Dozens of neighbors attended a Ward 8 city council candidate forum at St. Peter’s AME Church on April 25, 2023. Candidates included Andrea Jenkins, the current City Council president; and Soren Stevenson, a renter, policy advocate and survivor of police violence. They responded to questions on climate action, community partnerships, public safety and rent control that were prepared by representatives from Faith in Minnesota, MN350 and Home to Stay and given to candidates in advance.
A 16-year resident of Ward 8, MN350 volunteer Mary Kosuth led the forum by addressing climate action.
“I am alarmed, and I am not alone,” said Kosuth, who feels the changes needed are more than what individuals can provide and that she’s desperate for leadership. Kosuth asked candidates what climate actions they support and how they would raise dedicated funds on a scale of tens of millions, beginning in neighborhoods most impacted by climate inequality.
Jenkins listed current city goals to weatherize 30,000 homes (5,000 of those in Green Zones), reduce fossil fuel use by 30%, train 1,000 residents in green jobs by 2030, and achieve 100% renewable energy citywide by using solar energy throughout the community. She called for a climate action funding plan that uses multiple revenue streams, including increasing franchising fees on utility companies to generate income and raising money through state and federal grants.
Stevenson acknowledged the city has “really good goals,” but said it’s hard to see where there was concrete action to make good on those goals. For Stevenson, concrete action means dedicating funds to back up the People’s Climate and Equity Plan – such as by increasing the pollution control annual registration fee, and being aggressive in negotiations with utilities when contracts are renewed.
He also called for more biking and walking, and to convert Olson Memorial Highway, “a dangerous and redundant highway,” back into a community street where “Black and immigrant businesses once thrived and could thrive again.”
Mary Slobig, a Ward 8 leader with Faith in Minnesota, described a positive partnership with Rep. Aisha Gomez that led to passage of Drivers Licenses for All, that enables Minnesotans to obtain a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. This drew cheers and applause from many in the room. Slobig asked candidates how they will work with community members.
Stevenson said it’s the role of community organizations to be deeply rooted in the community, and the role of elected officials to listen to those organizations. He vowed to be present and accessible, and said anyone who calls or emails will get a response back.
Jenkins holds office hours on Fridays by appointment, and said she will continue to meet with organizations and attend block gatherings when invited.
Holistic public safety
Mike Rollin, also a Ward 8 leader with Faith in Minnesota, spoke of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) as targeting, detaining and killing Black, Brown and Indigenous neighbors and – along with the leaders who support them – leveraging their power to shield themselves from responsibility.
“It has become hard to imagine a situation where I would see a benefit to calling the police. Not impossible, but really, really hard,” said Rollin. He reminded people that Derek Chauvin, found guilty in George Floyd’s murder, continued on the force despite having had multiple complaints against him – and was even a lead trainer of new recruits. Rollin asked candidates how they will increase transparency and accountability for the MPD, as well as their plans to expand the city’s efforts at violence prevention, mental health crisis response and other approaches to public safety outside of traditional policing.
Jenkins said the city hired a commissioner of public safety, integrated the public safety response to include MPD, the fire department and 911 services, implemented a violence interrupters program and launched the Behavioral Crisis Response (BCR) team. Jenkins mentioned being sued by the Minnesota Human Rights Department (whose investigation found that the city of Minneapolis and the MPD engage in a pattern or practice of race discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act), and the subsequent agreement which she believes will help hold the MPD accountable.
This question hit close to home for Stevenson, who while protesting the murder of George Floyd, was shot in the face by an MPD officer in broad daylight and lost his left eye. He knows what it’s like to be defined by Minneapolis police violence, and said Minneapolis is defined internationally by police violence.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said, and suggested the city could instead be defined by how it changes and creates a lasting justice for everyone.
Stevenson called for violence prevention to be funded with parity to the city’s response to violence (violence prevention is allocated a fraction of funding compared to over $190 million for MPD). Stevenson also wants to scale up the BCR to operate 24/7 to meet the city’s needs (a BCR team was not deployed in the case of Tekle Sundberg, who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police in July 2022 while he was in the midst of a mental health crisis; critics suggest the BCR co-respond in these situations).
Stevenson said current leadership has refused to stand up to the police federation, and waited for the state to step in and force them to comply with the law. According to Stevenson, the officer who shot him is still on the force, and another officer present at the time of his injury, Mark Hanneman, went on to kill Amir Locke.
“We need real transformational change to how we approach our public safety system in Minneapolis, not just minor changes from a lawsuit,” said Stevenson. His remarks drew applause from attendees.
Anain Lozano, with the coalition Home to Stay Mpls, has been a resident for more than 10 years.
“Something I am not willing to do is be forced to go away from my house because of the lack of control of the rent,” she said. “I believe that it doesn’t matter what color we are, where we come from, what is our immigration status. I think we all deserve to have a home that is clean, that is livable.”
Candidates were asked if they would support rent stabilization with a 3% percent annual cap on rent increases with no vacancy decontrol (where rent is controlled only while the existing tenant is in the unit).
Stevenson said this was the policy they expected the city council to pass this year after residents voted to put rent controls in place, but that current leadership has “consistently attempted to undermine, water down rent stabilization.” He also supports rent-to-purchase measures, and a just-cause eviction ordinance.
Jenkins cited a similar rent stabilization policy in St. Paul that had to be amended due to dwindling housing production. She said rents are now going up in St. Paul.
“I think we need to create more affordable housing. We need to subsidize rent through universal basic income… as well as hold accountable those nefarious and egregious landlords who are preying on our community members,” said Jenkins. She said there’s a need to invest in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and continue the 4d Affordable Housing Incentive program. Jenkins also supports a tenant’s opportunity to purchase.
Asked by Lozano to clarify whether she supports the version of rent stabilization outlined earlier, Jenkins said, “I do not support that policy as stated. I think there are other policies that can achieve some of the same goals.”
In a brief conversation afterwards, the evening’s moderator John Saxhaug, Ward 8 team leader with Faith in Minnesota, was pleased to bring community together for the forum. “You can feel the energy,” said Saxhaug.
Both Jenkins and Stevenson are seeking the DFL endorsement. The Ward 8 convention is May 20 and will be held virtually.
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