Minimum wage, housing barbs highlight mayoral forum

Six candidates share vision for city in front of business leaders

Mayoral candidate Tom Hoch (third from left) speaks during a Sept. 14 at the Radisson Blu hotel.

Tom Hoch took exception to a criticism from Mayor Betsy Hodges on affordable housing. Hodges and Jacob Frey traded barbs on the minimum wage. Nekima Levy-Pounds told of a downtown restaurant owner hiring a young man who was causing trouble outside his restaurant.

Those were among the highlights of a Sept. 14 mayoral forum hosted by several Minneapolis business and marketing groups at the Radisson Blu hotel. Reporter Tom Hauser of KSTP-TV moderated the forum.

The event featured the six leading candidates for mayor in state Rep. Raymond Dehn, Ward 3 City Council Member Frey, former Hennepin Theater Trust CEO Hoch, incumbent mayor Hodges, attorney and civil rights activist Levy-Pounds and filmmaker Aswar Rahman.

Hoch said he was offended with Hodges’ comment that some of the “men” are running on housing proposals that she’s already working on. He said Hodges should have taken on affordable housing years ago.

Hodges criticized Frey for talking to people about a tiered-wage system for tipped workers or promising them one. He later voted for a system with one wage.

“Folks feel a little diluted, or, you know, feel like they’ve been lied to,” Hodges said.

Frey responded that it was no secret he was open to a tiered-wage system. He criticized Hodges for coming out in favor of the minimum wage hike “on the eve of an election” this past December.

“She did some political gymnastics, dropped a smoke bomb and then left that conversation for pretty much the rest of the time,” Frey said.

Hodges said she was at the table on the minimum-wage question the entire time.

Candidates also talked downtown safety, an issue highlighted by an early evening shooting Aug. 23 near 6th & Hennepin.

Hodges said plans are already in place to make downtown more inviting during the day, noting investments proposed in her 2018 budget. Frey said he couldn’t comment on those plans, because Hodges had only released her budget two days before.

Dehn addressed a previous statement about disarming cops, saying he’s not sure police should carry guns all the time. He said cops do need to be armed in some situations, however, like when there’s going to be gunfire.

Levy-Pounds said Minneapolis needs a solid community-policing model and that there aren’t enough resources for people who are homeless. Hoch said he’d like at least 90 percent of residents and workers to say, “I feel this is safe neighborhood.”

Each candidate appeared to support the minimum-wage increase, passed by the City Council this summer, except for Rahman, who said it would hurt minorities and immigrants. Hoch said the city would need to make a change if the increase doesn’t work out, while Levy-Pounds said she feels the increase doesn’t go far enough.

Frey said he felt strongly that it was the right decision to raise it to $15 an hour. He said he tried to build consensus on the issue of tipped workers, adding that he crafted the policy that would phase in the wage increase at different increments for large and small businesses.

“For those that are for it but are slightly concerned, my question is this: What would you have done?” he asked.

Hodges said it’s important that people who work full time can make a decent living, adding that results have been good for other cities that raised the minimum wage. She said she was doing work to raise the minimum wage regionally before the 2016 election but that the path for increasing the minimum wage became more narrow after Democratic defeats in the state Legislature.

She said she “stepped up” on the issue of having a lower wage for tipped workers, knowing that people would disagree.

When asked about affordable housing, Levy-Pounds suggested the city use vacant lots to provide people with home ownership opportunities. Dehn suggested a bond offering, while Hoch said he’d start by addressing unmet capital-improvement needs for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Rahman advocated for lowering property taxes.

Frey and Hodges touted work that’s happened under their leadership, such as the increase in residential housing stock in Ward 3 and convening leaders from around the metropolitan region to work on housing issues.

Asked about working to attract Amazon to Minneapolis, all candidates appeared open to a conversation, but several appeared slightly wary. Dehn said Minneapolis can’t “give away the bank” while Hoch said any subsidy couldn’t be divorced from larger social issues. Hodges said she had called Minneapolis business leaders to say, “‘How can we move forward all together?’”

Frey said Minneapolis needed to be pitching a big vision. Levy-Pounds said there’s a larger question of why Minneapolis didn’t make a New York Times list of the best places for the new headquarters.

Hoch closed by saying he’s focused on future vitality, while Dehn said Minneapolis needed to take “profound action.” Levy-Pounds said the mayor needs to have a solid vision for all residents, while Rahman said he felt the neighborhoods he grew up in are less safe and affordable because of the mayor’s office.

Hodges said she’s been doing the work of “transformative change” by focusing on growth and “knowing” that inequities that are hindering that growth. She said she values collaborations with the business community and pointed to programs and initiatives such as the Green Business Cost Sharing program and infrastructure and park improvements as examples of her commitment.

Frey said people want to live in a dense and vibrant city, adding that he’s been part of a push to make that happen. He pointed to his work in helping to grow the North Loop and East Hennepin, noting affordable housing development and “near record numbers” of small and local businesses opening.

“I believe that Minneapolis can and should be a world-class city, and we should not be afraid to take that next, big step,” he said.