Mayoral candidates get feisty at forum on labor issues

The campaign rhetoric is heating up in the mayor’s race with candidates taking jabs at one another at a forum hosted by the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO on Monday night.

Mark Andrew, a frontrunner in the race took several swings at Betsy Hodges, another leading candidate, at one point saying she “had the disease of a small vision” when the candidates were asked about whether they would push for a new hotel to help the Convention Center attract more business.

Hodges said she would work to increase hotel capacity in the city to attract more conventions, but said she’s opposed to using city subsidies for a new 1,000-room hotel. Instead, she favors working with the private sector to develop a new 500-room hotel and increase capacity at other downtown hotels.

Andrew, a Meet Minneapolis board member, meanwhile, said as mayor he would push for the development of a large hotel to help attract more tourists and make the city more competitive in attracting conventions.

“Indianapolis, Denver and even St. Louis are eating our lunch,” Andrew said. “We can’t sit on our hands.”

When asked later if he supported taxpayer subsidies for a new hotel, he said:  “I am not interested in subsidizing corporations or corporate welfare, but I am interested in smart investments that grow our city. When investing public dollars in any project we need to make sure there are significant public benefits, including job creation and workforce training opportunities for city residents. In the case of the Convention Center hotel, the devil is in the details. As mayor, I will fight for the best deal for Minneapolis taxpayers.”

The question about support for a Convention Center hotel was one of several asked by local labor union members at the forum held at the Ukrainian Event Center in Northeast. Besides Hodges and Andrew, DFL candidates Jackie Cherryhomes and Don Samuels participated in the event.

Another intense moment in the debate came when Samuels took the other candidates to task for not being as aggressive as he has been on addressing the achievement gap between poor and affluent students in the city. Unlike them, he said he actually believes poor children can overcome poverty.

Addressing the city’s significant racial disparities — among the worst in the nation — has been a hot topic of debate throughout the campaign season.

Samuels said he was blessed with coming across opportunities that helped him rise out of the poverty he was born into in Jamaica. “Put the weight on my shoulders,” he told the crowd of roughly 200 people at the candidate forum when talking about his passion for taking on the problems facing minority youth in poor neighborhoods like his in Jordan in North Minneapolis.

Cherryhomes challenged Samuels’ statement, arguing that all of the candidates at the forum believe that minority youth from poor families have the ability to learn.

As for how she would lead efforts from the mayor’s office to reduce racial disparities, she said she would work to make sure residents have access to stable housing and focus on developing more affordable housing. She would also focus on job creation, particularly on the North Side. She also referenced an initiative in Cleveland where some schools are offering wrap-around services to help families in poverty as a model for Minneapolis leaders to explore.

Hodges said she would focus on what the city does best to tackle the city’s racial disparities. She would focus on increasing affordable housing options, strengthening the city’s health department and creating more transit options. She also pointed to her Cradle-to-K initiative, which proposes a range of ideas to create more opportunities for children from low-income families. It calls for the expansion of the Healthy Start program serving poor families, more access to childcare and a mayor’s Cabinet on the Cradle-to-K plan.

Andrew said while “no one can wave a magic wand” and eliminate the structural poverty that has long been in issue in the city, he would lead efforts as mayor to strengthen struggling neighborhoods to make community schools more attractive options for families. He would also “turbo charge” the Youth Coordinating Board, a group made up of community leaders from the city, county, Park Board and state that work on issues impacting young people.

Samuels, meanwhile, touted his education plan he released earlier in the day detailing his ideas to help turnaround struggling schools.

As mayor he would focus on replicating ideas that work in schools serving low-income minority students and pointed to Harvest Prep Academy and Hiawatha Academy as two schools in Minneapolis that are showing good outcomes.

He would also create a Trust for Innovation in Minneapolis Education (TIME) Fund that would award grants and loans to organizations and schools that find creative solutions to tackle the achievement gap.