A moderator repeatedly stopped to quiet the audience at a 10th Ward City Council candidate forum last month in a race where three candidates are challenging incumbent Lisa Bender’s seat. The candidates engaged in lengthy rebuttals over issues related to parking, police and new development.
The 10th Ward covers Uptown neighborhoods like the Wedge and CARAG as well as Whittier, East Calhoun and East Harriet.
Bender said she hopes to be the first 10th Ward candidate in 20 years to serve two terms, saying consistency is important.
Candidate David Schorn said that as a gay teacher who relocated from St. Cloud to Uptown, he wants to give back to the welcoming community.
Candidate Saralyn Romanishan said she wants to improve communication and decrease the “politics of division.”
Candidate Bruce Lundeen said council members should not concern themselves with issues “far outside their lanes” like the environment and international policy, and said council jobs should drop to part-time.
Bender blasted a recent demonstration against new bike lanes, where people were photographed carrying signs that read: “Cars first,” “Suck it lane” and “Nazi lane,” and she said such rhetoric has no place in the community.
Among those present at the rally were Schorn and 7th Ward candidate Joe Kovacs. Kovacs said in an email that Nazi signs were not representative of protesters like himself, who are primarily against “bad city planning” that hurts business by making it harder to drive and park.
Schorn said in a statement that frustrations with Bender shouldn’t rise to a comparison with the Nazi government, but said “when government doesn’t listen to the citizens, they will rise up to have their voices heard.” At the forum, Schorn said that without parking, the city will lose homeowners and small businesses.
Romanishan said she loves bike lanes, but parking shortages create safety issues when cars impede sightlines and people park far from home late at night.
Lundeen called new bike lanes an “expensive social experiment” and said there is little demand for more bike lanes.
Bender said even if there were more electric cars on the road, there would be no way to reach greenhouse gas emission goals unless car trips were reduced by 40 percent.
“That’s a big change, that’s not a few bike lanes here and there,” she said, adding that core values become apparent in tough decisions. “…At the end of the day, there are times you have to make difficult decisions that have trade-offs.”
The following summarizes candidate responses at forums on Oct. 3 and 17.
On affordable housing
— Bender said the city needs more housing, citing growing neighborhoods and low vacancy rates. She said she stands up to developers and helped create a focus on renters at City Hall. She said the city should intervene in a pattern where affordable housing is sold to landlords that charge much higher rents. The city should also make it harder to evict residents, as an eviction stays with a tenant’s record and leads to a lifetime of barriers to housing. Bender said she’s previously worked to restore funds cut from homeownership programs.
— As a landlord himself, Lundeen said he finds that when he charges lower rents, it’s harder to maintain the property. The better strategy would be to improve the economy and boost incomes, he said.
— Romanishan said property tax increases are passed down to renters and impact affordable housing. She said gentrification is “whitewashing” the ward. She said she supports legal representation for tenants, a “just cause” eviction ordinance, and a dedicated percentage of new rental units set aside for low-income residents. She personally studied recent apartment listings on Craigslist, finding 1,497 units available within two miles of the 55408 area code, but only 41 listed for $800 or less.
“That’s an affordable housing crisis, that is not a vacancy crisis,” she said.
— Schorn said Bender hasn’t done enough to address rising rent prices, and he highlighted Bender’s campaign donations from developers. He said he would like to see more rent-to-own options. The city should lower property taxes at properties that keep units affordable and freeze property taxes for seniors, he said. He also wants to make better use of vacant homes and vacant lots.
— Bender said she supports training in de-escalation and implicit bias as well as body cameras for every officer. She said the city needs more Somali-speaking officers. She said she’s stood up to the police union and its president Bob Kroll, pointing out Schorn’s endorsement from the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation.
“If you’re going to threaten a police officer’s safety, you deserve what you get,” he said. “…He’s coming to help you.”
— Romanishan praised the “wonderful” new police chief, and said the city should focus on community policing and investigative work.
— Schorn said he’s proud to be supported by the police union. He said officers have responded to hundreds of thousands of calls this year, and the city needs to give them the resources they need to respond to those calls.
On the question of future neighborhood association funding, following expiration of the current funding stream in 2020
— To continue the neighborhood associations’ funding level after 2020, Bender cautioned that city officials would either need to increase taxes or find millions in budget cuts. She said there is more than one way to do community engagement, and said she supports funding the One Minneapolis Fund and organizations that reach out to diverse groups of people.
“That’s a change, and it’s an important change. That should not be equated with lack of support for community organizations,” she said.
— Lundeen said as a past member of the Whittier Alliance, the group didn’t reach many people, but the city still needs neighborhood associations. The groups should not be dependent on the city for funding, he said.
— Romanishan said neighborhood organizations are where the real work and innovative ideas in the city happen. Wasteful spending, such as a proposed $95,000 contract with a Nicollet Mall public relations consultant, should be spent instead on neighborhoods, she said.
— Schorn said neighborhood association members have true civic virtue and need more emphasis.
“Right now we don’t have people at City Hall that listen to us,” he said.
Video of the Oct. 17 forum is available here courtesy of Wedge LIVE, moderated by the League of Women Voters and hosted by the Whittier Alliance, East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO), East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association and Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association.
Video of the Oct. 3 forum is available here courtesy of Wedge LIVE, hosted by Make Homes Happen MPLS and moderated by MinnPost reporter Peter Callaghan.