Urbanist Picks for the Minneapolis Election

Minneapolis's Stone Arch Bridge is a popular spot for tourists, wedding photos, selfies, joggers, cyclists, and pretty much all humans. (Photo by author)

Last month I gave an overview of Minneapolis and promised my expatriate stab at candidate rankings. Minneapolis has ranked choice voting, giving Minneapolis voters more options. They don’t have to feel obligated to vote for a popular candidate who might not champion their values as well as another less popular candidate. Voters in a ranked choice system can feel confident that if their long-shot candidate doesn’t make it, their secondary or tertiary vote will still count and potentially help another candidate to victory.

Mayor of Minneapolis: Nekima Levy-Pounds

  1. Nekima Levy-Pounds – As civil rights attorney who is president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, Levy-Pounds is well situated to tackled police reform and accountability–the issues that seem to have done in Hodges. Her website highlights her early support for a $15 minimum wage and mentions urban agriculture. Her platform centers on renters rights, and, though it isn’t the most detailed, it’s a good start. Update: Levy-Pounds recently added a fleshed out housing platform to her website and it’s fantastic. The platform starts by underscoring the need to build more housing given the vacancy rate below 3% in Minneapolis. Levy-Pounds lays out a plan to rezone single family zones, legalize missing middle housing type therein, and to speed permitting and allow more proposals to be approved by-right. She also wants to leverage the many City-owned vacant lots for affordable housing, particularly in the Northside. Levy-Pounds expressed support for rolling out inclusionary zoning (or mixed income housing) as Edina and St. Louis Park have done. 
  2. Raymond Dehn – State Rep. Dehn fought for a higher state minimum wage in the state house and is proposing progressive reforms. He supports focusing redevelopment in neighborhoods with low displacement risk, which is reminiscent of Seattle’s MHA Alternative 3. His housing platform is quite detailed, comprehensive, and challenging to implement in one term. Dehn’s proposals include inclusionary zoning, a municipal housing bond, linkage fees, community land trusts, limited equity co-ops, a renters commission, and a luxury housing tax on homes valued over $500,000.
  3. Jacob Frey – Frey isn’t shy about supporting density. He proudly identifies with urbanists and boasts that his council ward accounted for about 40% of Minneapolis growth under his watch. As a Northeast Minneapolis resident, I supported Frey’s run for Third Ward city council seat which he won in 2013. Frey’s housing plan is extensive but not as detailed as Dehn’s–though kudos for calling to phase out parking minimums, decrease minimum lot sizes, and undo exclusionary zoning, which is a term for detached single-family zoning that guarantees only wealthy folks can afford a neighborhood. The former professional marathon runner has generally voted in favor of bicycling and pedestrian improvements.
  4. Betsy Hodges – Minneapolis’ incumbent mayor was perhaps unfairly maligned at first, but as policing issues have continued to hound her, her handling of them hasn’t gotten any better. She generally seems to have the right priorities on urbanist issues but her opponents may have a point in criticizing her execution and attention to detail. Too often her answers have been “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” rather than providing exciting policy details to animate her second term. And those looking for a smooth, well-run campaign for a steadying influence, that too has been rocky, since six staffers quit her campaign last week, perhaps related to a lag in fundraising.
  5. Tom Hoch – Hoch supports inclusionary zoning, housing co-ops, and community land trusts. He has indicated a willingness to defer to neighborhoods on zoning changes. Hoch professes the appropriate mode hierarchy (with people walking first and cars last) to plan Complete Streets. Contrarily, Hoch aligned himself with folks opposing a road diet on Third Avenue that would have improved the protected bike lane and calmed the street because it upset some business owners and stoked fears of congestion. Hoch has called for a top-to-bottom review of Minneapolis Police Department, although it’s hard to trust him more than Levy-Pounds on this issue. Hoch’s resume includes Minneapolis public schoolteacher, heading the Hennepin Theater Trust, and serving as deputy director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. He would be Minneapolis’ first openly gay mayor.
  6. Aswar Rahman – Rahman has proposed a few interesting housing and transportation ideas but overall seems to need more policy chops and perhaps less capricious budget reforms before tackling Minneapolis’ highest office. The idea to invest $20 million per year in universal preschool is an intriguing proposal. He seems skeptical of raising the minimum wage.

