Local races are already shaping up in anticipation of the Nov. 2, 2021, local elections, which could usher in a brand-new City Council.
Four candidates are vying for Council President Lisa Bender’s Ward 10 seat and races for more than half of the city’s 13 wards look to be competitive, with Southwest council members Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) and Jeremy Schroeder (Ward 11) both facing challengers. Council members Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8) and Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) are both running for reelection without any known opponents as of press time.
Some community organizers we recognize from three years ago will run again. A couple first responders are entering the ring for the first time. Incumbents will be judged on sweeping progressive policies enacted in zoning and affordable housing, as well as their responses to the maelstrom of crises that was 2020: COVID-19 and the subsequent recession, a nationwide racial reckoning sparked by a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd and a recent surge in violent crime. How public safety should be reimagined is top of mind for everyone and the area with the most disagreement.
Here are the candidates who’ve arrived at the starting line:
Lisa Goodman of Bryn Mawr has served on the City Council since 1998, as well as the boards of Jewish Family and Children
Services, Meet Minneapolis and the Family Housing Fund. She also started Dog Grounds, a Downtown network of dog parks. Prior to that, she was the executive director of Minnesota NARAL, the state’s largest pro-abortion-rights advocacy group. Originally from Chicago, Goodman moved to Minnesota in 1989 to work on Paul Wellstone’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Her top City Council accomplishments include seeding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which has constructed more than 10,000 affordable units since 2003, and guiding development of Downtown Minneapolis, the city’s greatest tax base.
Goodman believes public safety to be local government’s No. 1 responsibility and the bedrock of economic development. She believes more cops, not fewer, are required to work proactively with residents and businesses. Nevertheless, she agrees with her fellow council members about the need to redistribute certain police duties, such as filling out accident reports and intervening in mental health emergencies. She wants the state to eliminate binding arbitration and the city to negotiate harder to revise the police union contract. Ultimately, she supports Medaria Arradondo, chief of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), in his efforts to change the culture of his department and bring it in step with the rest of society.
“I’m hopeful that in 2021 I will have the ability to work with my colleagues to bring people together to reduce the toxic environment in city politics and policy,” Goodman says. “The all-or-nothing approach, the environment where some people win and others lose, does not help build cities in an equitable and sustainable way. It holds us back and needs to change.”
Nick Kor of Downtown West, the son of immigrant small business owners from Hong Kong, is the senior manager of movement building at the Coalition of Asian American Leaders. He’s a community organizer who helped secure marriage equality in 2012 and lobbied with OutFront Minnesota to pass anti-bullying legislation. He also served as Gov. Mark Dayton’s civic engagement director for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
“I am grateful for the service that current Council Member Goodman has given to our community over the last 23 years, but with Minneapolis facing new challenges, now more than ever, we need leaders that can bring us together to heal, to rebuild and to meet this moment,” Kor says. “This past year has been extremely difficult for our city and tensions are high. I think the current council members’ hearts are in the right place, but we’ve been managing from crisis to crisis and we can do more to plan and think bigger.”
Ward 7 is racially and economically diverse. Kor intends to uplift the voices of low-income constituents and renters specifically. Safety is among their biggest concerns, he says, and the solution must come from the public.
“Safety and security is necessary for all of us to thrive, but many Black and brown people continue to feel unsafe with our current systems,” Kor says. “At the same time, we must acknowledge crime has increased in some parts of our city. Police are overburdened and are not well equipped to respond to the wide range of calls coming from the community. We must transform our system of public safety, rebuild trust and accountability, while at the same time addressing the rise in crime through prevention and by taking care of our people through investments in affordable housing, good jobs, youth programs and access to basic support services.”
With local businesses and frontline workers devastated by 2020, he vows to prioritize them in a rebuild that involves creating green jobs, investing in renewable energy and striving to become a zero-waste city.
Minneapolis should redress its racial disparities by giving workers of color opportunities to compete, Kor says. In 2015, as an organizer for the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, he worked with contractors and government to ensure people of color were hired to build U.S. Bank Stadium. They surpassed their goals and funneled $39 million in wages to diverse workers. He also supports investing in alternative homeownership models like land trusts and cooperatives.
Kor started 2020 abroad on a Bush Fellowship, studying how communities around the world organize for social change. He came home when the pandemic forced his mom to close her St. Paul salon. He took to the streets when George Floyd was killed in May, then joined the Coalition of Asian American Leaders to turn new voters out to the polls amid a surge in anti-Asian xenophobia brought on by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the pandemic.
Teqen Zéa-Aida of Loring Park is a transracial adoptee and naturalized American who was raised in rural Minnesota. “I understand our state, who we are and where we come from,” he says. “I also fully believe in our potential and see where we can go together as a great American city.”
For 22 years, he ran the modeling agency Vision Management Group, which took aspiring young models from diverse backgrounds to runways as far away as Paris and Singapore. He also owned a gallery on Nicollet Avenue and managed a Downtown law firm for the past few years.
