10th Ward candidate profile: Lisa Bender

Lisa Bender. Credit: By Nick Halter

For the neighbors living around Uptown, the 2013 City Council election provides the most competitive race in the city, as four candidates look to defeat incumbent Meg Tuthill.

On April 27, DFL delegates will meet to decide which, if any, candidate they should endorse in this November’s election. A DFL endorsement has historically nearly guaranteed a victory in the November election since city races are not partisan and do not require primaries.

Three of Tuthill’s challengers are vying for the DFL endorsement: Lisa Bender, Ken Bradley and Kendal Killian. A fourth candidate, Nate Griggs, isn’t seeking the endorsement.

Ward 10 is an interesting area of the city, particularly right now, as apartment development is booming.

Ward 10 is made up of the neighborhoods of Lowry Hill East, Whittier, East Calhoun, CARAG and the north half of East Harriet.

Urban planning is Bender’s forte 

With over a decade worth of experience in urban planning and transportation, Lisa Bender says she’s the ideal candidate to lead Ward 10, one of the more interesting urban landscapes in state.

Bender’s career in urban planning has taken her from the Twin Cities to New York City to San Francisco and finally back to Minneapolis, where she and her husband Ryan decided to start a family in the bustling Lowry Hill East neighborhood.

“I’ve always been interested in how communities grow and change, and specifically making sure that communities grow and change in a way that is sustainable and equitable,” Bender said.

At 34, Bender has already survived a major life hurdle. A few years ago, she was 12 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For most of her pregnancy, she battled cancer via surgery and chemotherapy, and was able to conquer the disease.

Her daughter Alice, now a healthy 2-year-old, ran around Glam Doll Donuts on a recent Saturday afternoon as Bender spoke to a group of potential DFL delegates.

Bender is making her transportation and urban planning background a central part of her campaign, but she’s quick to point out that she’s already delivered results.

She’s one of the founders of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, a group of citizen that formed in 2009 following a stretch of bicyclists deaths. The group has successfully pushed for more bike lanes in Minneapolis.

“Today, we have a much better city for bicycling, in part because of her efforts on the coalition,” said Thatcher Imboden, a cyclist and Bender supporter.

Bender’s expertise in urban planning and transportation stretches back to the early 2000s, when she moved to New York and worked for two nonprofits that deal with transportation and development.

After four years in New York, she moved to California and got a master’s degree in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley in 2007. She worked as an urban designer for the city of San Francisco until 2009, when she moved to Minneapolis.

She had worked for the Minnesota Department of Transportation as a coordinator helping communities make it safer for kids to bike and walk to school, but she had to quit that job after she decided to run for City Council because of state campaign laws.

In Uptown, development is booming and debates are underway about how the city should plan for added density.

“We’ve seen over 1,000 new residents and we’re planning for more, but we haven’t seen any improvements in our transportation system,” Bender said at a recent forum. She’d like enhanced bus systems on Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Avenue.

Rachel Dougherty is a 28-year-old Lowry Hill East resident who wishes she and her boyfriend could get down to one vehicle, but don’t feel comfortable doing so because the bus system can’t easily take them where they need to go.

Dougherty decided to support Bender after learning of her background and discussing some of the issues with her. Bender came off as pragmatic and listen to ideas, Dougherty said.

“This is really what I am looking for in City Council member,” Dougherty said. “Somebody who has this kind of experience, who has been elbows deep in these issues, because it matters so much to a city like this.”