Mayoral candidates weigh in on Southwest LRT, MPD issues and more

The candidates for Minneapolis mayor discussed what to do about the increasingly contentious Southwest LRT line, among other topics, at a debate hosted by former MPR radio host Gary Eichten at the State Fair earlier today.

The proposed light rail line, which would link downtown and Eden Prairie, is facing opposition from Minneapolis and St. Louis Park about proposed plans to deal with freight traffic reroutes. Minneapolis homeowners and community leaders object to co-locating the LRT line next to existing freight train traffic in the Kenilworth Corridor, and St. Louis park officials and residents are also opposed to having freight trains rerouted to the city.

Here’s a recap of what the candidates said they would do to resolve the impasse over the light-rail line:

Stephanie Woodruff (DFLer with endorsement of the Independence Party) said “cluster” comes to mind when thinking about the issue. She said it’s “best to put the brakes” on the project to make sure all the involved parties can come to an agreement on the best way to deal with freight train traffic. “We got to come to an understanding and get this figured out,” she said.

Cam Winton (independent) said community leaders should pick the “least bad option” to ensure the project moves ahead. He doesn’t support rerouted freight traffic in St. Louis Park and has advocated putting a LRT line down the Midtown Greenway and Nicollet Avenue.

Jackie Cherryhomes (DFL) said she’s worked on the issue for six years and noted that Winton’s idea has been rejected. She said there’s not space to accommodate bike lanes, freight trains and LRT along the Kenilworth Corridor. She said options for rerouting freight traffic in St. Louis Park need to be pursued.

Mark Andrew (DFL) said a “mayor can’t be part of a local food fight,” adding “the mayor has to be a positive player in resolving the problem.” He referenced a previous agreement that had St. Louis Park leaders agreeing to take on new freight-rail traffic in exchange for cleanup money to deal with the polluted Golden Auto site in the city.

Betsy Hodges (DFL) said “all options on the table” need to be reexamined. She raised concerns about building a shallow or deep tunnel for the LRT line in the Kenilworth Corridor, noting it’s unclear what the environmental impacts would be on the nearby lakes. “I’m running to be mayor of the City of Lakes, not the city of swamps,” she said. 

Bob Fine (DFL) noted he is against co-location of freight trains and the LRT in the Kenilworth Corridor. He also objects to building a deep tunnel in the corridor for the line, saying it would be too expensive. 

The candidates also discussed schools issues, the Vikings stadium and how they would deal with incidents of racism and abuse within the Minneapolis Police Department, a topic also covered during a debate hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Larry Jacobs at the fair on Saturday. It’s become a hot issue on the campaign trail in the wake of high-profile incidents within the department, including a video showing MPD officers using racial slurs and homophobic language after a fight outside a Green Bay bar in July.

Here’s a recap of how candidates responded when asked how they would work to change the culture within the MPD: 

Cherryhomes said while the majority of Minneapolis police officers are excellent, the bad ones need to be fired. She said the city also needs to reinstitute a stronger civilian review process for police misconduct cases. “Every person in our city should be treated with respect and dignity by the police department,” she said.

Hodges referenced her police accountability plan and said the department needs to hire the right people, train them correctly and make sure the early intervention system identifies problem officers early on. She added the police chief needs the “tools to deal with discipline issues right away” and a stronger civilian review process is necessary.

Winton said the “mayor needs to have the trust of the police department,” adding that too many of his opponents are making blanket statements about the MPD that don’t build that trust. He said officers should be “obligated to root out bad behavior” within the police ranks and wants to explore having officers wear cameras.

Fine said a “small number of bad eggs” really cause the problems within the MPD, and the mayor and police chief need to have the power to do something about it. He noted he’s the longest serving commissioner on the city’s Civil Rights Commission and said the civilian review authority originally envisioned by that commission hasn’t become a reality. “It’s never had the meat it should have to do something and it’s got to have that,” he said.

Samuels said he was the first candidate to condemn the actions of the officers involved in the Green Bay incident and call for their resignation. He also said he has the strongest relationship with the cops of any candidate. He said an “ethical line” needs to be drawn between the bad and good cops to make sure high standards are encouraged.

Andrew said Minneapolis has a police department with “repeated ethical lapses and very few consequences.” He said the mayor needs to demand accountability and transparency in addition to building a culture of tolerance. He said he’s also in favor of having a civilian review board with more authority, including a citzen empowered with the ability to make a tie-breaking vote and subpoena power.

Woodruff said MPD Chief Janee Harteau needs to have the authority to fire bad officers. If those changes don’t happen then the mayor needs to hold the chief accountable, she said. 

Cohen said the officers involved in the Green Bay dispute should have been “fired on the spot.” He said their behavior wouldn’t have been tolerated at any other institution in the country. 

When asked whether they would support the Vikings stadium deal given what they know now about the deal, Samuels, Andrew and Cherryhomes said yes; Fine, Winton, Hodges, Woodruff and Cohen said no.