Zéa-Aida has been involved with mutual aid and rehousing work since fire destroyed the Drake Hotel last Christmas. After George Floyd’s killing, he maintained frequent contact with Council Member Lisa Goodman, Mayor Jacob Frey, faith leaders and other community stakeholders. Following the subsequent unrest, Loring Park experienced a shocking uptick in crime, he says, compounded by Downtown’s homelessness crisis, addiction and alleged sex trafficking.
“Development — or gentrification depending on who you talk to — steams ahead, while we have lost countless businesses, Nicollet Mall is a wasteland and neighbors are either being displaced due to rising costs or fleeing due to feeling unsafe,” Zéa-Aida says. “Our Downtown community services infrastructure is crumbling, low-income and public housing is in danger, social [ills are] rampant and much of the vibrancy and creativity that once illuminated our Downtown is temporarily gone.”
Minneapolis needs big creative ideas and a focus on children, small business incubation and deep reform of policing in order to rebuild, Zéa-Aida says. He’s deeply concerned with the rise of paramilitarism in local police departments across the nation. As a Humphrey School Leadership and Public Policy Fellow, he also studied police mental health and its role in systemic reform. His first objective in office will be to convene a task force on police and safety to create honest dialogue between people with complex views.
“This council calls themselves ‘the most progressive ever’ but leaves far too many people and perspectives behind,” he says. “To me it is kindness, transparency and a sense of responsibility to each and every constituent regardless of social position or political expediency that seems most needed.”
Zéa-Aida spent much of 2020 taking care of his partner as he battled stage 3 colon cancer. He’s now in recovery and doing well.
Aisha Chughtai announced her bid for City Council after the completion of this guide.
Alicia Gibson, who stepped down as president of the Wedge neighborhood’s board in November, is a community organizer, writer and a former bookshop keeper. While studying for a Ph.D. in comparative literature and cultural studies, she taught students critical theory in white supremacy, patriarchy and economic exploitation.
The first thing Gibson would do in office is link up with the five neighborhoods of Ward 10, grease their lines of communication and enhance constituent services.
That means tackling development without displacement, as well as preventing both community violence and racially motivated police brutality, which she views as the ward’s biggest challenges. She’d do it by shoring up services for youth, whose lives have been upended by COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd, and embarking on a precinct-by-precinct truth and reconciliation process with police.
“I think the current council has not adequately engaged the community in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, squandering a considerable amount of consensus and leaving us in unprocessed trauma,” Gibson says. “Expecting city staff to do the bulk of engagement work in the form of a city-wide survey is the lowest common denominator of engagement.”
Gibson favors reparations for redlining and stolen land, specifically through using affirmative action to place African American and Native people in stable, wealth-building housing. Ward 10’s immigrant communities have also suffered from a crisis in affordable residential and commercial rents, and deserve greater representation in City Hall, she says.
It’s been a year of grieving for Gibson, who recently lost her beloved grandmother. She spent 2020 sewing masks for health care workers, retooling her neighborhood association as a mutual aid network and pandemic-parenting her children, who just began immersion Chinese virtually.
Katie Jones of the Wedge is policy manager at Center for Energy and Environment, a nonprofit that makes buildings more energy efficient. She’s also a small landlord who participates in Stable Homes, Stable Schools, which houses Minneapolis students in need. She has worked in the city’s Sustainability Office.
The first thing she’ll do in office is set clear definitions for fireable offenses so that bad cops who get the boot aren’t cycled back into the MPD through arbitration.
Ward 10 residents want a more compassionate public safety system, Jones says. One woman recently complained that after she was assaulted walking home from the grocery store, the police officers who responded treated her with callousness and impatience. Jones believes housing and jobs prevent violence, group violence interrupters should be employed to their full potential and greater accountability — like amending the city charter to give the council greater authority over the MPD — will create better cops.
Jones positions herself as a champion of renters. Preceding Gibson as president of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, Jones aggressively recruited renters to serve on the board, where reached the majority, reflecting the makeup of the ward.
She wants to create a “15-minute city,” where everyone’s everyday needs can be met within a 15-minute commute, all renters will have a place to take their compost and property owners get help decarbonizing energy-gobbling heating systems. (She and her husband are planning to construct a house made of straw bales on their property.) As retail recedes into the shadow of online shopping, she hopes to retool vacant commercial spaces into housing for the unsheltered, community gathering spaces and new business models.
“I shared my neighbors’ anger and sadness at the murder of George Floyd. I joined you in marching for change and justice,” Jones says. “I attended reflective community meetings and had deep, uncomfortable conversations about systemic racism and white supremacy culture.
We will need to continue pushing and doing this internal work to realize the just and equitable community we seek.”
Chris Parsons of South Uptown is a firefighter and EMT with the St. Paul Fire Department. For the last seven years, he’s been president of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters union. This spring he helped pass a bill that protects health care workers’ wages and benefits should they contract COVID-19.
