Reconfigured 7th Ward gets inaugural primary

Influential incumbent’s opponents touting slow growth, medical marijuana

The city’s 7th Ward has been redrawn to take in more of downtown and a bit less of Southwest.

The East Isles neighborhood and a smidgen of Cedar-Isles-Dean has shifted to Ward 10, but the 7th still has Bryn Mawr, Kenwood, Lowry Hill and most of Cedar-Isles-Dean. The ward picked up the downtown riverfront and kept the Central Business District, Lowry Hill and Elliot Park.

In short, whoever is elected will have more power over more of downtown than any recent Councilmember while keeping several high-status Southwest neighborhoods.

Robert Halfhill and Christopher Clark are challenging two-term incumbent Lisa Goodman in the Sept. 13 primary.

A fourth candidate, Carl Myron Erickson, said he has moved out of the district and would not be eligible to run in the general even if he made it through the primary.

City Councilmember Lisa Goodman

(7th Ward) said if she gets reelected, she is toying with the idea of proposing a municipal electric utility. Parts of her ward have had brownouts and blackouts. Xcel has not fully explore alternative energy, she said.

"We need to secure the grid and make sure that we use alternative forms of energy, like biomass and solar," so the city doesn’t experience outages, Goodman said. "I see Xcel as a monopoly and Š perhaps we should be competing with them."

She tossed out the idea during a free-ranging interview about her reelection bid.

Asked to name her biggest accomplishment this term, she said it was her work to encourage Medica to fund and keep open the Skyway Senior Center, 950 Nicollet Mall.

Next, she pointed to her vote for the Minneapolis bar/restaurant smoking ban. She initially opposed the ban, believing it was not government’s role, she said. Her ward includes numerous bars and restaurants.

Enough constituents supported the ban that they overrode her "philosophy of government," Goodman said. "I will not support overturning it or weakening it in any way."

She also touts her work creating the department of Community Planning and Economic Development, which merged the former Minneapolis Community Development Agency with Planning and other city departments. She said it made the city’s planning and development less adversarial.

Challenger Christopher Clark said he wanted a greater city focus on helping homeless people and less on high-end condos. Goodman said she has been a strong advocate for transitional, supportive and affordable housing, and has backed projects such as the Lamoreaux, 706 1st Ave. N. and Lydia Apartments, 1920 LaSalle Ave., housing geared to formerly homeless people.

Unlike Clark, she welcomed the growth. "Having a strong Downtown, a growing tax base Downtown, is the only way to create some relief for property taxpayers other places in the city," she said.

Goodman said upcoming challenges include managing new development and improving transportation and transit.

"I am aggressively advocating a new plan for downtown," she said. "The Downtown 2010 Plan is outdated. We have exceeded all of the projections."

She is also involved in the ongoing development a new 10-year transportation action plan. "We can’t have buses going 2 mph down Nicollet Mall anymore," she said.

The city would look at various options, possibly a dedicated busway on 2nd or Marquette avenues south, she said. It would reexamine all the city’s one-way streets "as well as the suggestion I have made for eight years now, to turn Hennepin Avenue into a two-way," Goodman said.

Christopher Clark

Political novice Christopher Clark said he wanted to run for City Council in part to slow down explosive condo growth and preserve the ward as a unique place to live for renters and owners.

He understands he is running an uphill battle against Lisa Goodman, a well-financed incumbent. He acknowledges that people he meets at neighborhood meetings "are in love with her." He says its tough to say how he would set different budget priorities than the current Council.

"Sometimes, you don’t understand until you get there," he said.

Clark, who moved downtown earlier this year, added "I am just running to keep her [Goodman] on her toes, so she won’t forget what else is important in this ward – not just condo building."

Clark said he wants to stick up for the "little guy," – for example, more and more homeless people on the streets. "We really have to look after everybody, not just people with money," he said.

In high school in Omaha, he joined PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and ANGLE (Achieving New Gay and Lesbian Endeavors.)

No one encouraged him to run for City Council; he was self-motivated. Clark said: "Most of the people I know are not very politically active. It is just being from Omaha, Neb., you know, it seems everything is such a struggle there. It kind of still is. I dreamed that one day I would like to run [for office]."

For Clark, the biggest issue is condo development. He worries that the market will go flat, leaving a lot of empty spaces. He wanted to slow down condo conversions – an emerging issue in Southwest and downtown – focusing redevelopment "one area at a time rather than just plopping things down, that after awhile it just looks like a big Monopoly board."

How could he slow things down, legally?

"That’s a good question," he said. "As I go along, I learn new things."

Clark said he wants Downtown to have more good-paying jobs but lacked specific plans on how to accomplish it, other than to suggest, "maybe look at the zoning laws to do it so it is easier for them [businesses] to set up shop."

Robert Halfhill

Robert Halfhill of Loring Park is running for the 7th Ward City Council seat in large part based on his passionate views on legalizing medical marijuana.

"It is good for nausea and vomiting, for people getting cancer chemotherapy," he said.

In 2004, the Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction drafted a city charter amendment, "to require, authorize, license and regulate medicinal marijuana distribution centers in the city of Minneapolis, to provide marijuana medically recommended to the extent permitted by state and federal law," city documents said.

The Council voted it down in an 8-4 vote, with 7th Ward Councilmember Lisa Goodman voting with the majority against it. In an interview, Goodman said she would have voted for a resolution supporting the medical use of marijuana. She said it didn’t belong in the city charter because it did not affect the form of city government.

Halfhill has an optimistic view of Minneapolis’ clout at the state. So far, the Legislature has refused to act on the medical marijuana bill, he said, but "If we could prove to the Legislature that Minnesota’s largest city would pass this referendum, it would give the Legislature some incentive to go ahead and pass this bill."

Halfhill has a history of political activism dating to the 1960s. He opposes public subsidies to sports teams, is concerned about police abuse and wants to preserve low-income housing downtown, he said.