Naomi (naomikritzer) wrote,

Election 2013, Volume 4, Issue 2: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 5

The 5th Ward of Minneapolis is currently represented by Don Samuels, but he's running for mayor, so the seat is open. The DFL failed to endorse a candidate at their convention in the spring; there are three DFLers and one Green running for the seat, so if you're a Republican in Ward Five, you really don't have anyone to vote for. But given that there are approximately zero Republicans living in Ward Five (I rounded), I'm not sure that matters.

This ward covers a large part of what's referred to by Minneapolis as "Northside." Let me just spell this out for the people who live outside the area but read these anyway: Northside is the poorest part of Minneapolis. It has some of the worst schools. It tends to be structurally neglected. North Minneapolis got hit much harder by the foreclosure crisis. It also got hit by a tornado in 2011, and the city did an unimpressive job of cleaning up or helping the residents.

It's affordable as heck, though. I just looked on a realty website and there are a ton of houses up there for $50K or less. (Admittedly, most of them didn't have any interior pictures, which is never a good sign.)

Anyway, the candidates:

Ian Alexander (DFL)
Blong Yang (DFL)
Brett Buckner (DFL)
Kale Severson (Green)

Ian Alexander

Ian came the closest to landing the DFL endorsement (within two votes, apparently, which must have been frustrating as heck). He's a lawyer (family law and civil rights) with a degree in public policy; he's been active in neighborhood politics. He lost his home in the tornado and replaced it with a fixer-upper that he's been fixing up (he deserves to score points for that, seriously).

He says his first priority is economic development and launches into a rather complicated description of very specific ideas he has to streamline the process of people opening businesses in North Minneapolis. I'm not an expert on this but his ideas look good to me.

His second priority is public safety, and he hammers on both the need for more police officers and the need for the police to treat law-abiding residents, including rehabilitated former offenders, with respect. I totally agree with him there.

Finally, he talks about housing, and again, I like his ideas, which include affordable rental housing that's not overly concentrated in one spot.

There is apparently concern about the fact that he's a former Republican. He was a Republican as recently as 2008, and he ran for office as a Republican while living in D.C. (I'm not an expert on D.C. politics, but isn't that nearly as quixotic as running as a Republican in Minneapolis?) His opponents have suggested (or encouraged their supporters to suggest) that he's a naked opportunist who changed parties solely because he realized that he'd never get elected as a Republican around here. Which.....doesn't ring true to me, honestly, partly just because of where he lives.

But, hey. This explains something I ran across while reading about the DFL convention that failed to endorse. During the Q&A they got asked, "Describe the moment in your life when you realized you were a democrat." I'm going to bet that was asked by a Ken Foxworth supporter, given his fantastic answer.

Foxworth: "When my mother was put in prison for protesting a lack of teachers." (That's a badass answer.)
Yang: "In August 1998 when I became a citizen, came to law school here and was the only Hmong. Then when Barack Obama was elected I thought 'my kids can be president.'"
Alexander: "November 11, 2009 I opened my family law practice in North Minneapolis." He recalled something a Republican said to him then that made him realize that party "was not for me." (Okay, that is a C&P from TCDailyPlanet and I'm annoyed that they didn't tell us the full quote.)
Buckner: "Birth." (That's a stupid answer. Babies have no political opinions. Little kids will generally echo their parents. At some point, you have to think about your opinions and decide what you believe, and if you never moved beyond echoing whatever political orthodoxies you were raised with, even if you were raised liberal, I'm a lot less impressed by you.)

(Ken Foxworth seems to have dropped out after the convention -- he's not on the ballot, so I can't look up the backstory on his mom.)

Anyway. I have to admit that despite the former Republican affiliation, I like this guy. Some of my favorite Democrats in the state are actually former Republicans -- I loved Judy Dutcher, for instance. (By the same token, one of the Republicans I loathe most completely was once a Democrat...that'd be Norm Coleman, if you're wondering. I SWEAR HE LEAVES A TRAIL OF SLIME BEHIND HIM AS HE WALKS.)

Moving on.

Blong Yang (DFL)

Blong Yang has a compelling personal narrative (he is Hmong, was born in a Thai refugee camp, and immigrated to the U.S. when he was three years old). Like Ian, he's a civil rights attorney. His wife is a writer and sounds pretty awesome (that's kind of beside the point, though, since she's not the one running).

His top priority is public safety; he says a lot of the same stuff the Ian said, like that Northside should get the same basic services as the rest of the city (which they should!) and that the police should treat the citizens decently. I raised my eyebrow at the line, "we [need to] work hard to eliminate the perception that North Minneapolis is unsafe," which suggests that this is about perception rather than actually addressing crime, but the next line says, "If we can increase safety in Ward 5, residents will stay, new residents will move in, and new businesses will want to locate here," so I think what he's saying is that we need to fix perceptions by fixing the actual problem that people are perceiving.