Minneapolis with city council wards and neighborhoods. (City of Minneapolis)

Before launching into councilmember rankings, I wanted to thank Wedge LIVE! for the great service it does it not only in issuing and compiling a great questionnaire but also aggregating tons of candidate information into one easy to use MSPvotes site–Yeoman’s work. Our Streets Minneapolis also issued a fantastic questionnaire on transportation issues–although I am partial as a former writer and volunteer back when the group was still called the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. I couldn’t have done these ranking without these two groups.

Ward 1 – Kevin Reich or Jillia Pessenda

  1. Kevin Reich – The two-term incumbent has a decently strong record on affordable housing, increasing funding (marginally), and voting to decrease minimum lot sizes. He is also the chair of the council’s Transportation and Public Works committee and another regular bike commuter. In a strong questionnaire response, Reich highlighted the team he brought together to develop the “Great Northern Greenway” connecting North Minneapolis and Northeast. If you value continuity, Reich would provide it and has done enough to warrant a third term.
  2. Jillia Pessenda – Pessenda has championed the Fight for 15 and has a promising platform. She has suggested lowering structured parking requirements, creating community land trusts, and passing a just cause eviction ordinance. Pessenda supports stronger application of the Complete Streets ordinance the city recently passed, citing Penn Avenue, Glenwood Avenue and 3rd Avenue S as streets redesigns that fell short of those principles. She pledges to make the tough tradeoffs to replace parking and slow cars as Complete Streets principles dictate. With two strong candidates, it’s a difficult choice between Pessenda and Reich.
  3. John Hayden – Independent candidate Hayden didn’t turn in questionnaire to Our Streets.

Ward 2 – Cam Gordon

  1. Cam Gordon is member of the Green Party and has scared off any serious Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) challengers. Unlike the embarrassing Seattle Green Party, Gordon is wise enough to support urban infill development rather than letting the sprawl machine continue to decimate our planet. He’s fought for 15, been great on bikes and pretty much everything. Would elect again!

Ward 3 – Steven Fletcher

  1. Steven Fletcher – Seeking to take over for Frey, Fletcher seems another solid urbanist who would encourage growth in a smart way, such as via his support for inclusionary zoning. Fletcher brings ample leadership experience as founding executive director of MN Neighborhood Organizing for Change (NOC) which helped beat back regressive voter ID and anti-marriage equality amendments in 2012. More recently, he also served as director of the think-tank MN 2020, which helped pass a $9.50 statewise minimum wage that will be indexed to inflation. As a cyclist, he recognizes the need to not “rest on our laurels” and fund and implement the bike master plan to expand the low-stress biking network across the city. He highlighted the need for University/4th Avenue corridor protected bike lanes in Ward 3, which would have the added benefit of calming this speeding-prone one-way couplet.
  2. Ginger Jentzen – As an experienced organizer, Jentzen has vowed to fight transit fare hikes and to protect people from foreclosures, as she did as a member of the Occupy movement. In her questionnaire response, Jentzen made the important connection between biking and pedestrian improvements and fostering equitable communities that serve the needs of working class people, who often bear the brunt of automobile pollution.
  3. Samantha Lee Pree-Stinson – Living a carfree lifestyle and pledging bicycle and pedestrian safety as a top priority makes Pree-Stinson an intriguing option. Generally it seems her opponents have the edge on policymaking experience. Update: Pree-Stinson made a case for her candidacy in the comment section, including some impressive leadership experience. She’s an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan as a Combat Medic Sergeant who serves as board vice president at community radio station KMOJ and as director of the transition team at MTN, Minneapolis’s public access TV channel. She’s Green Party endorsed. The housing platform on her website includes some good ideas like legalizing microhousing and promoting tiny homes. Detached tiny homes would work better in outlying wards rather than her Downtown/Northeast ward, which is likely the ward best equipped to handle density. 

