With an eye on the budget, young filmmaker joins mayor’s race

Aswar Rahman’s platform targets rising property taxes

Aswar Rahman. Submitted image

A 22-year-old Minneapolis filmmaker said he was inspired to jump into the 2017 mayoral race when he took a deep look into the city budget.

“It’s like I was growing up on ship, and then I went into engine room accidentally, and then I looked at the engine and was like, ‘Oh, wait, there’s some problems here,’” said Aswar Rahman, a Southwest High School graduate who said he earned a history degree from the University of Minnesota when he was just 19.

Rahman, who was born in Bangladesh and moved with his mother to Minneapolis as a child, said a platform that calls for reining-in city spending and ending property tax hikes has some labeling him a Republican. The East Isles resident is a Democrat who plans to seek the DFL nomination, but in a recent blog post on his website — where he has posted a 200-week plan covering the next mayor’s entire four-year term — he blamed the members of his party who lead the city for “alienating” residents with irresponsible budgeting and ever-growing tax bills.

“No one thinks raising the tax rate twice the population (growth) is a problem,” he said in a recent interview, expressing his surprise. “No one thinks that investing in small parks with massive amounts of money that are low-priority infrastructure needs is a problem.”

Rahman said he spent three years as a youth policy assistant in former Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office.

“I have more time in the mayor’s office than Jacob Frey,” he said, referring to the Ward 3 City Council member who made his candidacy for Minneapolis mayor official earlier this month.

Reached via email, Rybak said he didn’t remember Rahman, but Claudia Fuentes, who worked as a policy aide to Rybak, said couldn’t forget the day she got a cold call from a teenager who said he wanted to learn about City Hall and would volunteer for any job.

“I couldn’t believe this kid was 15,” Fuentes said.

She said Rahman took on a variety of tasks, from meeting with delegations of foreign high school students to appearing at an AchieveMpls event to read a letter written by Rybak. People would often comment on Rahman’s poise and professionalism, she said.

“I would get these calls where people would say, Aswar should run for mayor,” Fuentes recalled. “That was when he was in high school.”

Asked about other experiences that have prepared him to take office, Rahman said making films turned him into an entrepreneur and taught him business administration skills. He also works as a freelance web designer, focusing on user-experience design — which he said trained him to identify problems and seek out the most efficient solutions.

Rahman was critical of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ handling of the budget, singling-out the $10.5 million in the city’s five-year capital program for an overhaul of the Minneapolis Convention Center plaza. He noted the project received a low rating from the Capital Long-range Improvement Committee, or CLIC, a citizens’ committee that advises on capital spending.

On his website Rahman proposes putting “any non-CLIC prioritized project over $1 (million) to a citywide referendum,” adding: “Democracy will have to be the antidote to this kind of irrational governance.”

He also supports a participatory budgeting process with the year-round involvement of residents and business owners.

Rahman said he would commit to diversifying the Minneapolis Police Department while adding 20 officers a year. He pointed to department statistics that show a gradual rise in violent crime that began before Hodges’ tenure.

“If we can’t see a correlation between that and understaffing the police department chronically over the past few years, I must be missing something big,” he said.

Rahman said he supports a $15 minimum wage, but instead of achieving that goal through passage of a city ordinance, he would prefer to invite business owners to develop their own plans for reaching $15 an hour by 2022. Business owners who signed-up for his “On Track to $15” plan would “receive recognition from the mayor’s office, which hopefully will drive up their socially conscious customer base.”

After moving to Minneapolis with his mother, Rahman made regular trips back to Bangladesh, where his father was a high-ranking military official. He said seeing the country’s vast disparities — an elite class living in luxury next to slums — made him “sensitive to systemic inequities.”

“Coming to Minneapolis — I can not be more grateful,” he said. “If I was to choose in my dreams what kind of city I can grow up in, it would be Minneapolis.”

Besides Hodges and Frey, the field of mayoral candidates currently includes Minneapolis Rep. Raymond Dehn and Nekima Levy-Pounds, a former University of St. Thomas law professor and president of Minneapolis NAACP.