Ward 5 City Council Candidate Forum

On October 4, 2017, WBC partnered with several groups and organizations to host a forum for the four City Council candidates running in Ward 5. Two of the candidates, Jeremiah Ellison and Raeisha Williams, attended the forum. Reg Chapman of WCCO moderated the discussion, held at the Capri Theater. Thanks to coverage by North News, we have included summary takeaways of the candidates’ answers as well as a more detailed, paraphrased transcript from the evening.

Takeaways: Summary takeaways for each candidates’ answers to the questions asked at the forum

Candidate Introductions
Williams: I am a 4th generation Minnesotan with a true commitment and passion for this community. My primary areas of focus are affordable housing and economic development. Previous experience as a Ward 2 coordinator in Washington, DC coupled with my vision for North Minneapolis is why I am running for Ward 5 City Council.

Ellison: I was born and raised in North Minneapolis. As an artist, I have been working at the intersection of art and politics. I have experience working with government process through data visualization work with the University of Minnesota, as well as through the Minneapolis Creative City Making program. Because of this experience, I seek to bring that creative and pragmatic impulse to this office.

Question: What challenges do you see in the Ward regarding economic opportunities?
EllisonThere is a lack of jobs in the immediate geographic area. A central strategy to boost economic development in North Minneapolis should be to invest in small businesses and offer more resources for those looking to open businesses in North Minneapolis. Entrepreneurial talent exists within the area, and that talent should be fostered.  

WilliamsExisting and potential businesses in North Minneapolis should be hiring local residents, particularly for positions with the opportunity for upward mobility in the organization. North Minneapolis has a strong workforce, many of whom are prepared to enter into leadership positions. Leadership among organizations operating in the neighborhood should reflect the demographics of the community. In addition to creating jobs with upward mobility, current and future jobs should pay residents a living wage.

Question: What do you feel the 5th Ward needs to do attract businesses, services, etc. and what is your plan for doing that?
WilliamsIt is important to develop and maintain open lines of communication with residents to understand what amenities are most wanted in North Minneapolis. Opening an economic development center in North Minneapolis would provide necessary resources, particularly seed money, to small and emerging businesses.

EllisonCouncil members have a platform to bring people together to talk about different issues. That is currently not happening in Ward 5, and is something that should change. Because there are existing entrepreneurs in the Ward, City Council should look at what incentives are being offered to large chains to locate in North Minneapolis and how similar programs can be extended to smaller businesses. Programs exist for youth in the area to learn business skills, but there need to be programs for them to transition into.

Question: How will you work with developers, renters, and landlords to address affordable business space issues? Secondly, how will you address abandoned properties? *Video was interrupted during answering this question. As a result, the summary may not reflect the entirety of each candidate’s answer
Ellison: Affordability is a primary concern for the community, and renter protection is part of ensuring affordability. There is an eviction crisis in North Minneapolis with very high rates of eviction. We need to explore incentives to provide affordable housing as well as look at how zoning can be used to provide affordable housing options.

Williams: In working with developers, we need to implement parameters around what affordability means. Affordability used in broad terms does not encompass what affordability really means in different contexts.

Lightening Round – Each candidate must answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions asked
Question: Do you support a minimum wage above $15/hour?
Williams: Absolutely. Yes.
Ellison: Yes.

Question: Do you support the increased use of Tax Increment Financing for development projects in North Minneapolis?
Ellison: No
Williams: Yes, and…

Question: Do you support an ordinance requiring landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers?
Williams: Yes, and….
Ellison: Yes

Question: Would you support a West Broadway streetcar line?
Ellison: Yes
Williams: Yes

Question: Would you support an expansion of the Shot Spotter network in North Minneapolis?  
Williams: I’m not familiar, I would have to research.
Chapman: The Shot Spotter network is by the Minneapolis Police Department, where the sound of gunfire makes them react to the scene of an alleged crime.
Williams: No
Ellison: Yes

Question: Is North High football going to go undefeated this year?
Ellison: Yes
Williams: As a Polar, yes.

