Mpls City Council: Ward 9

This is one of those races where my opinion seems to be out of step with the opinion of a lot of people I respect and generally think of as sensible, and I’m honestly not sure if they simply have a different attitude about what constitutes a deal breaker, or if they missed the news story about Alondra Cano doxing a bunch of her constituents, or if there’s some EVEN WORSE story out there about Gary Schiff and Mohamed Farah and I just missed it?

On the ballot:

Alondra Cano (DFL, endorsed, incumbent)
Gary Schiff (DFL)
Mohamed Farah (DFL)
Ronald W. Peterson (Republican)

Let’s just dispense with the Republican first: Ronald Peterson doesn’t have a website and he has such a common name I wasn’t able to find anything like a LinkedIn or Facebook page to suss out anything that anyone might find relevant to know. I did, however, find a live-Tweet of a candidate forum he went to.

The thread ends here:

(Thanks to the mysteries of Twitter, I was able to see all the Tweets when I started with that last Tweet and scrolled up, but not when I started with the first Tweet and scrolled down. Go figure.)

Anyway, Ron is over his head (“Ron passed again,” Peter Bajurny says in a typical Tweet) and either lying or deeply confused on several issues. The most interesting thing about Ron is that he’s evidence that at least one Republican does in fact live in Ward 9. Who knew?

On to the other candidates!

Alondra Cano

The policy-based complaint about Alondra is that she’s more focused on national issues than on day-to-day Minneapolis stuff. She doesn’t talk much on her website about affordable housing, despite the fact that this is a major issue in her ward. She got some sort of official slap on the wrist from City Hall security after she participated in an after-hours rally protesting Sheriff Stanek sending people to North Dakota to oppress protesters there. But on this stuff, I’d say she’s entirely in step with an awful lot of her ward. My concern is not her activist approach, but the fact that she doxed a bunch of her own constituents.

Here’s a recap: In December 2015, Cano participated in a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. She got some angry messages from constituents — which she published online without redacting their names, addresses, or phone numbers. (Note: the article I linked to redacted the person’s info, but it was not redacted when Cano Tweeted it out.) More screenshots of her Tweets are here, again with redaction added later. Note that these messages came through a contact form, which has mandatory fields for name, address, and e-mail address.

For those not clicking through to the articles, I just want to emphasize something that I think was easy to miss from some of the coverage of this: she did this with messages that were critical of her actions, but not abusive. (She got abusive messages too! But the ones in the screen shots say things like, “you are unfit to be a council member, shame on you, you’re a bad role model, you should resign.” Do I agree with these messages? NO. Do I think it is reasonable for people to be able to say “you should resign” to their elected representative — for WHATEVER reason — without their rep publicizing their personal information on Twitter? HOLY SHIT YES.)

What Alondra did was legal. But there’s a big difference between “I know that my e-mail to my representative is subject to data practices laws and could be read by the public at some point” and “my representative will attempt to shame me publicly for disagreeing with her.”

This was really not okay with me. I mean, turn this around for two minutes and imagine how you’d feel if you sent an angry message to Jason Lewis about Trumpcare and he Tweeted out a screenshot of your message with some snarky conservative commentary, with your name, address, and phone number still in there. We would rightly view this as an attempt to get these people harassed.

People (ALL people!) should be able to express their concerns to their representatives, even if it’s a pointed critique, without having to worry that their representative will screen-shot the contact information they put in and use it to publicly shame them. (I would consider exempting messages that used epithets — except, look. There’s literally no confirmation on that page that you’re even putting in your own name and address. Someone who’s going to send epithets is probably also going to use a false name.)

Anyway, some of these constituents filed an ethics complaint. It dragged on for a while, and then dragged on some more. In September 2016, Cano sent a letter to her colleagues saying:

I disagree with the findings and have kept screen shots of the ways other council members including CM Frey, Bender, Glidden, Abdi, and others have used city property for “political” purposes. If the Council votes to approve the ethics findings I will speak out against the vote and and circulate a press release to the media about the issue with the screenshots I’ve gathered since January of 2016.

(I remember the MoA protest and I remember the uproar over the doxing and reading the blackmail letter, I kept thinking, “how did I miss this at the time?” and then I saw this came out in September of 2016. We were all slightly distracted.)