He wants more jobs in the ward, and I have to admit I like the "we need more jobs, and they need to pay a living wage" approach (his) more than the "we need careers, not just jobs" line from Ian. Careers are all very well and good but when you're dealing with real poverty and lack of basic opportunities, I would start by focusing on living-wage jobs.

He says most of the same stuff about housing: preserve, rehab, keep it affordable. He mentions helping to solve the problem of homelessness, which is a good addition.

He lists Civil Rights as a priority -- did I mention that he works for the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights? Here's a quote: "The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) has played a huge role in making our City a better place to live and work for all people. The Minneapolis Civil Rights Ordinance provides additional protections not found in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. We must not allow the outsourcing of the MDCR's complaint investigation functions to the State Department of Human Rights. We must fully fund the MDCR's contract compliance function so that minority hiring goals are not just lip service. The future of Ward 5 depends on a strong and fully-funded MDCR. Without the MDCR, we would see a parade of horribles. The impact on Ward 5 would be devastating."

...I'm not sure what I think about this. I mean, I am a fan of civil rights; I'm not clear on what the MDCR does, and how it helps the city, and why it shouldn't be handed over to the state, and I'm not sure he really explains that to me here.

Finally, he mentions Education, saying that the "achievement gap" is a failure of the system and not of the children, and it's a product of racial injustice (and poverty). He goes on to say, "In the Minneapolis Public Schools, children of less educated families, usually of minority backgrounds, tend to be relegated to failing schools. Education funding needs to change so that every school in the district receives the financial support needed to ensure a high-quality education. The neediest schools in Minneapolis should receive the best teachers and the most resources." On one hand, he's right. On the other hand... Minneapolis teachers choose where they want to work, based on seniority. The district can't just assign teachers to schools (and although in theory they could negotiate with the union for the ability to assign teachers places, I think this would be a bad idea for a lot of reasons). I know someone who taught at Lucy Laney, briefly; she had a parent of one of her students threaten her with a gun. There are a lot of reasons that the teachers with more seniority don't typically choose to teach at the Northside schools.

Also, identifying the "best teachers" is one of those things that is fraught with political peril if you want the union to like you.

Also, the stuff that can be done here, like paying teachers extra for hardship assignments and trying to provide smaller class sizes and so on...this is outside the domain of the City Council. He does acknowledge that, and go on to talk about enrichment programs and so on, and sure, that's a good idea.

I like him, too, actually. Hmm.


Brett Buckner (DFL)

Here's Brett's plan, courtesy of his website:
    1. Enlist the energy, passions and talents of all Northside residents and institutions to work together on our common challenges.
    2. Reconnect our community to the activities and opportunities of the broader region; we must rebuild our homes, our infrastructure and our institutions.
    3. Develop an inclusive vision that provides pathways for our youth to become leaders.

I tend to be intensely skeptical of any political candidate that believes they're going to enlist the energy, passion, and talents of [any group of people who are not members of their personal cult, or employees they are paying a salary] to [accomplish anything that would require work as opposed to speechifying and platitude-quoting].

My skepticism increases with every additional platitude offered.

The guy's got some experience (he helped run Keith Ellison's campaigns) and knows how to be a community organizer. I am not at all convinced that he knows how to be a Council Member.

Nope. Next!

Kale Severson (Green)

His website is a Facebook page and has lots and lots of pictures and pretty much nothing about the issues.

According to his profile on Daily Planet, his big accomplishment was keeping North High open. I'm unconvinced that was actually a good move. Frankly, the residents had voted with their feet; hardly anyone was sending their kid there. Part of why Minneapolis class sizes are so shockingly big is that they have a number of massively underenrolled schools that no one wants to send their kids to because their test scores are so atrocious. Under no circumstances would I have sent my kids to North, so I really don't blame the residents of Northside for not sending their kids there. And once a school has hit the death spiral it can be damn hard to pull it out.

They didn't close it and I haven't been following the news closely so maybe it's rebounding and kids are enrolling and it's awesome, in which case...I'm still not even remotely impressed by this guy because if you're going to insist on using a Facebook page for your campaign website, you need to be providing some substantive content, not just pictures.

I'm going to say that if I were voting in Ward 5, I would rank the candidates (1) Ian Alexander, (2) Blong Yang, (3) Brett Buckner. Brett's a distant third and Ian and Blong are pretty close, but I am really impressed by Ian's background in public policy and urban planning and I think he has a lot of specific expertise that would serve Northside well. The "used to be a Republican" thing makes me mildly nervous, but not enough to not support him. Though if I actually lived in the neighborhood I might watch one of the forums or seek out the opportunity to meet Ian and Blong at meet-and-greets to see if that swayed my vote.

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