Mpls Mayoral Race: Levy-Pounds, Lischeid, Nik, Rahman

Reminder: I’m writing about these candidates in batches, alphabetically. So if your fave isn’t in this batch, check the other posts.

Nekima Levy-Pounds DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
Ronald Lischeid PEOPLE OVER POLITICS
L.A. Nik INDEPENDENT
Aswar Rahman DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Nekima Levy-Pounds

Nekima Levy-Pounds is a former law professor, an activist, and the President of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP. Her website refers to her as Reverend Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds: the “Reverend” title isn’t explained on her campaign site or her resume, but according to this article, she used to preach at her church every other month. (Presumably the “Dr.” title is because she holds a law degree, a Juris Doctor.)

Levy-Pounds’ activism is long-standing and includes some really deep involvement in stuff. In 2006, she founded the Community Justice Project, which connected UST law students with underserved communities by way of the NAACP. That was still running at least in 2016. She also cofounded an organization to support Black men called Brotherhood Inc, but I’m not sure whether that’s still a going concern. (Their former web page leads to a page full of Japanese text that’s apparently selling skin care products.)

She’s been involved in the Black Lives Matter movement since Ferguson, and ran for NAACP Chapter President in 2015 in part because she wanted the NAACP to work more closely with the Black Lives Matter movement. She thought that this might attract more young people to become involved. (I’m curious if she was measurably right about this?My guess is yes, but I don’t know.)

One of the things that kind of surprises me is how thin the information on her website is. She has a hell of a political biography: grew up in poverty, was awarded a scholarship to go to a boarding school 3,000 miles from her home, first in her family to go to college. None of that is on her website, which focuses on listing awards she’s won. Awards are way less compelling to me than an interesting life story. Her website doesn’t even mention the Community Justice Project. Her curriculum vitae is here and I think it does a better job of listing the stuff she’s done than her campaign site.

Her website has a link to a calendar, but it doesn’t actually list her events. FYI, they’re available from her Facebook site. She’s added a few meet-and-greet events since I first looked a couple of days ago.

Anyway! Let’s talk about her platform. Like everything else on her website, it’s pretty bare-bones. She has three platform items: affordable housing, economic equity, and criminal justice reform. This page also notes that she was an early supporter of the $15 minimum wage, and that she’s a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

One of the things I look for on campaign websites is specifics. Like, obviously you want more affordable housing, everyone wants more affordable housing, what’s your plan? She spends most of that platform point making a case that there’s a problem (do people really need to be convinced?) and then says:

Our vision includes championing initiatives that:

  • Reduce housing disparities and predatory rental practices
  • Enact equal access initiatives and enforce fair housing laws
  • Hold landlords accountable for the livability of their properties

All of these things are good ideas, but none of them are going to increase the supply of housing in Minneapolis. If anything, they’re going to reduce it. (There are a lot of asshole landlords around. That’s not surprising, because it’s a pain in the ass to be a landlord, and that’s more so if you’re not an asshole. If you get rid of the assholes, you will immediately have less rental housing. That might be worth it, especially if you have some plan for increasing housing overall, but in the short term, especially, you’re making the problem worse instead of better. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just that this won’t solve your problems if the problem is a shortage of affordable housing.) Equal access initatives presumably mean that everyone will have an equal shot at those apartments that are out there, but it doesn’t mean there will be enough to bring down prices such that people can afford them.

Her real focus is criminal justice reform — I mean, she’s a law professor who’s researched this stuff pretty extensively. ( For example: “From the Frying Pan Into the Fire: How Poor Women of Color and Children are Affected by the Sentencing Guidelines & Mandatory Minimums” is a paper she wrote that appeared in the Santa Clara Law Review in 2007.) She’s been involved in BLM since the movement started. Etc. Here’s what she says about criminal justice reform:

The time is now to move beyond talking about criminal justice reform. We must now start enacting policies that put those words into action. Minneapolis can be a national leader in showing what true racial equity is all about. That means taking actions like improving community and police relations, advocating for the fair treatment of people of color, and reducing racial profiling.

We also cannot forget about those who are reentering society from correctional facilities. I will push for reentry policies that reduce recidivism and provide economic and housing stability for people seeking a fresh start.

I mean, I’m cutting her a certain amount of slack because this is an area where she’s made her stance so very clear, but that first paragraph is mostly platitudes. “Improving community and police relations, advocating for the fair treatment of people of color, and reducing racial profiling” — I mean, if what you want is a bold, clear, specific set of plans for demilitarizing the police, you won’t find them here, even though I’m pretty damn sure that’s something she wants.

There have been a whole lot of ideas thrown out from candidates on how to change the way the Minneapolis police treat Black residents, and given Levy-Pounds’ focus on this issue in general, I’d be really interested in hearing what she would actually do as mayor.