“As a firefighter I have daily contact with individuals and families in the community that are struggling dealing with poverty, lack of access to affordable healthcare and medicine, and addiction among other things,” he says. “During the course of our interaction I hear their stories and it strengthens my resolve to help make change.”
The first thing Parsons would do is ask all the other council members about their wards’ needs and aspirations, in order to serve the whole city.
As for Ward 10, he considers safety to be the biggest concern. Having a walkable community loses its meaning when people are afraid to be on the street at night, Parsons says. He was upset this spring by council leadership’s promise to end the MPD without a road map to deliver. He’s in favor of maintaining the authorized size of the MPD at 888 officers — per Chief Arradondo’s request — prioritizing recruits of color. At the same time, he hopes to decriminalize low-level drug possession and stop over-policing of segregated neighborhoods.
The key to reducing Minneapolis’ racial disparities is to build wealth and affordable housing among Black, Indigenous and other people of color, Parsons says. He applauds the City Council for raising the minimum wage and mandating sick time. Furthermore, he wants to partner with Minneapolis Public Schools and unions to provide robust training in the trades.
David Wheeler announced his bid for City Council after the completion of this guide.
Dillon Gherna of Windom is the public initiative coordinator of the Hennepin County Sheriff ’s Office, where he worked on expanding safe drug disposal sites and organizing town halls for the sheriff to hear from the public. He volunteers with Twin Cities Pride, YouthLink and Children’s Miracle Network, and spent much of his 2020 quarantine time buried in books. “Across the Bridge” by John Lewis, “Pothole Confidential” by R.T. Rybak, “Promise Me, Dad” by Joe Biden and “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein are a few he’s read this year.
The first thing Gherna will do in office is find a way for every Ward 11 resident to get in touch with him beyond the standard work week. He also plans to meet with every other council member and department head to identify the biggest challenges ahead.
In Ward 11, he says, this includes an increase in violent carjackings and homicides, rising homelessness, and small businesses on the brink of collapse. Residents tell him they want council members to engage more directly with them, even if they don’t agree on policy. As a gay man, Gherna says he wants all marginalized people at the table where decisions are made, sharing their varied perspectives instead of being spoken for.
He commends the council’s commitment to transportation improvements, neighborhood walkability and sustainability goals, and its desire to reimagine policing. Yet he felt disconnected from current representatives when they promised to defund cops without a clear definition of what that means, nor understanding of the limitations imposed by the city charter. Such a promise was confusing and divisive, Gherna says.
He supports greater investments in violence prevention, mental health co-responders and restorative justice as things that should precede police intervention. Creating a new MPD requires gathering ideas from residents, expertise from law enforcement and social work professionals and road maps from other cities that have found success in reform, he says.
“My No. 1 goal in this campaign is to listen to the constituents and to represent the array of diverse voices in a way that is mindful and respectful of everyone involved,” he says. “I place a high value on equity and inclusion and I believe these principles build the strongest communities.”
First-term Council Member Jeremy Schroeder of Diamond Lake is a career advocate of progressive policies who came to the City Council by way of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, where he lobbied for affordable housing, and the government transparency organization Common Cause Minnesota. He also raises chickens.
Schroeder says one of his top accomplishments as a council member is co-authoring the Inclusionary Zoning policy, which requires affordable units in new housing developments. Co-authoring a package of Residential Energy Disclosure policies is another. These policies educate homeowners and renters about how their buildings use energy and provide guidance on how to reduce it. Schroeder also helped secure ongoing funding in the budget for the city’s four senior service centers, which offer preventative health care, transportation to doctor’s appointments, home repair and fitness classes.
If re-elected, he’ll focus on finalizing the Opportunity to Purchase policy he’s authoring, which would give renters a chance to buy the building they live in if it’s put up for sale.
In addition to a shortage of affordable housing — which prevents the ward’s seniors from aging in place and has contributed to the surge in homelessness during COVID-19 — Schroeder calls the climate crisis one of the greatest challenges of our time. And like many cities across the country, Minneapolis is facing an immediate crime wave fueled by the COVID-19 recession and loss of trust in the MPD following their killing of George Floyd. Schroeder trusts the Safety For All plan, which cuts $7.7 million from the MPD’s $179 million budget and invests in a mental health crisis unit, to steer Minneapolis in a more humane direction. He wants to unburden cops by sending specialized responders to deal with nonviolent thefts, parking issues and other busywork that doesn’t necessarily require an armed officer.
“When Minneapolis residents, including many of my constituents, literally march in the streets in protest of MPD officers — who are city employees — I take that very seriously,” Schroeder says. “I have spent the last several months working with my colleagues to improve our public safety system so that it better serves everyone
in Minneapolis, work that has included many tough conversations with community members. This has been some of the most challenging but important work I’ve been a part of, and we’re not finished.”