Teqen Zéa-Aida said he learned the Loring Park building were he rents an apartment and until recently operated a gallery was slated to be demolished for a mixed-use development this winter in a sit-down meeting with his City Council member, Ward 7’s Lisa Goodman.
It was that meeting that set Zéa-Aida on a path to challenge Goodman, a 20-year incumbent, in November. A newcomer to electoral politics, the gallerist and businessman was still forming his policy positions in the weeks after filing to run, but he said he would bring a “pragmatic” and “expressionist-modernist” approach to the office, along with a focus on gentrification, rising rents, diversity and equity.
“We all thank (Goodman) for her service, but I think many people, not just in Ward 7 but across the city, know that it is time for change,” he said.
Reached for comment, Goodman said she welcomed a discussion of the issues and her record in the campaign.
Zéa-Aida, 41, moved to the Stevens Square neighborhood in 1994, two weeks after graduating high school in Forest Lake and just three years before Goodman won her first City Council election. He co-founded modeling agency Vision Management Group in 1996, and his gallery, City Wide Artists, hosted its inaugural exhibition in 2015.
He’ll face off against fellow DFLers Goodman and Janne Flisrand this fall. Flisrand challenged the incumbent for the party’s endorsement in April, but neither reached the 60-percent threshold of support from ward convention delegates. Also running is Republican-endorsed candidate Joe Kovacs.
In an August interview, Zéa-Aida described himself as the “quintessential Minneapolitan,” someone with deep ties to the city’s art, fashion and philanthropy communities and a long-time resident’s knowledge of its inner-city neighborhoods. But when he showed up at a DFL caucus earlier this year, Zéa-Aida didn’t see many of his neighbors.
“I was the only African-descended male in the room. I believe I was the only Latino in the room,” he said. “That shocked me completely because … on 15th & Nicollet, I see a very diverse community.”
Zéa-Aida said he would bring a renter’s perspective to the debate over rising property values, rising rents and gentrification. Flisrand has also made affordable housing a top priority, and Goodman authored the ordinance that created the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The 15th & Nicollet building where Zéa-Aida lives is scheduled to be demolished and replaced by mixed-use project featuring 184 units of affordable housing from developer Dominium. He said he was “OK with sacrificing” his current home and workspace for much needed workforce housing, but questioned how affordable rents pegged to 60 percent of area median income would truly be and predicted that the development would drive up rents in nearby buildings.
Ward 7 stretches from the city’s western border, just beyond Cedar Lake, into downtown, and its representative serves a diverse constituency. The median household incomes of its neighborhoods range from less than 60 percent to more than double the citywide median household income. Zéa-Aida said he was best positioned to “bridge the precincts of Ward 7.”
“I have friends who live in public housing, and I have friends who live in some of the finest homes on Lake of the Isles,” he said.
Zéa-Aida said he would work to improve the livability of neighborhoods in and near downtown by encouraging bodegas to carry a wider array of products and expanding the zones where food trucks and carts are allowed to operate. He said downtown crime had “exploded,” and advocated a “holistic” approach to public safety, one that promotes equity, engagement and access to jobs and housing in addition to targeting crime.
He said he would have worked harder to retain Macy’s on Nicollet Mall and described the ongoing reconstruction of the downtown retail corridor as “a disaster.”
Zéa-Aida said his “activist instincts” are balanced by a “centrist, if not a little bit conservative” political sensibility.
He said he was “disappointed” in the process that led the City Council in July to adopt a $15 minimum wage ordinance. Higher wages will be phased-in over seven years, and after that the minimum pay rate for Minneapolis workers will be pegged to inflation.
Zéa-Aida predicted the policy could end up “backfiring,” and if it does, immigrants and people of color will be the ones hurt the most. He said a better solution would have involved more collaboration with business owners and been coupled with policies to encourage diversity and inclusion at places of work.
“I do not pretend to have the answers,” he said. “What I am saying is I am more than willing — dare I say committed — to exploring the nuance and a creative path toward finding new policy that will benefit all of Minneapolis’ residents, not just a group over here and not just a group over there.”