Xp Lee poses for a photo outside the Palmer Lake VFW in Brooklyn Park, Minn. on January 5, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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Sahan Journal spoke with two of the immigrant candidates running for an open seat on the Brooklyn Park City Council to learn more about the issues currently facing the city’s residents. 

Xiongpao “Xp” Lee is a community coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health, where he leads efforts to protect communities of color from COVID-19. 

Three immigrant candidates are running for an open seat on the Brooklyn Park City Council in a special election February 8: Lee, Abraham Brima Bah, and Benjamin Osemenam, who did not return Sahan Journal’s interview request. A fourth candidate, LaDawn Severin, a real estate agent, is also running. The winning candidate will serve the remainder of Lisa Jacobson’s term, which ends in 2024. Jacobson left her seat on the Council vacant when Brooklyn Park residents elected her as mayor in a close race in November

Lee’s responses have been edited below for length and clarity. Read about Brima Bah here.

Xiongpao “Xp” Lee: Covid Community Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health

I wanted to run for Brooklyn Park City Council because, at this time in the city, it’s a pivotal moment for our growth and development. I know I have the right skill sets to be able to engage with residents.

My wife and I have been homeowners since 2016. Brooklyn Park is just a really awesome community. It’s got such a great mix of everything. We’ve got the parks, the Mississippi River, great little neighborhoods, commercial areas. The cool thing is that there’s still a lot of room to grow. That’s what I would love to help guide as a city council member. I would really work with other council members and residents to figure out the best ways to make those developments benefit the residents and the city.

All of these developments come through the planning commission, which I’m currently a member of. There’s industrial buildings, schools, commercial buildings, mixed-use housing—that comes through the planning commission, then that goes to the council for assessment and a decision.

The East District is already pretty much fully built. So as development opportunities come in the Central and West districts, I will make sure that value is being brought back to the East District. 

Everyone is really talking about the rise in crime. It is something that has been a concern for residents over the last few years. 

In terms of public safety, what sets me apart is my idea of creating neighborhood associations and neighborhood watch groups. Some people may not feel comfortable calling police and some issues don’t require police involvement. There needs to be a more authoritative body for neighbors to mediate and resolve issues, and create a presence to help deter criminal activity. 

I come from a community engagement background, and that’s something I look forward to continuing doing as a council member. I’ve been on various strategic planning committees for the city, including the police racial justice and evaluation subcommittees. We need to find creative ways to reimagine what we can do to improve our police force. In light of the murder of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, the atmosphere has changed. It’s great that the city is being proactive, and I will continue that trend and help make improvements with law enforcement.

I’ve been a champion of our diversity ever since I got here. We are the most diverse area of Minnesota and we’re just continuing to grow. What we need to do is make sure that all of our resources are equitably accessible. I am passionately aware of that fact. 

For example, I’m engaging with the redistricting process which ends in February as a lead organizer for the Hmong American Census Network. That’s going to be huge this year. The maps that are proposed for Brooklyn Park are wildly different. It’s the first time that people of color have really had a seat at the table to really present maps that would benefit communities of color.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.