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Minneapolis City Council’s Ward 9 seat Council is open for the taking, since Alondra Cano announced in December she would not seek reelection.
The ward is home to a diverse population of immigrants and communities of color and includes chunks of East Lake Street that were most impacted by last summer’s uprising. Ward 9 includes sites like Powderhorn Park, the Little Earth housing project (where the historic American Indian Movement got its start), South High School, Mercado Central, and the Somali Museum of Minnesota.
The border of the ward reaches the northeast corner of George Floyd Square.
Earlier this month, Jason Chavez secured the endorsement from the Minneapolis DFL, winning 69 percent of ballots. Other progressive endorsements—like those from Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America, and Stonewall DFL—have also gone to Chavez. Chavez grew up in an immigrant household in Minneapolis and attended Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, near East Lake Street. He eventually led the Minnesota Young DFL and is now the committee legislative aide for the workforce and business development committee at the Legislature and an aide to Representatives Mohamud Noor and John Thompson.
Mickey Moore, a longtime business owner who established Minneapolis’ Braid Factory, has emerged as the chosen candidate for Operation Safety Now, a nonpartisan group concerned about public safety; the Minneapolis Area DFL Seniors Caucus, a group of Democrats representing senior citizens; Minneapolis’ firefighters union; and others. Moore was also a Congressional candidate from the Legal Marijuana Now party, who contested Ilhan Omar’s seat in last year’s election.
Haji Yussuf has been endorsed by state Representative Hodan Hassan, Park Board Commissioner AK Hassan, and the Somali Business Association. He is a Somali immigrant from Kenya who came to Minneapolis 22 years ago and founded a multilingual advertising agency before joining the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Haji ran for the DFL nomination for U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar’s seat last year, but when he did not receive the endorsement, he backed out of the race and endorsed Ilhan.
Sahan Journal interviewed these three candidates over the phone last week about some of their policies and priorities for office, including public safety and policing, rebuilding businesses after the COVID-19 lockdown and civil unrest, and how the city should address housing and the unhoused population.
Two others have announced their bid for the seat and remain in the race, but neither participated in this candidate profile. (Margarita Ortega, a Native American and Latina community organizer, dropped out of the race in April.) Carmen Means, a community organizer and pastor, did not respond to social media messages, emails, or texts from Sahan Journal. And AJ Flowers, an outreach specialist for a nonprofit and son of former mayoral candidate Al Flowers, scheduled an interview and then did not answer the call or subsequent calls and text messages.
With an ongoing crime spike, what do you think is the best way to improve safety in Ward 9 and citywide? How do you envision the role of Minneapolis Police Department moving forward?
Throughout the pandemic, crime has risen in most major cities—including Minneapolis. After Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers killed George Floyd, multiple City Council members advocated taking funds from the MPD budget to put into social programs or other criminal justice alternatives. A number of police oversight and reform efforts have moved forward through the current leadership of Chief Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey. Some community groups have also advocated for completely abolishing MPD.
Jason Chavez: When Chavez weighs the problem of crime, he starts by noting challenges like the lack of housing in the ward and the scarcity of well-paying jobs. “One thing we need to really do is dig really deep into why crime is happening,” Chavez says.
He acknowledges that MPD will continue to exist for years. But he would like to take some police funding to expand other social programs and violence prevention alternatives, such as the youth employment Step Up program, which could help improve public safety. He says that MPD is rooted in white supremacy and hopes to find ways to “change the culture there” and work to “fund our communities instead.”
“The fact is that policing isn’t stopping crime, it’s responding to violence,” Chavez says. He signed on for the Yes 4 Minneapolis charter amendment, which would create a new Department of Public Safety within the city. Chavez emphasizes “reimagining public safety.”
Mickey Moore: Moore supports MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo in implementing police reforms. He believes in a “multiple-pronged approach” to improve Minneapolis Police Department’s ability to partner with the community, such as recruiting officers from the city who may speak multiple languages. Moore also supports pushing more resources into non-police responses for mental health calls or traffic stops.
Our current process for traffic enforcement “does nothing but perpetuate racial profiling,” he says. Moore would support creating a new traffic division.
Among a list of reforms Moore brought forward while running for Congress is requiring every officer to have liability insurance for any misconduct they may get sued for. He wants to change policies to create a system that doesn’t “antagonize the public.”
At the same time, Moore does not advocate diverting public safety funds from uniformed officers: “We don’t have to take money from the police in order to fund a YMCA–based Pillsbury house program or something like that,” Moore says.
Haji Yussuf: “For now, we need police in Ward 9,” Haji says. “That’s what the East African community is asking for.” He says community members are fearful about experiencing crime after attending events in the evening. But Black, brown, and Indigenous people are also unsure of how they will be treated by police.
Looking forward, Haji wants to bring other public safety options to the table.
This includes creating a new phone line—dialing 966—for people encountering mental health crises, victims of sexual exploitation, or the unhoused. “They need to call a number that they can really talk to someone, and they can get the support that they need,” Haji says—rather than summoning police officers for every situation.