Ward 4 – Phillipe Cunningham

  1. Phillipe Cunningham – A staffer of Mayor Hodges, Cunningham has expressed some skepticism of market-rate development but supports inclusionary zoning as a solution. As an African American, Cunningham would represent Ward 4–much of which was historically redlined–in a way the White incumbent does not. Based on strong responses in his Our Streets questionnaire, Cunningham would also be a big improvement over Councilmember Barbara Johnson on transportation issues.
  2. Stephanie Gasca – Even more than Cunningham, Gasca seems to blame new development for high prices–a poor foundation for good policy. Gasca did not turn in an Our Streets questionnaire and her website doesn’t list any mobility priorities. Thus, her transportation policies are hard to pin down.
  3. Barbara Johnson – Five-term incumbent Councilmember Barbara Johnson represents the old school of conservative Democratic urban politics running her diverse district with tough on crime posturing and dog whistles, such as her lone opposition to repealing the spitting and lurking ordinance. Such nuisance ordinances have historically been used by police to harass people of color. While many candidates talk about the affordable housing crisis, Johnson is celebrating higher home prices as a homeowner windfall on her website. As the fiscal hawk on the council, she’s opposed initiatives to launch a city composting program and fund a solar panel program, demonstrating a disregard for environmental sustainability. The Johnson family has controlled this Ward 4 seat for 40 years. It’s time for that family fiefdom to end. She has got to go.

Ward 5 – Jeremiah Ellison

  1. Jeremiah Ellison – Jeremiah is Rep. Keith Ellison’s son and would seem to bring his father’s community organizer sensibility to his Near North ward, another historically redlined district. Ellison is an artist, which could be a big benefit in a city that prides itself on its thriving arts scene. Unlike the incumbent, Ellison unabashedly advocates for raising the minimum wage, affirms the right to protest, and offers a harsher critique of the police. Ellison supports  inclusionary zoning and community land trusts to offer low-income folks access to a measure of home equity. He’d aim to lower transit fares for low-income riders.
  2. Raeisha Williams – Williams advocates for updating North Minneapolis’ infrastructure and her vision includes bike lanes and safety improvements. She didn’t own a car until the age of thirty, which familiarized her with relying on the bus, her bicycle or her own two feet to get around. Williams’ platform emphasized affordable housing and calls for housing co-ops, community ownership models, rent stabilization, and going after slumlords with regulations. She supports a $15 minimum wage. Update: Williams was of the main organizers for Justice for Jamar and for Philando Castille and also formerly served as Communications Director for the NAACP Minneapolis. 
  3. Blong Yang – Yang has been a disappointment on the council. Out of step with criminal justice reformers in his ward, Yang not only didn’t join protests of the Fourth Precinct following the killing of Jamar Clark while in custody, he criticized them for taking place. He hasn’t been out front on housing and multimodal transportation policy and didn’t return any questionnaires to illuminate any policy priorities. He was the first Hmong-American elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

Ward 6 – Mohamud Noor

  1. Mohamud Noor – Ward 6 has a large East African, and especially Somali-American, population. The race between Mohamud Noor and incumbent Abdi Warsame is very tense and personal. Noor ran for state house in 60B in 2014, and Warsame endorsed the 21-term incumbent Phyllis Kahn over his fellow Somali-American Noor, and Kahn won (she was defeated two years later by Ilhan Omar). Noor has the misfortune of having a name that is only one letter off from the police officer Mohamed Noor who killed Justine Damond earlier this year. Noor is the more progressive candidate, judging by endorsements, and he offered solid responses to the Our Street questionnaire, showing a desire to prioritize people walking and biking over cars.
  2. Abdi Warsame – As the first Somali-American elected to the Minneapolis City Council, Warsame is a trailblazer, but he’s a more recent arrival that Noor. Warsame grew up in London and moved to Minneapolis in 2006, in part to work on redistricting plan that ultimately drew Ward 6 as a majority East African district. Meanwhile, Noor can claim a longer record of activism in Minneapolis. Since their policies are considered very similar, the race has tended to break along these biographical lines and personal ties. Warsame, who doesn’t own a car, also had strong responses to the Our Street questionnaire. Multimodal transportation isn’t just a fancy but a necessity for the Somali-American community, which has relatively low car ownership rates and is centered in the dense neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside.

