First-term City Council incumbents Dean Zimmermann and Robert Lilligren will face off in the new 6th Ward, forced together by redistricting and pragmatic politics.
Zimmermann, a Green Party member, now represents the 6th Ward, which currently includes Southwest's Whittier neighborhood and will add Stevens Square. The new 6th includes 80 percent of the current ward, but not Zimmermann's Phillips address.
To avoid running where most voters don't know him, Zimmermann recently bought a Whittier home in the new 6th, across the street from St. Stephen's church, 2211 Clinton Ave. "I am moving next to a homeless shelter so I never forget who my real constituents are," Zimmermann said.
Councilmember Robert Lilligren, a DFLer, now represents the 8th Ward. He did not move, but redistricting put him in the new 6th.
Asked about the upcoming contest with Zimmermann, Lilligren claimed the incumbency. "I welcome him to the area," he said. "I look forward to a respectful public discourse."
Said Zimmermann, "I don't have a real quarrel with Robert. We agree on a lot of things; he is a progressive. But I am the incumbent in the ward. It is up to him to show cause why I should be replaced by him."
Zimmermann, 62, is a former handyman. Lilligren, 44, owns apartments. In many respects the two men are similar and both say they have worked well together on the Council.
Both tout efforts to help minority communities and supported a citywide bar/restaurant smoking ban.
Both oppose the I-35W Access Project, the plan to reconfigure ramps between 28th and 38th streets, to the extent that it eliminates houses. Both say there are ways to achieve access goals with a smaller scale project that emphasizes mass transit.
How will the two distinguish themselves?
Zimmermann said a key difference is his early backing of William McManus, the new police chief. Lilligren supported an internal candidate but says he now has a "healthy working relationship with the chief."
Lilligren said voters should pick him because he is more effective, noting he has gotten developers, union representatives and others to collaborate on job creation.
Zimmermann touts constituent service. He is someone "willing to go out and meet with people, businesses or citizens, whatever their concerns. I am a hands-on guy, and I think people appreciate that," he said.
The 6th Ward has a higher concentration of low-income and supportive housing, and the opponents differ on how to handle it.
Said Lilligren: "When you concentrate very, very-low-income people in one area, you forever inhibit that area's ability to develop a viable local economy. I am interested in seeing all parts of the city equitably share in housing our most difficult-to-house residents."
Zimmermann said the overconcentration issue "is a little bit overblown."
"Do we think they should be spread around the city? Yes. Have we made progress in doing that? Yes we have. I don't see in the foreseeable future that we will have fewer poor people living in the inner city. I am not opposed to having facilities that address some of their needs and give them something that creates less desperation in their lives."