The city needs to remove “racist, brutal police officers” and hold officers accountable who break the law and betray the public trust. He would like to see a public role in oversight of the police, but he recognizes that process can be a challenge.
Haji hopes to see more foot-patrol and bike-patrol officers in high-crime areas, in collaboration with community leaders and health professionals.
What policies would you hope to bring forward to revitalize areas damaged by the COVID lockdown and the civil unrest last summer?
Ward 9 is home to the MPD Third Precinct building that burned last summer and also includes the parts of Lake Street that saw the most destruction in the city during the civil unrest. Since then, local and state officials have sought ways to funnel money back into the area to help rebuild businesses—many of which are run by immigrants and people of color—and maintain community ownership.
Chavez: In his work in the Minnesota House, Chavez has been closely tied to the workforce and business development committee, which could bring more than $260 million to areas like Lake Street that have been impacted by the unrest. If the funding is allocatedt to the city, he says he would “help lead the charge” as a Council member to distribute that money equitably.
He would also encourage more community ownership of buildings—taking aim at distant landlords. “I would do anything I can to make sure that small businesses are a priority over corporations,” he says. Chavez suggests he’d use his relationships with business owners on Lake Street to help them access funds.
He says his current job at the Legislature includes creating and funding jobs and programs to build employment opportunities for people. “My plan is to use the knowledge I gained” and “use my connections” to prioritize Ward 9.
Moore: “It’s gonna take money,” Moore says, to rebuild businesses impacted by unrest and the COVID-19 lockdown. Moore says one of his primary reasons for running is that he believes Ward 9 could receive hundreds of millions in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds.
But “if we don’t have the right representative…who can articulately make it understood that Ward 9 deserves and needs that money,” Moore says, “they’re going to get laughed out of City Hall.” Worst case scenario: Ward 9, though disproportionately affected, splits the funds evenly with all 12 other wards.
Moore is committed to focusing on accessibility for other business programs also, and says he will open a local office on Lake Street to help business owners tap into all available resources. “It’s money, money, money,” he says, “and just having the program isn’t enough.”
Haji: Haji sees Lake Street as a place to showcase the city’s cultures and its foods to visitors and tourists. “If someone visits the Mall of America, then they can visit Lake Street,” he says.
He says creating a safe corridor and offering grants to businesses can help revitalize the area: Haji would consider offering grants for private security during nighttime events. He would like to bring forward no-interest loans for Muslims whose religious beliefs don’t allow for interest-based loans and wants to encourage diverse business ownership.
How can the city work to help renters and make housing more accessible?
Minneapolis has had a shortage of affordable housing units for years and fears of gentrification have only amplified following the summer’s civil unrest. The city also holds the country’s deepest divide in homeownership between Black and white residents, a gap that has only worsened.
Chavez: “We’re gonna be fighting for a big comprehensive housing bill of rights,” Chavez says, referring to a swath of housing policies he supports. He stands behind the rent-control ballot measure and believes in “tenant opportunity to purchase,” which gives renters the first opportunity to buy a building should the property owner seek to sell. He says it’s also important to ensure tenants have legal representation in court: The city, he says, should fully fund the legal right to counsel for people facing displacement.
Chavez noted that employment opportunities and mental health resources are important to help make sure people are stably housed.
Moore: Looking at the sources of the affordable housing crisis, Moore says, “Our city needs to reprioritize the things that we’ve been doing for the last 10 to 15 years.” Moore says the city needs to prioritize homeownership over renting.
“There’s an underlying issue of the homeownership gap, which feeds into the wealth gap, which is a generational problem that creates a cycle of poverty,” Moore says. He notes that homeowners may be more likely to involve themselves in crime-reduction efforts.
Restrictive zoning, which encourages residents to remain in massive single-family homes well into old age, contributes to the housing crisis. “We’re also not taking advantage of abandoned and underused buildings,” Moore says. He’d also like to explore tiny homes, modular housing, and other innovative housing options.
He added there may be a “necessity of moving people out”: That is, more people should consider purchasing homes in the suburbs if they can’t afford their first home in the city.
Haji: Officials put a ban on evictions during the last year of the pandemic, even if tenants are behind on their rent. The state is working to pull back the ban while maintaining some protections.
“I think we need to extend the eviction moratorium down a little bit longer, so a lot of our community doesn’t have to face eviction,” Haji says.
Haji maintains the city needs to support vulnerable populations, like the elderly or those with disabilities. He argues that rent is too high, and income is too low. “Increasing the minimum wage is a starting point,” Haji says—perhaps by giving businesses incentives to increase wages.
He did not suggest any specific policies for lowering rent costs, but says “we could cap it. Or it needs to be a collective of work with the city and the landlords, and also the community itself.”
“I’m open to all those ideas,” Haji says.
How should the city respond to homelessness?