About a month after that, the City Council dismissed the ethics complaint. So either they decided it was groundless, or they were really worried about whatever she might have screen shots of. (They also stated that she’d violated the spirit of the rules, even if it wasn’t technically against them.)

Seriously, though: this whole thing was so far over the line that I cannot imagine voting for her.

I’m also not entirely clear on why she has as golden a progressive reputation as she has. She endorsed Jacob Frey for mayor, and showed up the other day on someone’s Twitter thread to argue that Frey did not swing the vote for the City Council Presidency to Barb Johnson over Elizabeth Glidden. (Yes, it was officially a unanimous vote. The actual fight took place unofficially.) Cano was an early supporter of the $15 minimum but she was against it, or at least really uncertain whether it was even legal, before she was for it.

Before moving on, I want to talk about the kerfluffle over the DFL endorsement — mostly because I think the controversy was bizarre. Mohamed Farah lost the DFL endorsement to Alondra Cano after a contentious process and a lot of complaints from one of her opponents. I’m going to get into the weeds on this a bit because I am a lot more expert on DFL conventions than (for instance) solar panels. From the article:

At issue was a party rule that prevents adjournment until 3 p.m. or until at least four ballots had been taken — whichever happened first. Some delegates interpreted that as a requirement that the meeting adjourn when either of these thresholds was reached, not simply that it could be adjourned once one of those things happened.

It’s not clear from the article if this was a genuine misunderstanding on the part of these delegates, or if this was a “misunderstanding” for the purpose of justifying some maneuvering to try to thwart endorsement. Because “you can adjourn after 3 p.m. or 4 ballots” always means, “you have to stick around at least this long, after which you may adjourn, if you choose.” It does not ever mean, “convention ends at 3 p.m., the end.” If you were actually going to institute a “meeting ends at 3 p.m.” rule, you might as well just toss the whole endorsement process, because unless someone wins on the very first ballot, dragging things out past 3 p.m. would be easy. (These meetings are run with parliamentary procedure. There are many ways to slow things down using parliamentary procedure.)

Bizarrely, David Wheeler (from the Board of Estimate and Taxation), a Gary Schiff supporter, talks about the “mandatory 3 p.m. legal adjournment” on Mohamed Farah’s Facebook post about it. Wheeler is not new to Minneapolis politics; he knows how conventions work, surely.

The complaints here strike me as disingenuous on the part of Cano’s opponents. The walkout was apparently an attempt to break quorum that failed.  I’ve participated in this maneuver (and had it fail!) I don’t begrudge any candidate whatever parliamentary maneuvering will work for them — this is part of the game — but the claim that Cano’s endorsement is invalid because they opted not to adjourn, and then endorsed her during the failed walkout of Farah supporters? Nope.

Farah also accused Cano of “Jim Crow style tactics” because her campaign challenged some of the delegates on the grounds that they had addresses outside the precinct in which they caucused. I sympathize with the problem that caucuses are confusing. I have, in fact, written about why caucuses are terrible — they do not scale well. But someone is not cheating if they’ve read the rules and use them against you.

Finally, the question (from the Pollen questionnaire) about the possibility of a city without police has been getting all sorts of coverage and I have been largely ignoring it because this is the law-and-order equivalent of asking “will we ever eliminate war, poverty, and all human suffering?” It’s basically asking, “when you imagine a utopian far future, what does it look like?” It doesn’t mean, “Would you cut the MPD budget to zero in the next budgeting cycle?” or really anything at all about policy. Let this be a lesson to anyone who wants to invite utopian visions from political candidates: people will take those answers, and run with them.

Mohamed Farah 

So, his melodramatic posturing about the DFL convention doesn’t impress me, but he runs a valuable and worthwhile community organization, Ka Joog. (You should go check out the website for heartwarming video of Somali immigrant kids out on a winter Wilderness Inquiry trip: hiking, cross-country skiing, sledding, and riding a dogsled. You can also read a lovely article about Ka Joog’s 4-H club here.

Ka Joog partners with all sorts of groups (like the U of M Extension office, which runs 4-H, and the Federal Government, which gave them money from the Countering Violent Extremism project — though they quit accepting money this year due to Trump.) When Farah says he can bring groups together to do cool stuff, he’s not BS’ing, that is definitely something he’s done.