I mean, we can safely assume that if she’s elected mayor, Lt. Kroll will shit a litter of kittens on the spot? So there’s that.

Anyway. I find Nekima Levy-Pounds impressive as a person, but kind of an enigma as a candidate. For the passionate Levy-Pounds fans reading this — if you want to put in some useful volunteer hours, offer to improve the content available on her website! There are a LOT of people out there who do most of their research by looking at those websites to see what candidates have to say. Has she been interviewed? Could you provide links, and maybe transcripts so people can skim and look for answers to their own questions? Could you go along to meet & greets and take notes on any Q&A, then type it up and put it on her website?

Is there any reason to believe she’s qualified to be mayor? Yes. She has an impressive record of service and leadership.
Does she have any chance of winning? Yes, although I think the most likely scenario where she wins is that a bunch of people list her as their first choice symbolically and get something other than the outcome they actually wanted.
Is there any reason to vote for her? Despite not providing much in the way of specific plans, you would probably not be wrong if you thought she would push back harder against the Minneapolis Police than any other mayoral candidate.

Ronald Lischeid

I linked to his page because he wrote down a URL on his affidavit of candidacy and so they set up a link from the Secretary of State site, but there’s nothing there.

He does have a Facebook campaign site, though! I found it via his personal page. On September 9th, he posted a link to his Facebook campaign page to his personal site and asked all his friends to like and share, promising to post on the campaign site every few days. Also on the 9th, he posted a line drawing of himself, a meme about how every other candidate in the race is beholden to special interests, and that was the last time he posted any content to the page. (I mean, it’s only been a week and a half, but, yeah.)

He also thinks it’s price gouging when downtown parking places jack up their rates for Vikings games, and compared it to Epipen pricing.

Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? Zero.
Does he have any chance of winning? None.
Is there any reason to vote for him? Nope.

L.A. Nik

You know how a “celebrity” is “someone who’s famous for being famous”? I feel like we need a term for “someone who tells you constantly that they’re famous, and are doing their absolute best to be famous for being famous, but no one’s ever actually heard of them.”

giphy

L.A. Nik is a “self-appointed ultimate scenester…[who] calls himself a ‘professional entertainment personality.'” He is “‘the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Minneapolis After Dark.'” There’s at least one writer out there who’s pretty sure he’s a straight-up grifter.

I would honestly not know if someone was a famous “ultimate scenester” because downtown nightlife wasn’t really my thing even before I had kids. (And I have had kids for 17 years now.) I go to restaurants and theaters in downtown Minneapolis but not so much bars, nightclubs, or music venues. Anyway, I tried asking my friends, who admittedly are also mostly middle-aged nerds but at least a few of whom are involved with the music scene in some way and none of them had ever heard of him. (Update: someone chimed in who’d met him. She said he had excellent table manners and was quite pleasant.)

(Another note I’m adding: my father sent me a link to this article about European cities and their “night mayors.” If the next mayor of Minneapolis wants to appoint a night life coordinator, they could probably do worse than appointing Nik.)

Anyway. Nik’s website promotes his podcast, his self-help book, his YouTube videos, and the idea that he’s a celebrity. If there’s anything in there about politics, it’s buried in a video or a podcast.

I was actually thinking the other day about that $500 fee for getting on the ballot and how it’s not an outrageous sum if your goal is advertising. You get to provide a web link, which then goes up on the Secretary of State site, and lots of people pull up the list of candidates and check them out. I don’t know how many clicks you’re likely to get, but it might not be a terrible investment if you think of it that way?

The only thing about Nik’s political views I was able to readily turn up: he was a Trump supporter.

Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? According to the Bio on his website, he “has sat on the board of the Hospitality Zone Assessment Group.” He’s very enthusiastic about the downtown area of Minneapolis. That’s a pretty thin political resume but it’s something.
Does he have any chance of winning? Not even if every other Trump supporter in Minneapolis lists him as their #1.
Is there any reason to vote for him? Nope.

Aswar Rahman

The first thing I will note about Aswar Rahman is that he is 23 years old and his political experience consists of volunteering in R.T. Rybak’s office. He sent out a press release back in January that insulted all the reporters reading it; the irritated City Pages reporter followed up on some of his claims and noted that although he appears to be telling the truth that he volunteered in R.T.’s office, R.T. doesn’t remember who he was. (Pro tip: don’t send out insulting press releases. John Scalzi will tell you that the failure mode of “clever” is “asshole” and I strongly suspect that Rahman thought he was being clever.)

“I volunteered in the office of Notable Politician, who probably doesn’t remember me” is actually a perfectly lovely beginning for a political resume. It is not a great sign when that is your entire political resume.

