Uptown building heights dominate race; candidates offer wide range of life experiences
A seven-way Ward 10 City Council primary offers voters a wide range of first-time candidates to take on challenges from police funding and development pressures to property taxes.
Hot-button ward issues include how tall the condo projects should be and what precedent the Lagoon Project sets for future Uptown developments.
The overarching challenge for any Councilmember will be finding money to pay for core city services such as public safety, in the face of recent budget cuts. The 2005 Legislature restored some state aid, making the problem easier for next year’s leaders.
Ward 10 includes Lyndale, Lowry Hill East, East Isles, East Calhoun and CARAG. First-term incumbent Dan Niziolek is not seeking reelection. Here’s the snapshot of those vying to replace him.
(With so many candidates, it’s hard to be comprehensive. See the candidate Web sites and blogs, listed below.)
Education: Howard University, BFA acting and directing
Occupation: Full-time campaigning
Family: Married, Mary; two grown stepdaughters
Neighborhood: East Harriet
Web site: www.ralphremington.com
Ralph Remington is the 10th Ward’s surprise candidate.
His arts-heavy background includes work as the producing director of Pillsbury House Theater for most of the 1990s, a Guthrie Theater member in 1998-99 and an artistic associate for the Washington, D.C.-based Arena State Theater in 2001-2002.
He took center stage at the DFL endorsing convention, getting the highest vote totals on all ballots before a deadlock.
Remington said he still considers himself an underdog as a political newcomer, but he has racked up numerous endorsements, including Progressive Minnesota, the Sierra Club, the Minneapolis Central Labor Union and ex-mayor Don Fraser.
He is campaigning full-time.
An Army vet, Remington calls running for office an extension of his political activism, which includes antiwar activities, political theater and working with the Teamsters organizing Los Angeles airline ticketing agents. He touts his management experience, saying he oversaw a $750,000 community engagement budget for the Arena Stage Theater.
Remington opposed the Lagoon development’s height and would have pushed for six stories, he said, adding that city planning needed to drive development. He favors moving transportation planning into the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) as a way to better coordinate transportation solutions with new developments.
The only African American candidate in this race, Remington said his first responsibility was to Ward 10, but "we need a candidate that can speak to North Minneapolis as well as South Minneapolis," he said.
Remington had no suggested budget cuts. He proposed a small commuter wage fee for nonresidents working in the city, or a city parking ramp surcharge, to help pay for city infrastructure.
He would have to explore the legality of a city wage fee. Further, if the city has its ramps priced correctly, a new ramp fee might not generate more money.
"All we can do is come up with ideas," Remington said.
Occupation: Clothing sales, Marshall Field’s
Education: B.A. in classics, University of Minnesota
Neighborhood: East Calhoun
Web site: www.runwithsavage.blogspot.com
E-mail: see blog
Party: DFL (conservative)
Harry Savage, 23, the field’s youngest candidate, calls himself a conservative Democrat and the most "polarizing" candidate, with a tax-cut and tough-on-crime agenda.
His passion stems from personal experience. In Uptown three years ago, "I was jumped, hit in the back of the head, knocked down and had a switchblade drawn on my throat," he said.
Savage sells clothes at Marshall Field’s Downtown and has a classics degree from the University of Minnesota. He began the campaign promoting condo development and condo conversions; he said it would generate the tax base for property tax cuts and more police. Doorknocking changed his mind.
"I had to rethink a lot of my campaign, as far as condos," he said. "I didn’t think it was going as well."
He now opposes a lot of condo conversions, he said. He was seeing the secondhand effects of people being forced out of their apartments. "I had to learn that the hard way," he said.
At the DFL convention, Savage hammered mayoral candidates R.T. Rybak and Peter McLaughlin for their support of a publicly subsidized Twins stadium, his relentlessness earning groans and grudging admiration.
During a 20-minute interview, though, he focused on what he said were his two themes: tax cuts and more police.
How would he pay for them? Savage said he would cut affordable housing, the Civil Rights Department, Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) and "the social welfare agenda" in general.
Savage said his experience being jumped deeply affected him.
"I was so terrified, I thought I was going to die," he said. "Thank God I had $50 from my birthday money still left on me. I thought I was dead. But the good Lord Jesus Christ who lives above and reigns forever, he and his archangels saved my life because I was meant to be in politics."
Occupation: Campaigning full time
Education: B.A. political science, U of M;
completing master’s at the Humphrey Institute
Family: Wife, Corrine Ertz; daughter, Celia
Web site: www.scottpersons.org
Scott Persons, runner-up at the DFL endorsing convention, has a history of community involvement and volunteering.
From 1997-2003, Persons served in various posts on the Lyndale Neighborhood Association Board, including stints as president and treasurer. He also served as a Lyndale representative on the I-35W Access Project, favoring a new ramp alignment.
He worked for six years in technology sales before enrolling at the Humphrey Institute in 2004 for a master’s program in public and nonprofit management. He served as financial director for Teresa Daly’s 2004 congressional race and John Mary’s 1994 governor’s race.
He is campaigning full-time. Firefighters Local 82, the Teamsters and City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) endorsed him.
Persons supported the proposed 13-story Lagoon Project in Uptown. He called it a strong project that added jobs, amenities and height "in the right place." At one point, he said if he were to change anything, he would reduce the number of theater screens to reduce traffic.
Then residents gave him an earful. "There is such a palpable anxiety in the community over height issues that I think I maybe underestimated," he said later.