According to the live-Tweet thread I linked up above, Farah is positioning himself as the law-and-order candidate, and in some ways he’s the viable conservative in the race. His website issues page focuses on public safety, economic development, and small businesses — nothing about housing, and his public safety platform emphasizes working with police over reigning in police. His video on his Facebook page has him talking a lot about the importance of entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Other than that, apparently he doesn’t get along well with Ilhan Omar (who’s endorsed Alondra). I have to admit that looking at that news story plus all the stuff around the endorsing convention makes me nervous about him. From that story:

While Omar’s historic candidacy resonated with many local Somalis, some community leaders have expressed frustration at what they say is a lack of access to the first Somali-American legislator.

Eager to seek roughly $11 million for Somali community initiatives from the Legislature, some members of the newly formed Coalition of Somali American Leaders said they were disappointed at what they say is Omar’s lack of engagement on their effort.

The 11-member coalition includes Ka Joog, a nonprofit that works with Somali youth. Hirsi once worked for Ka Joog before he parted ways with the organization.

“As an organization, we always embrace differences in approaches and ideas to solve issues,” said Mohamed Farah, Ka Joog’s executive director and a Minneapolis City Council candidate for Ninth Ward. But he said the group’s relationship with Omar is tainted by “personal vendetta” and a “history of tension.”

Omar disputed that she has not been accessible to leaders. She said she’s met with members of the coalition and its chief lobbyist.

This makes me worry that he brings with him a set of unreasonable expectations about how politics work, and takes things personally in weird and inappropriate ways. Ilhan Omar may have had any number of reasons for not immediately going to work on state funding for his group, including the most basic possible, “she’s really new to the legislature, and doesn’t want to promise stuff she can’t deliver,” and claiming that this is due to a personal vendetta strikes me as really odd.

Gary Schiff

I’m not a huge fan of Gary Schiff, and my friends who live in Powderhorn are solidly mixed on him: some liked him enough to support his mayoral campaign in 2013, some can’t stand him. My recollection is that he was kind of opportunistic, like he’s 100% behind whatever progressive idea is currently extremely popular and will avoid tackling the risky stuff. People like this are not the worst possible politicians to have around; you can generally count on them eventually backing the stuff you like. They’re unlikely to push for a $15 minimum wage, though, especially if they think it’s a red herring that demonstrates someone doesn’t understand the job they’re applying for. (To be fair: I also had a lot of doubts about a citywide minimum wage four years ago, and I’ve come around to, “let’s try it and see what happens.” Mind you, I’d be a lot happier to see it go in on a state level, but hey, Republicans in the legislature, let’s work like hell to get the vote out a year from now and make some goddamn progress statewide.)

Anyway. Gary doesn’t say anything at all about the $15 minimum on his website now. He does talk about a bunch of things I like: police accountability (he wants an independent prosecutor to make the call about when charges are warranted); harm reduction strategies for dealing with the heroin epidemic (that’s a really interesting one; I don’t think I’ve seen a single other candidate who’s directly addressed this issue. He wants to provide treatment and safe use facilities, and he wants to legalize pot); affordable housing (he wants to tax AirBnB in the city and use that money to increase the Affordable Housing Trust Fund).

He previously served on the council from 2001 to 2014. During his time there, he authored the Minneapolis Sanctuary City ordinance and I think he was legitimately the big mover-and-shaker for the rule change that allowed a bunch of microbreweries to open up, which is funny because apparently he can’t drink most beer. (I mention that because I do think that says good things about him — he was not enthusiastic about breweries because he personally loved microbrewed beer, but because he thought breweries would be good for the city.)

 

I think I would vote (1) Gary Schiff, (2) Mohamed Farah.

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Mpls City Council: Ward 9

  1. One thing I’ll add about Mohamed Farah. While I don’t think a candidate is responsible for every thing their supporter says, they are responsible for the voices they choose to elevate. To that effect, many in the Powderhorn Park area may know the name Rand Retterath, and won’t be surprised to see him supporting Farah. At a campaign event Rand spoke in support of Farah, and in his speech called Cano “sweetheart” which, whatever you may think of her, is incredibly disrespectful. And again, it’s not Farah’s fault that Rand said this, but Farah used a video of Rand saying that on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/votefarah/videos/660925640756277/

  2. I’m not currently much involved with Mpls. politics but I knew Gary Schiff when we were more active in LGBTQ issues, and I appreciated his commitment then. While a number of my friends definitely do not like him, I believe he would bring experience to his candidacy, and – barring any major issue problems – worth supporting. This might seem nuanced, but I’m basing this on my somewhat older impressions.