Homelessness has grown in visibility in recent years as multiple high-profile encampments of unhoused people cropped up throughout the city. In the Ninth Ward’s Powderhorn Park, one encampment grew to include hundreds of people, leaving the city’s Park Board to scramble for a solution. Crime and violence increased before the city evicted the camp.
Chavez: “Oftentimes what we do is criminalize people being unhoused. And that’s something we should not be doing,” Chavez says. “People should not be having their homes bulldozed or their encampments bulldozed and their property being taken away.”
He says instead of a police response to unhoused encampments, which is “triggering in itself,” the city should send outreach workers.
Moore: Moore does not believe the city’s issues with homelessness can be solved in City Hall—and “we need to stop pretending” that Minneapolis can do it.
“We should, and we can, partner with nonprofits, with foundations, charities, churches, other organizations who have already shown a willingness and an effectiveness to combat this problem,” Moore says.
He says the city also can’t criminalize living unhoused. Moore describes a process in which the city lets things percolate until they’re out of control. “We have to stop that mentality and start bringing in resources at an early stage,” he says.
Haji: The Roof Depot site in East Phillips neighborhood could be used to “house the unhoused together with mental health support and a hospital, a public library, a place…our communities can use as a green space to grow in a sustainable way,,” Haji says. The fate of the site has been at the center of a contentious debate between city officials and neighbors.
Haji also suggests offering incentives to landlords to accommodate unhoused people. Another option to explore: repurposing several underutilized buildings. The community land-trust model, where the city buys property to sell to certain individuals, is also a solution Haji hopes to offer.
What are your thoughts on rent control?
Progressive advocates have pushed for a rent-control initiative that would cap rent increases somewhere between 3–10 percent each year. Supporters say it helps maintain affordability and that significant rent increases most impact people of color. Critics counter that rent control could discourage new housing development and cause landlords to pull units off the rental market. The Charter Commission—the unelected panel that defines the scope of the city’s laws and functions—is expected to decide in its July 7 meeting whether rent control will be forwarded to the general ballot in November.
Chavez: “One thing that’s really important to our campaign and obviously to myself is rent control,” Chavez says. He’s been a renter most of his life and notes that rent could still increase 3 percent each year under the possible ordinance. But, Chavez says, “I think it’s just one thing we need to do.”
Moore: “I don’t support the idea of government-established rent control,” because “the vast majority of experts … almost unanimously agree that they don’t work,” Moore says. Rent control can disincentivize new housing development, he says, and encourage landlords to turn their apartments into condos.
Moore adds that a lot of the city’s affordable housing units are provided by small property owners who only own a couple of dozen units or fewer. “It’s not big landlords and big developers that are going to save us and we need to stop prioritizing their needs,” Moore says.
He would rather attack the housing crisis on a “supply and demand” basis, by encouraging the creation of more housing units throughout the city.
Haji: “I want to lead from a place of empathy,” Haji says. He has not offered a clear answer on whether he supports rent control. One option, he added, might be “not just rent control for everyone, but basically those who are vulnerable that need the support.”
What is your top priority if you get in office?
Chavez: “There’s ward priorities and city priorities,” Chavez says. But reimagining public safety is a leading issue for him. He also “100 percent” supports the community pushing for an urban farm at the Roof Depot site, and is hoping to support a city fund to help those in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) immigration program.
Moore: “The issues that our Ward is facing—those issues are public safety, business development and revitalization, and a more responsive government,” Moore says. Based on his experience, he hopes to tackle business and development, environmental issues like renewable energy and environmental justice, and equity and diversity.
Haji: “I want to look at how we can collectively find public safety that is for all of us,” Haji says. He also wants to address how to support and rebuild Lake Street.
Why are you, specifically, the right person for the job?
Chavez: Chavez says that as the only candidate who speaks fluent Spanish, he can more easily connect to the large Latino community in Ward 9. He cites his experience “always being on the ground organizing communities,” and his history working closely on policy issues in the state Legislature.
“We have a big East African immigrant community and a big Latino immigrant community,” Chavez says. “My family are immigrants from Mexico and I’m always gonna be fighting for my family, the people that look like my family, obviously, the entire Ninth Ward as well.”
“City Hall is missing that care for immigrant communities,” Chavez says.
Moore: “I’ve got so many years of experience in business and working with our community,” Moore says.
Growing up, Moore says, his family relied on city resources: food stamps, government housing, sports offered by the parks system. And he credits those resources for helping him achieve his current success. “I’m desperate to provide for our current generation and our future generation, the same kind of safety nets and supportive city structures that don’t allow our kids to get left behind.”
Haji: “I’ve been a community mediator for a long time,” Haji says.
He has participated in conversations about tolerance regarding Islamophobia, racism, and LGBTQ issues through his work as an activist, community leader, and journalist. Haji says he arrived on Lake Street 23 years ago with $150 and lived with seven other people. Today, he is a business owner and does work with the Minneapolis Park Board.
Haji says he has the calmness, temperament, and vision for involving everyone on “where we want to head for Minneapolis and Ward 9. It has to be inclusive involvement for each one of us—no one is left behind.”