In a follow-up interview, he said he wanted to send a clear message that he had "a very, very high bar to cross for taller buildings in Uptown."
He still thought the Lagoon project was a good choice – "but it doesn’t mean that it’s the choice I will make in every situation," he said. "Realistically, I don’t think that [a similar] opportunity is really out there."
To find more public safety money, Persons said one option would be a small across-the-board cut to non-public-safety departments. The Legislature’s recent $16 million state aid hike could make the issue moot, he said; Mayor R.T. Rybak has said the money will hire 60 new cops.
Long-term, Persons said a charter change to a strong mayor or Council/City Manager form of government could save millions of dollars.
Occupation: Campaigning full-time
Education: MBA, Metropolitan State University
Family: Married, Nancy
Neighborhood: East Caalhoun
Web site: www.allanbernard.com
Allan Bernard is Mr. Inside.
He worked nearly 11 years as an aide for two different Councilmembers, Lisa McDonald (10th Ward) and Paul Zerby (2nd Ward). He touts his City Hall experience, saying it gives him a leg up on the competition because he knows how the City Hall works.
He said his opponents tag him as an insider, "which I consider a compliment," he said. "I don’t see a downside to that. It takes time to learn how to do the job."
He is campaigning full-time.
Bernard is a long-time party foot soldier. He started as a precinct chair in 1987, served as Senate District 60 chair from 1992-1997 and volunteered on multiple campaigns.
Bernard has served as president of the CARAG neighborhood board from 2001-2003, has an MBA and the backing of AFSCME Council 5 and former state Sen. Alan Spear. He came in third at the DFL endorsing convention.
Bernard opposed the Lagoon development 13-story height, and final 10-story compromise, because it sets a precedent for other area developments, he said. The city needed to do an Uptown master plan, so neighborhoods, developers and business associations could work together on a common vision.
"Then, anyone who comes in with a new project will know what is expected," he said.
He favors a four-story height limit on Lake Street, he said.
He supports giving developers density bonuses if they include units affordable to those making less than 50 percent of metro median income, his Web site said.
While doorknocking, some residents have raised concerns about rising property taxes and worry they could be priced out of their homes, Bernard said. He doesn’t have a list of cuts in mind to either lower taxes or hire more police officers and firefighters. "It is something I would have to look at with my colleagues," he said.
Occupation: Council aide (on leave)
Education: B.S. American history
Family: Partner, Cheryl
Web site: votegaynoble.com
E-mail: see Web page site
Gay Noble comes to the Ward 10 contest with more local private sector, small business experience than her counterparts.
She ran Uptown Community Media for two years, selling ads for the neighborhood papers in the Wedge, East Calhoun and elsewhere, she said. She was vice president of Bibelot Graphics, a small computer graphics company, and before that she owned a downtown commercial photography studio for 10 years.
She has worked as aide to City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) since 2002, and has endorsements from the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus and State Rep. Karen Clark. She came in fourth at the DFL endorsing convention.
Noble said she opposed the Lagoon Project’s 13-story height (unlike her boss, who strongly supported it), and opposed the 10-story compromise, but she hoped it would have never gotten to that point if she were on the Council.
When she spoke to Niziolek about it, she said she told him it needed to be a six or eight stories. "But I don’t think I should be pulling numbers out of the top of my head," she said.
Noble’s solution? She said the city needed to create new zoning districts that establish both minimum and maximum heights. She pointed to one-story developments on commercial corridors -the Chipotle Restaurant, 2600 Hennepin Ave. S. and the gas station at 2801 Lyndale Ave. S. – as examples of the need for zoning changes that could require more density.
She said it is important to protect core services, such as the SAFE teams, but she did not have proposals to change the budget.
"It is so difficult as candidates," she said. "Even though I have been a policy aide with Councilmember Niziolek’s office, I have not gotten involved in the budget aspect."
Occupation: Senior data entry operator,
University of Minnesota admissions’ office
Education: High school, some college credits
Family: Wife, Sienna; baby, Francis
Neighborhood: Lowry Hill East
Party: Blue Green Alliance
Tom Moore appears to be having the most fun of any Ward 10 candidate, if his blog is any indication.
The Web log calls him "a socialist, pacifist, handsome hunk of citizen" and includes results of his recent physical by Dr. Kim (to allay any concerns he might not be able to finish his term).
However, Moore said he is trying to balance humor with a more serious pro-growth message.
Moore, a senior data entry operator at the University of Minnesota, has to fit in campaign work with his full-time job. "Because I don’t have the resources, I will look for the last month to do as much as I can," he said.
Moore, running under the Blue-Green Alliance banner, took the strongest pro-development stand. He is an unapologetic Lagoon Project backer, calling it a no-brainer, "like the baseball stadium."
The blocks near the Lagoon could have a few buildings a dozen stories high "and it wouldn’t hurt anything," he said. "Along Lake Street, along Hennepin, along parts of Lyndale Š we could easily double what we have in terms of businesses and residences."
He would support cutting Council salaries in half, a small savings, Moore said. The city’s long-term financial fix come from tax-base growth.
"This city started based on economic development, on flour mills and timber mills," he said. "We wouldn’t have beautiful parks, we wouldn’t have the good living we have, if we weren’t getting money from the big business that set up here – the Washburns, the Pillsburys.
"We want to think that we can legislate our way to good living. You can a little bit. But you also need to be generating income and producing things," Moore said.