  3. Thanks for writing up your thoughts Naomi.

    I wrote up some notes from one of the candidate forums: https://docs.google.com/document/d/19YZu3lqgQfL7nJkWutzHf9G70BFjK9IfClGOdjquzCI/edit?usp=sharing (maybe it’s the only one Alondra attended?)

    My take on the “doxing,” after looking at the actual tweets, is that it was a sloppy mistake, not intentional. But she could have just called it a mistake and apologized, instead she became defensive, and apparently ultimately went much further in that defensiveness than I realized (given that letter).

  4. Thanks for writing up your thoughts Naomi.

    I wrote up some notes from one of the candidate forums: https://docs.google.com/document/d/19YZu3lqgQfL7nJkWutzHf9G70BFjK9IfClGOdjquzCI/edit?usp=sharing (maybe it’s the only one Alondra attended?)

    My take on the “doxing,” after looking at the actual tweets, is that it was a sloppy mistake, not intentional. But she could have just called it a mistake and apologized, instead she became defensive, and apparently ultimately went much further in that defensiveness than I realized (given that letter).

  5. Hi Naomi, I have been reading your insights with gratitude ever since I moved back to MPLS 6 years ago. THANK YOU for this extreme public service. For once I actually feel like I have something to add. I was a delegate in the nominating convention and had both Cano and Farah come to my house and speak with me in person. I was VERY candid with Cano that due to the doxing and blackmailing it was going to be a very uphill battle for her to win me over, and she did not completely put my concerns to rest. She did give me some things to think about:
    1. She did not intend to open people up to harassment (she claims) and did in fact take down their info as soon as it was pointed out to her that it was inappropriate to have up.
    2. She geared up for a fight when she realized that she was being singled out for an ethics complaint in a system she saw as rife with similarly flawed actions. She claims that she did not intend to blackmail her fellows into silence but meant to call their attention to the fact that instead of singling her out they all needed to agree to hold all council members equally accountable and all do better.
    3. She believes that she has been amplified in these matters due to implicit bias: it is easy to believe the trope of the hotheaded latina who yells and threatens to get her way, acting first and thinking later.

    Beyond that, from interacting at length with both her and Farah and seeing them both in action, I can confirm that she is more consistent and more calm under pressure, both to substantial degrees.

    Here is the post I wrote the day after the ward convention:

