Four candidates are vying to succeed Minneapolis Council Member Don Samuels in the city’s Fifth Ward, which encompasses parts of north Minneapolis. Samuels is running for mayor.
Three candidates are DFLers and one is a member of the Green Party. Although candidate Ian Alexander came close to capturing the DFL endorsement at the caucus in April, none of the DFLers won the party’s nod, making it an especially unpredictable race.
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The candidates running for the open Minneapolis City Council seat may differ in their approaches, but they agree on one thing: North Minneapolis, which struggles with high rates of poverty and violence, needs help.
Ian Alexander is a lawyer who’s worked as a family law attorney in north Minneapolis for the last four years. When he looks at the business corridors of north Minneapolis, he sees potential. But Alexander doesn’t see enough amenities. He said more mixed-income housing in the area would attract restaurants and shops.
“If the corridors on the North Side were better performing, it would spur development, it would spur people wanting to live four minutes to downtown,” Alexander said.
Alexander said part of his role as a council member would be to push residents of other parts of the city to revise how they think about north Minneapolis until they “see the North Side as a place that they could see raising a family, and they could see as buying a first home.”
DFLer Blong Yang is a lawyer who formerly worked as an investigator in the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. He said some neighbors are wary of the sort of development that could lead to gentrification, although he said the neighborhood could benefit from more mixed incomes.
“There’s this other strong narrative of ‘north Minneapolis is close to downtown,’ people want to grab onto places here and people want to displace the poor people here,” Yang said. Candidates have to understand “that there has to be some sort of balancing act to make it work for people.”
To improve the economy in north Minneapolis, Yang said the city has to make it simpler to start businesses.
“We can make the processes easier for people who don’t speak English or people who might have other disabilities that might prevent them from wanting to go through the regulatory process,” Yang said. “We have to make the city a better place to do business.”
DFL Candidate Brett Buckner is the former head of the Minneapolis NAACP and a longtime civic activist in the neighborhood. One centerpiece of Buckner’s campaign is a proposal for an infrastructure improvement campaign that he says will also help strengthen north Minneapolis by creating jobs.
“We can do all the zoning and all the other enticements to get large businesses in, but we have to take care our infrastructure first to be a world class city,” Buckner said. “We haven’t done that in some time.”
Buckner said hiring workers from within the city will help keep public dollars spent on infrastructure improvements in north Minneapolis.
“That’s going to provide for a lot of young men and young women who are from the community, a chance to get a living wage job, to rebuild the community, and to really start to send us on a path towards prosperity,” Buckner said.
Green Party candidate Kale Severson said he wants to see “ma and pa” stores all along Broadway Avenue, but that as a council member, he would also be willing to sit down and make the neighborhood’s case to Fortune 500 companies.
“We have empty, open space,” Severson said. “We just have to go in and sell it to these people who want businesses here.”
Fourteen out of 30 murders that occurred in Minneapolis from the start of the year until October happened in north Minneapolis, according to a monthly report from the Minneapolis Police Department.
In order to tamp down on violence, Buckner said it’s important to rebuild trust between the police department and the residents.
“I was speaking to Chief [Janee] Harteau just a couple weeks ago,” Buckner said. “We definitely want to expand our police presence along the major corridors so people feel comfortable, to rebuild relationships between the people and the residents so they feel comfortable working together.”
Buckner also supports hiring ambassadors similar to those used by the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District
Alexander said more business development in the neighborhood would cut down on crime.
“Crime isn’t the central issue that the North Side has, it’s just the symptom,” Alexander said. “The challenge of the North Side is that there’s no economic opportunity.”
Yang said making the neighborhood safer and fighting the perception that north Minneapolis is inherently unsafe would be his main priority on the council.
“I just want to make it safer so people aren’t afraid to walk out at any time of the night, so that this is the kind of place where people want to live,” Yang said.
The Green Party’s Severson said the neighborhood doesn’t need more police, but that police need to be more accountable to the community.
“I’m not against the police,” Severson said. “I want to work with the police, but I want to work with police being accountable — I want police to see kids of color as assets and not liabilities in north Minneapolis.”
Severson supports instituting a requirement that 49 percent of police officers have to live within city limits.
The candidates all agreed that part of their job as Minneapolis City Council members would be to aggressively advocate for the neighborhood, which they say has historically been neglected or ignored by the rest of the city.
The Minneapolis election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Voters will also elect a new mayor to succeed Mayor R.T. Rybak and the Minneapolis Park Board.