Questions submitted in advance of the forum, either online or in-person at the door
Question: First, what do you propose to change the culture of policing? Second, what models do you propose to change community and police relations?
WilliamsI am excited to have Chief Arradondo in his new position. He was respectful during the Justice for Jamar protests, and worked to ensure the safety of not only his officers, but also of protesters. This is taking steps to improve community police relations. Real relationships have to be developed, and that comes from police interacting more with community members on a daily basis and by being present in a respectful way in the community. Police should be getting out of their cars and engaging with residents. Additionally, police should attend regularly held town hall meetings to begin talking and building trust with residents.  

EllisonCity Councilors can do several things to improve community police relations, one of which is investing in programs that work and being tough when negotiating police budgets. We should be investing in diversion programs that get youth who are first time offenders into a youth development program rather than in jail. Due to Stanek’s Law, the majority of police officers in Minneapolis do not live in the communities in which they work, which should be addressed. Additionally, the City needs to examine its relationship with the County. Minneapolis is a Sanctuary City, yet the County Sheriff has taken the opposite approach by working directly with ICE and other agencies.

Question: What have you done, not what will you do, for the people of color in North Minneapolis?
EllisonI have been working with youth in North Minneapolis since I was a teenager, through teaching swim classes at the YMCA, working at Avenues for Homeless Youth, and teaching at Juxtaposition Arts. Through my practice as a public artist, I had the opportunity to both learn the importance of public engagement and to employ Northside artists and black artists as assistants at $50-$65 an hour. I was an early advocate for $15 Now, and have continuously shown up for the Northside, immigrant communities, and other communities of color.   

WilliamsI was an early advocate for $15 Now as one of the first African-American organizers. Working in communications with the NAACP and as a member of the Mayor’s first Youth Council, I learned about the needs of different community members and worked with many communities advocating for racial and social justice. Additional activism experience includes the foreclosure crisis and working with the Met Council on the Blue Line LRT extension. Owning a small business along West Broadway affords an understanding of the process to open a business on the Northside. This experience funnels into my main areas of focus: affordable housing, economic development, building safety in community, and police relations.   

Question: How will you work with other Council members who may have a difference in opinion on an issue other than your own?       
WilliamsIn order to best advocate for North Minneapolis residents, working in partnership with other members of the Council is critical. The City of Minneapolis will not be the best city in which to live, as is touted nationally, until North Minneapolis is thriving as well as other parts of the city.  

EllisonNorth Minneapolis historically has low voter turnout, which is problematic. Building a coalition of voters to continuously pressure the Council is important. Endorsements from sitting council members Lisa Bender, Andrew Johnson, and Cam Gordon show existing relationships and ability to collaborate in the future. Building relationships started the day I announced my candidacy, and I have been doing that work.

Question: As people talk more and more about gentrification and displacement, the common solution is to build more affordable housing. Now, there is more talk of rent control happening in the city of Minneapolis. As a Ward 5 candidate, are you in favor of a policy advocating for rent control? Why or why not?
EllisonRent freeze or rent control is likely not the best option for Minneapolis. Alternatively, the City should have a portion of the City budget dedicated to affordable housing and it should be larger than the $10 million the City currently spends. To keep people in their homes, we should look at a just cause eviction ordinance, investing in small businesses, and paying higher wages.

WilliamsBecause state law prevents rent control, we should focus on more immediate measures. Rent caps are a possibility for new developments coming into North Minneapolis. Because North Minneapolis has the highest unemployment rates and the lowest wages, we need to redefine what affordable means in different parts of the city. Additionally, slumlords should be held accountable for unjust evictions and we should provide incentives for landlords to offer lower rents.

Closing Remarks
WilliamsFocus on the big picture and who will best serve the residents of Ward 5. Listen to each of the candidates and consider who has the most experience and strongest track record. Have a conversation with me and see how I envision working with you to make North Minneapolis better. Be sure to vote, either early voting or on November 7. Day-of voter registration is available at the polls, so be sure to go and vote.

EllisonI have a proven dedication to the community and to working on behalf of Ward 5 residents. I have been knocking on doors, having hundreds of conversations with residents, and was the first candidate to develop a thorough platform. November 7 is the last chance to vote, but you can early vote starting now. Be sure to vote.