The interior of Mercado Central photographed in 2020. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

Longtime Minneapolis marketplace Mercado Central is demanding that Republican Scott Jensen’s campaign for governor remove footage of the marketplace from a new advertisement it recently released. 

In a letter addressed to Jensen on Wednesday, the Mercado Central’s board of directors said that Jensen’s campaign did not ask for nor receive permission to film inside Mercado Central.

“It is troubling that a political campaign would blithely appropriate and exploit Mercado Central’s iconic image without the minimum courtesy of consulting with the leadership or tenants of our cultural mall,” the board wrote in the letter.

The board asserted that Mercado Central’s interior design and interior and exterior murals are all protected by copyright law and cannot be used for any commercial or political use, and asked that all footage of the building be removed from campaign videos and from all social and broadcast media. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen. Credit: MPR News

The board said a deadline of Friday for Jensen’s campaign to respond to the letter and meet its demands. Representatives for Mercado Central could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“Mercado Central has consistently prevented the use of our cultural mall for partisan political campaigns and is not affiliated with any political party or candidate,” the board wrote in the letter.

*Jensen’s campaign issued a written statement Thursday: “Attorneys from both parties are in touch and working on what is hopefully a mutually acceptable agreement for both parties by the deadline laid out in the original letter.”

Mercado Central opened its doors on the corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue. in south Minneapolis in 1997 and has established itself as one of the area’s most recognizable Latino landmarks: a cooperative market and cultural hub containing more than 30 businesses. 

Unidos MN, a Latino grassroots advocacy group that is a tenant at Mercado Central, shared the board’s letter on Twitter on Wednesday. Daisy Hernandez-Barguiarena, a communications associate with Unidos, said that public responses to Jensen’s advertisement showed that Mercado Central needed to clarify that it has no relationship with Jensen’s campaign. 

“To the average viewer, it would seem that Mercado Central is endorsing the campaign—but Mercado Central has made a point throughout the years to be outside of partisan politics,” Hernandez-Barguiarena said. 

Mercado Central has not endorsed any candidate in the governor’s race and as a rule does not make political endorsements. It has in the past hosted elected officials and candidates for office, but those visits are typically scheduled in advance and focuses on a particular issue or issues relevant to the Latino community and neighborhood.

The advertisement, released in both English and Spanish last week, features a woman named Alondra who identifies herself as a native of South Minneapolis who has voted for the Democratic Party her entire life but plans to support Jensen this fall. Jensen is running against incumbent DFL Governor Tim Walz in the November 8 general election.

The ad features footage of the exterior of La Mexicana Supermercado, a grocery store located across the street from Mercado Central, as well as footage of Alondra and Jensen speaking inside Mercado Central. 

“I’ve voted Democrat my entire life, but not any more,” Alondra narrates. “Not after Democrat Governor Tim Walz abandoned us and left our community burning during the riots. After this, Tim Walz didn’t even bother showing up. But Dr. Scott Jensen has shown up, listened to us.”

Alondra’s claim that Jensen “has shown up” is news to Hernandez-Barguiarena. Jensen has not made any effort to reach out to Unidos MN, and has not in the past been supportive of economic development aid for the Lake Street area, home to many Latino businesses, Hernandez-Barguiarena said. 

Hernandez-Barguiarena said that Alondra—whose last name is not shared in the advertisement—is not affiliated in any way with Mercado Central, and that the market’s leadership does not know when the Jensen campaign filmed there. They, like many others, only found out that Mercado Central was featured when the advertisement was released on YouTube last week.

“What is troubling is that they’re appropriating a place that is a cultural icon for Minnesotans, especially Latino Minnesotans, and it’s this assumption about ownership—that you can just step into a space because you want this specific demographic’s vote, but you’re not even willing to ask for the cooperative’s permission or support,” she said. 

Mauro Madrigal, the store manager at La Mexicana Supermercado, said Thursday that he was not aware that Jensen had used La Mexicana Supermercado’s storefront in one of his advertisements, and that the campaign had not asked for permission. He said he was not personally bothered by the use of the store’s image.

On Monday, Jensen’s campaign—which polling suggests is trailing by overwhelming margins with voters of color—said that it would air the advertisements on the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo in an effort to win over Latino voters in the final weeks of the race. 

Jensen has focused much of his pitch to Minnesota voters on Walz’s handling of crime in the Twin Cities, dating back to the protests that occurred more than two years ago after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd. 

The campaign’s handling of the filming issue, however, along with its relative lack of engagement with the Twin Cities’ Latino community to this point, has left people like Hernandez-Barguiarena frustrated. 

“Latinx folks are tired of being used as political bargaining chips, no matter what party it’s from,” she said. 

Walz has led Jesnen in every public poll conducted since Jensen clinched the Republican nomination for governor this summer.

*UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from Scott Jensen’s campaign.

Abe Asher is a journalist whose work covering protest, police, and politics has appeared in The Nation, VICE News, the Portland Mercury, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @abe_asher.