DFL endorsements could mean big changes for Park Board

Fresh faces trounced incumbents at the city’s DFL convention

Park Board candidates introduced themselves to DFL delegates at a forum before the nomination process began. Photo by Eric Best

DFLers rejected several incumbents of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, instead opting for a new generation of first-time park candidates at the party’s July 8 city convention.

Just two incumbents were able to clinch a nomination from the party: District 6 Commissioner Brad Bourn and District 5 Commissioner Steffanie Musich, who both seek third and second terms representing South Minneapolis areas on the nine-member board, respectively. Several incumbents chose to vacate their positions, opening seats on a board that has seen pressure from activists to diversify and strengthen community connections in recent years.

For District 1, which includes all of Minneapolis east of the Mississippi River, DFLers endorsed Chris Meyer over the incumbent, Liz Wielinski, who was running for a third term, with 75 percent of the vote.

Wielinski previously led the board as vice president and president before stepping down last summer amid growing pressure from activists and community groups to resign. The Northeast Minneapolis commissioner was one of the central figures behind the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan, a massive agreement with the City Council to fund neighborhood park repairs and maintenance across the city for the next two decades.

Meyer, a Marcy-Holmes resident, promised a “more progressive direction” for the district, rallying around police reform, greater access to youth athletics and investment in underserved communities. On the topic of park accessibility — one of the biggest issues this election season — Meyer said the city needs parks designed for the disabled, recreation centers with air conditioning and shoveled sidewalks in the winter, which he called a “literal survival issue.”

The District 2 seat was left open this year after Commissioner Jon Olson decided not to run for re-election after four terms representing North Minneapolis and part of the North Loop neighborhood. Kale Severson handily won the nomination with support from 78 percent of delegates over Mike Tate, a longtime coach with the Park Board.

Severson, once a Green Party candidate for City Council, championed putting solar power systems on park buildings and giving more Park Board jobs to people of color. The North Community High School alumnus said he was committed to building relationships to improve North Minneapolis parks.

There was no endorsement in District 3, which encompasses the Cedar-Riverside, Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods in East Minneapolis. Commissioner Scott Vreeland decided against running again for the seat, bowing out, he said, to give a person of color a chance at it. After three ballots, Abdikadir “AK” Hassan and Abdi “Gurhan” Mohamed were nearly tied at about 51 percent and 49 percent, respectively. Candidates must reach 60 percent to win the nomination.

Gurhan, who said he grew up in a refugee camp, said he wanted to keep parks open on Sundays and make sure all children have safe access to recreation programs.

“I want to give my son the chance I never had,” he said.

Park accessibility was also a primary issue for Hassan, who stressed multi-lingual signage and greater community involvement on the campaign trail.

“I was never included in the park system, and I want to change that,” he said.

A delegate found their seat early at the DFL Convention Saturday. Photo by Eric Best
A delegate found their seat early at the DFL Convention Saturday. Photo by Eric Best

Jono Cowgill, a Lowry Hill East resident and urban planner, won the nomination for District 4, which stretches from Cedar Lake and Lakes of the Isles across downtown to the Mississippi River. Anita Tabb, the board’s current president and a one-term commissioner, did not run for re-election and supported Jeanette Colby to lead the district. Cowgill garnered 70 percent of the vote, while Colby had 22 percent.

Cowgill said he is running to support a park system “that works for everyone today and for generations to come” and said the board should invest in intergenerational programming, organizations led by people of color to activate parks and community policing.

“It’s so important for our parks to feel that they are connected to the localized communities that they are in,” he said at a convention forum.

Musich, the South Minneapolis incumbent, won the nomination over challenger Bill Shroyer, a Park Board staffer, with about 70 percent of the vote. The District 5 commissioner championed youth sports reform and the board’s commitment to reaching out to traditionally underrepresented communities.

District 6 incumbent Brad Bourn had a smooth DFL convention, running unopposed for the nomination. Bourn will likely win a third term representing the area stretching from Uptown to the southwestern tip of the city.

Russ Henry, Londel French and Devin Hogan beat out incumbent Meg Forney and District 3 Commissioner Scott Vreeland for nominations to the board’s three at-large seats. Two current at-large members, Vice President John Erwin and Commissioner Annie Young, are leaving the board. Erwin will have served three non-sequential terms. Young, one of the board’s longest serving commissioners, will have served seven terms spanning nearly three decades.

Sustainability activist and business owner Russ Henry garnered 72 percent of the vote for the at-large endorsement. Henry has appealed to the board over the years to drop its use of pesticides and herbicides. At the convention, the candidate said he would target administrative bloat, bolster staff at recreation centers and support “people-powered parks.”

“Everyone should feel the benefits of our park system,” he said.

French, a Minneapolis teacher and former Park Board recreation worker, rallied the most DFL delegates among at-large candidates with nearly 77 percent. As a commissioner, French said he would advocate for expanded park hours to support youth. He ran a campaign focused on racial, economic, gender and social justice.

“Let’s give the power back to the people,” he said.

Devin Hogan, a small business consultant and Lyndale neighborhood resident, won the DFL nomination with 63 percent of delegate support. Hogan, who identifies as non-binary genderqueer, ran on a “neoliberal-free Park Board” sentiment and said, as commissioner, he would support reviewing the board’s lurking and spitting ordinances. Hogan also targeted administrative bloat and park accessibility in his remarks at the convention.

“We can’t access the parks we already have,” he said. “Let’s do the work to make it work.”

All candidates other than Bob Fine, an at-large candidate, said they would abide by the party’s nominations.

Several endorsed or leading candidates were supported by Our Revolution Twin Cities, a local group dedicated to the platform of former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), including Meyer, Severson, Hassan, Cowgill, Bourn and all at-large nominees, Henry, Hogan and French.

The Nov. 7 election will bring huge changes to the makeup of the board, which will see at least seven of the nine incumbents vacate their seats.

For the past seven years, Jayne Miller has lead the park system as superintendent, a board-appointed position. The Park Board has about 558 full-time employees and, between its operating, enterprise, capital project and special revenue funds, operates a roughly $100-million budget.