Brooklyn Park 2022 mayoral candidates: Hollies Winston (left) and Wynfred Russell (right). Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle and Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Brooklyn Park residents will make history on Election Day by voting in the city’s first Black mayor—regardless of who wins.

The inner-ring suburb of nearly 85,000 people will cast their ballot for either Hollies Winston or Wynfred Russell. The candidates are vying for mayor in a city with the largest non-white majority population in the state. 

Brooklyn Park is about 42 percent white, 30 percent Black, and 20 percent Asian. The city also has a small Hispanic and mixed-race population. It’s also home to a large African immigrant community from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Liberia.

Winston is the DFL-endorsed candidate and earned about 55 percent of the vote in the August primary. He’s the CEO of Guaranteed America, a firm that helps Black, Indigenous, and people of color-owned businesses with advocacy at the state Capitol. Guaranteed America also manages a coalition of five support organizations that help small businesses grow.

“God works on his own time,” Winston said of the city electing its first Black mayor. “To overcome some of the issues that we’ve dealt with to get where we are now, we had to do the hard work of learning how things work, building the coalition, collaborating with people, building personal relationships across the city.”

Russell was the first Black person elected to the Brooklyn Park City Council. He’s a public health practitioner who founded African Career, Education, & Resources Inc. that has conducted public health efforts internationally. He garnered about 28 percent of the vote during the primary election for mayor.

Brooklyn Park’s election of its first Black mayor “shows the progress that has been made so far around issues of equity and diversity, inclusion and belonging,” Russell said. “It is significant, but I think what is more important is being able to elect someone who has the experience.”

Both have previously run for Brooklyn Park mayor but didn’t reach the finish line. Sahan Journal recently spoke to Winston and Russell about why they’re running again, and their goals for the office.

Hollies Winston

Brooklyn Park mayoral candidate Hollies Winston poses for a portrait on October 26, 2022. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Winston lost by two points in last year’s special election for the mayoral seat. Current Mayor Lisa Jacobson won at the polls by a razor-thin margin.

This is Winston’s third time running for mayor, and he’s built up a base along the way, pulling endorsements from unions and state representatives. He’s also armed with the DFL endorsement and a 2,000-vote lead out of the primaries.

Winston grew up in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. When he was 10, his family moved to Plymouth, Minnesota. He attended Northwestern University before earning a master of business administration from Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, where he was class president.

His grandparents have roots in the Jim Crow deep south, where his grandfather witnessed lynchings. The racist policies pushed the family to move to Chicago in search of better opportunities. His parents are college educated and passed those values onto him, and those experiences have driven his own focus on youth programming.

“When we look at the youth today—we look at even affordability of housing in a city like Brooklyn Park—when we look at those issues, it’s almost like those opportunities for them to move ahead are disappearing,” Winston said. 

His public safety strategy is three-fold: fully fund the police; invest in wraparound services that support the police such as community-based violence prevention organizations; and increase funding for youth programming—especially south of 85th Avenue North, an area with older housing and more poverty.

Huntington Place has been an epicenter of some of the city’s public safety issues. It’s one of the state’s largest apartment complexes with at least 2,500 residents, and has been rife with crime and quality-of-life issues like mold and asbestos. The Village BP, a community-based organization that advocates for better living conditions, has met with police regularly to discuss issues at the complex.

Winston said he supports The Village BP and the African American Women Awareness Group, a community-based organization that supports women experiencing domestic violence. He said he would invest in similar programs that “meet people where they’re at.”

It’s all part of his “upstream” approach to public safety that involves investing in preventative measures against crime.

Winston’s website lists other priorities like seeking creative ways to invest in transportation, including busing and the eventual Blue Line light rail. He also has a focus on affordable housing, climate change, and inclusion. He said he also hopes to improve the city’s water quality because the water’s pH level is hard and destroys pipes, shortening the lifespan of residents’ water softeners.

Winston said he has a vision for a Brooklyn Park “that’s much safer, that’s much cleaner, that’s filled with opportunities.”

Wynfred Russell

Brooklyn Park mayoral candidate, Wynfred Russell, poses at the future site of the Small Business Incubation Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, on November 3, 2022. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Russell served on the Brooklyn Park City Council for nearly four years, and has about 15 years under his belt in various government roles, including positions on the city’s Stable Neighborhood Task Force, Human Rights Commission, and Planning Commission. He has also served on the Hennepin County Library Board.

“I have the experience to lead the city of Brooklyn Park to a bigger and better place,” Russell said.

Russell was born and raised in Liberia. He lived in a refugee camp in the Ivory Coast before immigrating to the United States in 1992 at age 18 to attend school.

He went to college in Michigan and North Carolina, then landed at the University of Minnesota to finish his interdisciplinary master’s degree in community health, communications, and education.

“I come with the requisite experience and track record of producing results,” Russell said.

He’s been endorsed by the local firefighters’ union and former Brooklyn Park mayor Jeff Lunde, who is a Hennepin County commissioner.

Russell said he has a strong relationship with the Brooklyn Park Police Department and noted that the agency is not Minneapolis police, which has come under fire for killing George Floyd in 2020, among other incidents.

“We have a fine police force here,” he said.

Rusell believes that a buffer against crime is forming strong relationships with prosecutors to ensure that criminals are punished. The city should also encourage the police to build relationships with community groups and nonprofits for crime prevention, he said. If police engage in misconduct, he added, they should be held accountable.

Russell wants to improve opportunities for wealth in the city. As an example of how that could occur, he pointed to $1 million in federal funds that was doled out to African Career, Education, & Resources Inc. and a Minneapolis nonprofit for workforce development in the Twin Cities. 

The city recently bought a strip mall to redevelop into a business incubator. Russell said the city should continue pursuing such investments that prop up small businesses “to be able to thrive and create generational wealth.”

Building transportation infrastructure is also a priority for Russell. He wants to improve trails, sidewalks, and bike lanes. He also advocates for creating electric vehicle infrastructure in the city.

“All of those things speak to the quality of life in Brooklyn Park,” Russell said.

Russell’s website lists his other priorities as leveraging loans and tax increment financing to attract various types of housing, and eliminating social and environmental factors such as poor housing conditions that worsen public health.

JD Duggan is a Twin Cities–based reporter with experience covering housing, development, criminal justice and protest movements. JD reports at Finance & Commerce and has bylines in The Intercept,...