Ward 7 – Janne Flisrand

  1. Janne Flisrand – Flisrand would be a fantastic councilmember. Flisrand has been car-free her entire adult life and has been deeply involved in transportation and housing policy for decades (including as co-chair at urbanism blog Streets.mn and co-founder of Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition). She balances pro-density policies with progressive protections. Endorsed by Councilmember Lisa Bender, she would help move the council toward smart urbanism. For an example, see her vision for Hennepin Avenue which would turn it from a car sewer to a “sticky street” that encourages people to linger and enjoy themselves.
  2. Teqen Zéa-Aida – Zéa-Aida might be a long-shot candidate, but he was nice enough to hold Lisa Goodman’s already been chewed gum when the incumbent rudely handed said gum to him. That’s good enough to be better than Lisa Goodman.
  3. Lisa Goodman – Councilmember Goodman has been ineffective and lately mean-spirited to boot. Infamously she handed a piece of gum to her opponent at a forum in a bizarre intimidation play. A white person who sees nothing wrong with demeaning an opponent (a person of color) should not be leading a city in 2017. She didn’t respond to Our Streets or Wedge Live questionnaires.
  4. Joseph Covacs – Covas is a Republican, but on the bright side he’s not Lisa Goodman. Still I couldn’t rank him higher than incumbent seeing one of his four platform planks was defending the downtown skyways–the threat to which seems mainly imagined even if they are plague on Downtown Minneapolis’s street life and walking environment.

Ward 8 – Andrea Jenkins

  1. Andrea Jenkins – Jenkins brings over a decade of experiences as a legislative aide to Councilmembers Robert Lilligren and Elizabeth Glidden (who’s not seeking reelection) and 25 years in public service to the table. As a transgender woman, she’d bring a under-represented voice to the council. As a legislative aide, she initiated and helped organize the Trans*Equity Summit to highlight issues the trans community faces. She’d bring a sorely needed equity lens to the issues of housing and transportation, and emphasizes issues facing people walking and biking as her priority. She supports legalizing missing middle housing, raising the minimum wage, and ending source of income discrimination to protect people using Section 8 vouchers to pay rent.
  2. Terry White – White is Green Party endorsed and says he’s running to make sure the Climate Action Plan is fully funded and implemented. He supports prioritizing people walking and biking but doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of street design in reducing traffic deaths and achieving Vision Zero, instead focusing on personal behavior. White is critical of Minneapolis Democrats handling of affordable housing and offers granny flats, inclusionary zoning, expedited review for affordable projects, and community land trusts as solutions. He’d also eliminate minimum sizes for homes, thereby legalizing microhousing.

Ward 9 – Alondra Cano

  1. Alondra Cano – Councilmember Cano regularly commutes by bicycle and has been vocal on environmental justice issues, calling for Green Zones, which would reverse the trend of low-income neighborhoods being in the most polluted areas. She highlighted transit-oriented development as a means to accomplish this. Despite cultivating a progressive reputation, Minneapolis hasn’t always seemed fully ready to embrace women of color leading on the council. Cano has handled the pushback–such as a colleague on the council anonymously lambasting her and calling her lazy and inept–with grace and maintained her focus on equity. It’s hard to see how a “Resist Trump” voting strategy doesn’t involve Cano, who is the child of undocumented immigrants. Cano has combined symbolic victories on equity with direct action; she vocally participating in Fourth Precinct protests following the shooting of Jamar Clark. She has consistently supported raising the minimum wage to $15.
  2. Gary Schiff – Schiff served three terms on the Minneapolis City Council before launching a failed bid for mayor. His vote against publicly funding the Vikings Stadium was admirable, but, to be blunt, it’s probably time he steps aside and lets others lead, despite a solid record in office. Schiff has made ending the heroin epidemic a focus this time around. On housing, he promises “revitalization without gentrification” but doesn’t outline large enough interventions to make that sound likely. His proposal to “apply the 3% lodging tax to Airbnb and dedicate the funds to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund” certainly sounds like a good step, but much more is needed.
  3. Mohamed Farah nearly pulled off an upset to secure a DFL endorsement the Ward 9 convention, but walked out when it was clear he had no path to victory, saying Somali voters were being disenfranchised by the DFL and ignored by Cano. Farah has focused his platform on economic development, support for small businesses, and safety. These are good issues, but the lack of a housing policy beyond supporting “a $15/hr minimum wage and protecting affordable housing” is a little concerning.