He has ideas, ambition, and energy in spades. I am genuinely impressed by his energy and creativity. It looks (from the little video on his website and FB page) that he rented a truck and went around to various events over the summer and handed out free bottles of water with his name on them, which is a genuinely pretty inexpensive way to get people to come over and talk to you. (Not exactly an environmentalist statement, but who among us has not bought those stupid overpriced environmentally-nightmarish plastic disposable bottles of water at summer events?) It’s hard to suss out exactly how successful someone’s campaign is (especially given that for obvious reasons, candidates are invested in making their campaigns look like they’re doing very well)  but he’s got a lot of “Meet Aswar” events, and the fundraising dinner scheduled for 9/20 had 8 people saying they were going on the 19th, and it appears today that 10 people went. (I checked out the RSVPs for meet & greets for Levy-Pounds, Tom Hoch, Jacob Frey, and Ray Dehn, and they all had comparable numbers.) Given the his campaign started out as just him (just him, sending out insulting press releases) that’s a hell of a testament to his energy and campaigning ability.

On to his ideas. He has a lot of ideas and is extremely specific about them. Which is great! Or would be great, if the specifics here were good.

His two big areas of interest are the city budget, and policing. I appreciate the fact that he links to the budget from his page about the budget.

He wants to “free up” $70 million from the city budget. He is specific about the offices he’s going to cut, but in most cases he’s not actually specific about what they do. For example, he proposes to find $12,531,872 by “capping Public Works Contract Services to 2014-2016 levels.” What exactly does Public Works Contract Services do for the city of Minneapolis? Do they plow snow? Clear leaves? Fill potholes? (I sent him an e-mail asking him about this; no answer yet.)

The first item on his hit list is actually $42,452,000 by “replacing Meet Minneapolis with leaner marketing approach, funded by hospitality sector.” Meet Minneapolis is the marketing department of the Convention Center, apparently, and FYI the savings is over four years.

So OK. You can certainly argue that $10.6 million/year is way more than a city’s convention center’s marketing department needs. But unless I’m missing something, the city budget says that the convention center brings in $18.8 million; overall expenses are $26.8 million. So in fact the tax expenditure is not $10.6 for the marketing department, but $8 million for the convention center as a whole. (You can argue about that $8 million, but the theory is that you need a functional and pleasant convention center to get conventions, conventions bring a whole bunch of people downtown to spend money at hotels and restaurants and bars and so on, it’s an overall net gain because like everyone else, we tax the hell out of visitors.)

Meet Minneapolis is 11% of the convention center’s operating funds. And 11% of $8 million is $880,000, which over four years is $3.5 million. Which is a full order of magnitude less than the money he’s planning to bring in by cutting it.

I think he may have straight-up missed that the convention center’s funding includes money they make? Or else he thinks that since it’s going into the city pot, and the money to run stuff is coming out of the city pot, we can just cut what we’re giving them to $0 and also take an extra $2.6 million/year out of their coffers? Except if we cut their marketing budget to nothing, they’re going to have a harder time getting business and thus the money they bring in will fall as well.

 

He caps a whole bunch of things, and I have no idea what most of them do. Does Aswar? I don’t know. He doesn’t tell you what they do, despite being very specific about the money he’s cutting, probably in part because he wants you to think that he’s not cutting most of these, he’s just capping them. But here’s the thing: a “cap” is a cut. Inflation is a thing that exists, plus we just raised the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15/hour. If you cut someone’s budget, they will lay people off and reduce services. That can be a totally legitimate thing, when it’s a thing you do not value. Or when it’s a thing you think might be nice, but just isn’t worth what it would cost the city. But since I don’t know what these offices currently do, I don’t know what that means in terms of city services. (It’s things like “City Coordinator Internal Service Capital” and “Finance and Property Department Internal Contractual Services” and “CPED Special Revenue Operating Costs.”)

Having raised $70 million through cuts, he wants to spend that money to vastly increase scholarships for poor students attending MCTC; offer preschool to all impoverished kids; offer small-business job grants and empty storefront grants; fund youth employment programs; and do an annual assessment on whether the $15/hour minimum wage is hurting the Minneapolis economy.

MCTC and preschool scholarships sound great! And it’s nice to see a candidate who actually has a plan for funding stuff. I’m just really, really skeptical that he knows how any of this stuff works and what the effects would be of what he’s proposing. Especially since he’s never held elected office, served on a citizen advisory board, worked for a public agency, run a large nonprofit, etc.

Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? No.
Does he have any chance of winning? He’s a long shot, but yes, he has a chance.
Is there any reason to vote for him? If “I am a 23-year-old filmmaker and I am really, really smart” is the sort of electoral case that deeply impresses you, then sure, but I’m not sure why you read my blog.

 

 

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