get away with the "I'm a rock star!" first-name only thing if you're named Condoleeza or Haddayr or possibly even Casper but if your name is Jason, you should make sure your last name is also in your metadata. (Inspired, I tried "tom minneapolis parks" to see if that got me to Tom Nordyke's site, but nope. You REALLY can't get away with that when you are named Tom and there's a Thomas Lowry park.)

His Facebook group is here.

His background includes a couple of interesting details. On the plus side, he's provided a Host Home to homeless GLBT youth (through Avenues for Homeless Youth), and he's served as a volunteer coach. On the ... I'm not even sure side, he's served as Executive Director for the Resource Center of the Americas. Apparently he left corporate work to do this. Given that the Center of the Americas crashed and burned in a few years ago in one of the more dramatic non-profit closures I remember, I'm not sure that's really something he ought to be highlighting.

His ideas (other than the stuff everyone says, like plant trees and improve facilities) include establishing a youth board to advise the Park Board; establishing a racial equity working group; adding racial justice goals to the park's planning process; and reducing barriers to collaboration between the Park Board, the schools, and various non-profits. (You would think that collaboration between the schools and the parks would be a no-brainer, considering how many local schools are right by parks, but in fact one of the problems in the city is how little these groups interact. Back when Molly was a toddler, I went to ECFE classes in the temporary building next to Hiawatha School, which is right next to Hiawatha School Park. The ramp leading up into the building wound up completely iced over because the Hiawatha school staff insisted it was part of the park so they didn't need to shovel it, and the park staff insisted it was part of the school so they didn't need to shovel it, either. I'd say that given that the buildings were being used for education purposes, the park staff had more of a point than the school staff.)

On his Facebook page he also notes, "We made a difference with our 2005 and 2009 Park Board campaigns which emphasized public awareness of critical park issues. Our advocacy contributed to the replacement of the park superintendent and most senior staff." This may in fact be true. Jason got threatened with arrest for passing out campaign literature in the parks, because then-commissioner Jon Gurban got pissy and decided to throw his weight around; this was sufficiently appalling that even though Jason lost the election, it may have contributed to Gurban finally being kicked out of a job he never should have gotten in the first place. (Here, if you scrolled past it before, the Park Board drama from a few years back.)

Hashim Yonis

Website here:

Hashim Yonis is a 24-year-old who immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 at the age of 10; he was born in Somalia and lived in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. He speaks English, Somali, Swahili, Amharic, Adare, and Oromo; I'm going to guess that he didn't know a lot of English before he arrived, especially as his parents were uneducated. While an honors student at Edison High School, he got an internship in R.T.'s office through the STEP-UP jobs program. After graduating high school he got a BA in History from St. Olaf and is now working on an MA in School Administration, while working as an administrator at Roosevelt and Wellstone High Schools. Last year he was a Youth Ambassador to the White House and got to tell Obama all about the STEP-UP program and how awesome it was. I feel like I'm leaving stuff out. Did I mention he's 24 years old? Or possibly he's 26. (I am seeing conflicting information in various articles.) St. Olaf says he's class of '10.

People like this make me feel like such a slacker.

So: total overachiever. His site says he wants to create culturally appropriate programming for a wide range of ages, that he wants to provide equitable services/funding and work for social justice, and... yeah, not much beyond the usual PARKS ARE AWESOME, WE HAVE THE BEST PARKS OF ANYWHERE stuff.

He's endorsed by R.T. and a couple of people on the school board.

I think if elected he'd probably do a good job, although I'm not sure this is the optimal use of his talents and energy.

EDITED TO ADD BREAKING NEWS because this is a big goddamn deal and people may not scroll down to read the comments: Apparently he got fired last month from a job at a park because of the suspicious disappearance of a large pile of money on his watch.

That's really sad and disappointing.

Annie Young (incumbent)

Website is here:

She's not as into tooting her horn as Erwin is. She has served on the Park Board through all sorts of changes over the last eight years, but here's all she lists for her accomplishments:

Reduction in chemical use
Increase in tree planting
Improvements in water quality
Acquisition for riverfront development
Recycling in parks

She's endorsed by the Sierra Club, some unions, and the Minneapolis Greens.

I need to look at the ballot to see how many people you're supposed to rank before I'm going to be able to suggest a set of rankings, but I'll say at this point I have a highly favorable view of John Erwin; a favorable view of Jason Stone, Hashim Yonis, Annie Young, and Casper Hill (I have to admit, sharing my particular minor irritations counts for something with me); a neutral view of Steve Barland and Ishmael Israel; and a negative view of Meg Forney, Mary Lynn McPherson, Tom Nordyke, and Hashim Yonis (due to the possibly-stole-money-from-his-job issue).

Edited 11/2 to note that there's an excellent Q&A with each candidate that may be helpful to those researching the Park Board race:

I'll note that if I were voting in this race, I think I'd vote for (1) John Erwin, (2) Jason Stone, and (3) Ishmael Israel.

Election of 2013 Index of Posts
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