Ward 10 – Lisa Bender

  1. Lisa Bender – Councilmember Bender brings an urban planner’s perspective to the council and she has led on many great reforms near and dear to urbanists. As chair of the zoning and planning committee, she successfully spearheaded efforts to legalize granny flats, to lower parking requirements near transit, to craft complete streets guidelines, and to update design regulations to increase walkability. She is also leading the effort to pair upzones with inclusionary zoning as a land value capture tool that would also broaden access to new development and create mixed-income communities. A frequent cyclist and transit rider herself, she listens to advocates on housing, bicycling, pedestrian and transit issues and uses her expertise to gets results. I look forward to what she can accomplish in her second term.
  2. None of the challengers seemed serious enough to turn in a questionnaire. David Shorn did turn in the Our Streets questionnaire but his bike-bashing responses didn’t help his cause. Just vote Bender for the love of all that is holy.

Ward 11 – Erica Mauter

  1. Erica Mauter – As a queer black woman, Mauter would be an authentic voice for often silenced communities. She is also well versed in urbanism. She supports legalizing missing middle housing and relaxing or eliminating parking minimum requirements. She sees inclusionary zoning as a valuable tool but recognizes the need for a broad package of affordable housing solutions. She highlighted the pedestrian impacts of drive-through businesses and the need to prioritize people over cars. As a frequent transit rider, she identified the need for improved snow removal at transit stops to maintain access.
  2. Jeremy Schroeder – Schroeder voiced support for a form-based zoning code, which is fairly brave considering Ward 11 is very suburban and single-family in character. He’s also an advocate for inclusionary zoning and for prioritizing people walking and biking. He’s wisely called out improving station access to the Orange Line BRT station at 46th St and I-35W that is under construction and soon to open.
  3. John Quincy – The two-term incumbent Councilmember Quincy is decent on transportation issues but not exciting. He recognizes the importance of multimodal Complete Streets but doesn’t seem to particularly stick his neck out when it comes to more aggressive implementation of said policies. He said he wouldn’t spend any more on bicycling and pedestrian improvements than Minneapolis is now ($6.1 million). Quincy claims to have accomplished big things on affordable housing, but hasn’t backed that up with details or a specific platform going forward. Two terms is probably enough for Quincy.

Ward 12 – Andrew Johnson

  1. Andrew Johnson – Councilmember Andrew Johnson has led on mobility issues, fighting for protected bike lanes and ADA-compliant sidewalks. Andrew has also been a solid record on equity, co-authoring the Green Zones Resolution and fighting for police accountability following shootings. Johnson generally hasn’t emphasized affordable housing as an issue. He’s supported a few affordable projects but hasn’t pushed a comprehensive platform to address the issue in his campaign. His Wedge Live questionnaire did reveal support for form-based code, upzones along transit corridors, legalizing accessory dwelling units, and reducing or eliminating parking minimums. Despite being vice-chair of the zoning and planning committee, he has avoided taking a position on inclusionary zoning, near as I can tell.
  2. Johnson has two challengers but they don’t seem serious.

Ward 13 – Linea Palmisano

  1. Linea Palmisano – Councilmember Palmisano expressed support for missing middle housing types in her Wedge Live questionnaire, calling out fourplexes and converting single-family to duplexes. She has been an advocate for street safety and Vision Zero. That’s plenty good enough for me to recommend her for a second term.
  2. Bob Reuer – It doesn’t seem Reuer is running a serious campaign, given the lack of presence or questionnaire responses.

