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Voters in Ward 10 are in the market for a new City Council member. Residents do a lot of shopping here already: Uptown, on the western side of the ward, holds a slew of clothing stores, coffee shops, bars, theaters, and more. Shifting eastward, the ward straddles Interstate 35W and holds the Karmel Mall—“the largest and also the first Somali shopping center in the United States,” according to its owner. Ward 10 also includes one of the most unpopular buildings in Minneapolis: the old Nicollet Avenue K-Mart—now a temporary home to two post office branches that burned during the spring unrest in 2020.
Residentially, the ward looks just as diverse. Homes range from mansions to single-family homes to brownstones, and median household income ranges from $81,875 in the East Harriet and East Bde Maka Ska neighborhoods, to $38,012 in Whittier.
Ward 10 City Council candidates reflect that diversity, as well. Two of the five candidates running to replace Council President Lisa Bender (who is not seeking reelection) are immigrant women of color: Aisha Chughtai*, the political organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Minnesota State Council; and Ubah Nur, a job counselor who has worked for several employment agencies.
The other candidates are Alicia Gibson, a former president of Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association; Chris Parsons, former president of Minnesota’s statewide association of local firefighters unions; and Katie Jones, another former president of Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association.
Both Chughtai and Nur spoke to Sahan Journal ahead of next week’s election. The interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
What are your top priorities as a council member?
Ward 10 is like 80 percent renter. We have just experienced this massive pandemic and lots of folks are struggling with housing insecurity, concerns around evictions, concerns around displacement.
I want to implement anti-displacement measures, strengthen tenant protections, and work with residents who are impacted and organizations on the ground.
A part of the investment in tenants is to build more safety in the community. When people are able to stay in their homes—and when those homes are safe, dignified, and permanent—then communities are safer. I really hope to move that work forward, building structures of safety.
What policies would you pursue to achieve your goals?
One of the programs that I’ve had a chance to work on and help build out is the community safety specialist program, through SEIU Local 26. It’s an alternative model to frontline response that is completely unarmed and invests more in de-escalation and violence prevention training than police officers receive.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, one of the first things we can do to impact public safety is working on economic justice. So, fair scheduling, expanding wage theft protections, and getting serious about labor trafficking.
What else would you focus on at City Hall or with people in Ward 10?
Outside of policy, the thing that I’m really excited to work on is transparency within the council office and building out a strong culture of constituent services. Prioritizing that, but also thinking about it differently, like being really transparent. What is frustrating for folks is, like, “I have no idea why I don’t hear back, I have no idea why my need doesn’t get met.”
On your website, you lay out your vision for public safety—ranging from demilitarizing the police to implementing a new strategy for responding to 911 calls. Almost all of the vision would require Question 2 to pass and the City Council to gain control of the Police Department. If Question 2 fails, how would you pursue your reform agenda?
Currently, the council doesn’t have power over the Minneapolis Police Department, but people in our community have been working on issues around policing. I’d double down on working with them to find the things we can move. What can we do through the budget process? What policies can we move along? How can we still create a Public Safety Department?
Over the last few years, every single year, there have been community members and activists present for the budget [process], moving the City Council to not increase the police budget. I want to back the community up.
We could invest money in violence prevention programming, in housing, and in the things that we know prevent crime. We need to fight for programming like that, not continue to fund more and more bloated Minneapolis Police Department budgets.
When you’re facing difficult decisions on the council, whom will you talk to? Where will you go for guidance?
The values I hold are building more equity and more justice in our community. The way we do that is by understanding how we ended up with a problem in the first place. We ended up with the struggles and challenges we experienced as a community because, for generations, all we have done is build our policies and build our systems around one community: wealthy white people. That’s why we have systemic racism.
To undo generations of violence requires a shift in what we have been doing. It requires deep investment in the communities we haven’t been centering in our investment, in our decision making, or in our priorities.
But who will I talk to when I need to make a decision?
Ultimately, I’m accountable to Ward 10 residents, but we need to balance the folks who have the most access with the folks who are the most deeply impacted: our young people, our renters, our immigrant families.
What are your top priorities for the time you’d spend on the City Council?
One is safety, two is housing, three is employment and economic development. If we don’t have safety, we don’t have economic growth. All these small pieces need people who actually connect them.
If we want to have safety in our community, more people in our community need to be trained and employed. Many in our community are having a tough time. Our unemployment rate is very high. Mostly the immigrant community are self employed, no jobs are available for them. People cannot pay the rent.
Do we need more affordable houses? Yes, of course. How many bedrooms do we need? Because mostly immigrants have large families. American apartments, I think, a maximum is four bedrooms. I don’t see any four-bedroom apartments in this area. Can we get those apartments and make them affordable in our community?
What policies would you pursue to achieve your first point, public safety?
I believe in reformed police, I don’t believe in police defunding. We have to hire more people from our community, and more color. And when we hire, we have to do an assessment. We say, ‘Okay, this is what we need.’
And then when we have a plan, then we know what the outcome will be. But if we don’t have a plan, then we don’t know what the outcome will be.
What about housing?
More trees and playgrounds. And more building, more affordable housing. I also think about a rent-to-own program. I don’t know how that can happen, but I think if we try, we can do it. The rent always goes up. People in our community, colored people, don’t get educated about rent-to-own or home-ownership programs. They’re afraid if they miss one month, then the house will be taken away from them.
That’s why there is not more home ownership. If they can face that fear and get one home, then that home goes to their children and to their grandchildren.
And jobs and economic development?
I used to be a job counselor with employment agencies. Immigrant people need someone who can see inside them, their skills and talents, but everything has moved into computer systems. Many people in our community don’t know how to use a computer, or maybe they don’t have internet access. They don’t know how to complete the application. So we need a help center where people can fill out the application, get interview practice, and go to work.
If Question 2 passes, it may fall to the council to create the new Department of Public Safety. What is your vision for that department?
I don’t support Question 2, but my people in the community believe ‘yes.’ Okay, I have to have a plan. We need an assessment when we hire people. Then they have a 90-days performance follow-up. We need police that are fair to everyone. When you create a fresh system, you have to educate yourself and the people around you.
If Question 2 fails, how would you pursue reform?
Community engagement is number one. I will do community gathering one time a month, one hour, to talk to the community and bring people together: people and police. Right now, people say the police are taking it out on the poor. I see a lot of people discussing the bullies.
How is the community going to be safe if you don’t bring both sides together and listen to their issues? We could get a healing center, something like that, for people to express their feelings.
Whom do you turn to for advice and guidance when you are facing tough decisions?
When I talk about big decision making, there is one person that I call who’s actually an expert; he knows a lot. I cannot share his name—if the person wants to be known he will step up—but he’s been working in the community the past 20-plus years, and he’s been involved everywhere.
My mother always says, if you don’t know something you have to know somebody knows that thing. There is nothing you can do without support.
*Correction: This story has been changed to provide the correct spelling of the candidate’s name.