City Snapshot: Exploring Minneapolis Urbanism

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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This has worthwhile insights into a number of incumbent city council reps and leading challengers. However there is much more to Teqen Zea-Aida’s story as a member of the urban community than for his candidacy to totally defined by just one incident of being subjected to a bizzare prank where he thought Lisa would hand him a fresh and unchewed stick of gum. To suggest that he was “kind enough” to hold a piece of chewed up gum is pure sarcasm comes close to legitimizing what appears to be Lisa Goodman’s power play intended to rattle him before their one and only debate all together. Also there are more candidate surveys out there than Wedge Live or Our Streets .

Raeisha Williams

Dear Urbanist,

Thank you for considering me as your second choice for City Council Ward 5. While I am honored, I feel that your post on my positions are lacking and paint a very faint picture of who I am as a candidate.

I noticed you make mentioned that Jeremiah Ellison, your 1st choice was an artist-activist who “Jeremiah is Rep. Keith Ellison’s son and would seem to bring his father’s community organizer sensibility to his Near North ward.”

The reality is that I am an activist, one of the main organizers for Justice for Jamar, and Philando Castille. You don’t make any reference to this in your mention of me. Nor do you mentioned that I am the business owner the LashBar located on W. Broadway, or that I am the former Communications Director of the NAACP. You do however my a statement that I didn’t drive until I was 30? I have to know idea where you go that information from; which is inaccurate.

While Ellison may be your #1 choice, and that is fine; I would hope that you represent the other candidate’s in a fair and accurate portrayal to your readers. If you have driven in Ward 5, North Minneapolis as of lately, you would see that I have the most visibility of yard signs and support in Ward 5.

I truly hope that you take my concerns into consideration, and consider fairly and accurately presenting your readers with information about me and my candidacy.

Signed a #PowerfulBrownGirl who you can not #Silence,

Raeisha Williams

Samantha Pree-Stinson

Thank you for weighing in. Love to see Rev. Dr. Nekima Levy Pounds as #1. Some insight. Your commentary regarding my candidacy and experience is inaccurate.

I have lived in Minneapolis for 20 years, majority of the time NE. My activism here began in Minneapolis Public Schools when the decision was made to close down our only arts magnet. I was appointed to the 2020 Committee and led as chair directly impacting policy for our kids. I served as Site Council Chair and PTA President at Sheridan and Waite Park. I also joined a coalition of parents to remove Principle Gupta from North East Middle so that our kids could learn in a positive environment free from discrimination.

In the US Army, I was an Army SGT combat medic attached to 1-32 Infantry. I spent 14 months in Afghanistan. I was our Unit Movement Officer and our head of Field Sanitation. I made direct impact policy changes to stop burning garbage near our living areas and stopped our use of chemically treating our uniforms with pesticides.

At Medtronic, I was a Compliance Auditor working directly with policies and procedures in a heavily regulated environment. I served as the Networking leader of our local and global Women’s Network and our local African Descent Network as chair. My focus was again, equity policies and strategies to increase women and African Americans in leadership roles. Attract, retain, and develop to provide a 20% increase in these intersectional groups into leadership roles.

In our community, I coach youth soccer every summer. I serve as the 1st VP of the board at KMOJ and President of the Board at MTN. I have organized and led alongside BLM, The New North, CUAPB, Rev. Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds and Raeisha Williams.

I do have experience and the education to support this Ward fully. While you may not want to amemd your article. I hope this better serves your readers as I stand for much more than bike lanes and 3 sentences.

Yessssss. This is a great example of Minnesota nice nasty, libertarian attitude. Here you have two powerful black women who’ve been out there on the front lines fighting for racial Justice. And our work has completely been erased. Replaced by men; giving them the credit for social justice and Community enhancement.

Uncle Cheese

Your summation of Samantha Pree Stinson’s Ward 3 candidacy is flawed. Sam is a US Army Vet, Educator, Compliance Officer and former head of both Medtronics Global Womens Initiative and African Descent Network. Her activism in the City of Minneapolis is well regarded. Not sure what your intent is with this piece but you’re missing a lot of facts.

Amy Taylor

I’m sorry, why do we care about a Minneapolis election?

Raeisha Williams

Exactly. Who’s the gender you push in here?