    I spent yesterday as a delegate to the Minneapolis ninth ward convention to determine which City Council candidate would receive DFL endorsement. It started out feeling absurd in a Robert’s Rules sort of way, built in drama and intrigue, and had a crazy, hubris-induced twist ending.
    The death-by-1,000-papercuts beurocratic boredom began with a process about whether or not to reinstate a 30-min candidate Q&A taking an hour to resolve (voted down, with one of the main arguments against being that it would take too long) and a failure to have arranged for a sufficient number of interpretation headsets resulting in the Somali interpreter having to use a live mic to translate everything (which was actually pretty damn cool, probably led to better quality of interpretation & greater visibility into the process, but did make everything take 2x as long). The body also adopted a rule that once either 4 ballots were cast or 3pm came around, whichever happened first, the motion could be made to adjourn even if no endorsement had yet been reached.
    The first ballot showed a significant favoring of Alondra Cano but no candidate meeting the 60% threshold for endorsement (57.09% Cano, 33.82% Mohamed Farah, 7.64% Gary Schiff, 1.45% no endorsement). I was feeling naively like the convention would wrap up pretty quickly at this point because only 8 delegates would need to be swayed to Cano for us to reach an endorsement, and since there was such overwhelming support for Cano this seemed like an obvious outcome. 2nd vote and things started looking less inevitable, with either only one additional Cano vote or no increase, can’t remember.
    At this point, 3pm having been reached, we got into a contentious motion-to-adjourn debate in which an infight from the rules committee got publicly re-litigated, people talked about being “held hostage” by a majority voting against adjournment, and we were told that voting for us to stay around and keep balloting would make us part of a rigged system (or, inversely, that failing to do so should make us feel ashamed). We voted to not adjourn, in part because we were still waiting on results from the 3rd ballot to come in.
    Somewhere in here Farah started losing his cool, snapping at people, and making snarky remarks. There was some kind of confrontation about whether a delegate had failed to observe the floor being frozen properly, which he either instigated or inserted himself into, I couldn’t tell which.
    3rd ballot results finally came in and showed a small increase towards Cano (57.88% Cano, 34.43% Farah, 4.03% Schiff, 3.66% no endorsement) and triggered another motion-to-adjourn which was tossed as out of order b/c we hadn’t actually *done* anything since the previous motion-to-adjourn vote.
    Fourth ballot goes out for vote, goes in to be counted, and the two candidates who have a clear interest in the convention failing to produce an endorsement jointly make a motion-to-adjourn. An impassioned debate follows, with some pretty great points being made. Then someone moves to suspend rules and vote to adjourn by “secret ballot” (which, as the chair points out, is Not Done — as delegates we are representatives of the voters in our wards and personally accountable for all our votes, which is why we sign them — so he interprets this to be a motion for a ballotted vote rather than a voice vote/show of badges).
    THEN. This is where things go from ugly to nuts. For no apparent reason, Farah approaches the chair to speak, but rather than making a motion he says “If you’re voting for me…we’re leaving.” He’s out of order, his mic is cut, but the damage is done and he shoos his delegation out in mass confusion making nonspecific statements about the system being rigged. Poor Schiff is left standing around looking like he might have some regrets and totally out of options/resources to be relevant for the rest of the convention.
    Once Farah’s delegation exits, this leaves an obviously Cano-dominated voting bloc of delegates still well within quorum. We promptly vote against the call for division (ballotting) that was in progress, reject the motion to adjourn, get the results from the fourth ballot (Cano up to 59.34% and needing only 3 more votes to reach endorsement) and are about to take a fifth ballot when someone moves to suspend rules and endorse Cano by acclamation (a count of raised badges, rather than a ballot vote, which would save time spent counting ballots). With minor ineffective friction from some remaining detractors (my read is that they were Schiff supporters holding out hope for no endorsement so he could compete better in the general), we proceed to do.
    I don’t understand what Farah was seeking to accomplish with this move as he did not seem to have enough people under his control to force a lost quorum, but the timing of his grandstanding (before the results of the fourth ballot were revealed but after his campaign would have had access to the results from observing the vote count in the tellers’ room) implies to me that he knew the convention was closing in on endorsing Cano. He obviously wanted the convention to adjourn before it endorsed his opponent to make for an easier challenge for him in the general election, but was seeing the writing on the wall that he didn’t have enough support to prevent her receiving endorsement. Seems like he either lost his temper at losing his gambit and just took his ball and left, or is angling for a completely specious claim that the convention was rigged. All this from the candidate whose pitch to me — in person, on my porch — was that he got along with people better than the incumbent (Cano), would be better at forming coalitions than her, and was singularly talented at working within the system to improve it from the inside.
    I’m feeling very content with my decision to back Cano, about whom I had some reservations that she addressed with me candidly and at length, and I have lost all respect for Farah, who I had been seriously considering as a possibility but had not seen enough from him to prefer him over Cano. I’d been looking forward to seeing him in some other role. Not so much anymore.

    • Since then, I’ve also been unwillingly tagged in a FB post by a Lake Street/Greenway-focused group that takes and posts pictures of people it believes to be homeless or sexworkers that seems to be supporting Farah, with his approval. I am assuming it tagged me in this anti-Cano screed because I was a delegate at the convention. It’s a bit of a mystery.

      Cano has a much more nuanced approach to combating prostitution in our ward, focusing around the safety of the sex workers rather than this shame/punishment based approach.

      I never had a chance to talk to Schiff. A staffer called me and set up an appointment for him to call. He did not. Another staffer called me again the day before the convention and asked if I’d like to talk, while I was busy. That was the last I heard from his campaign, ever. Based on research I’ve done myself since, I’m planning to vote 1. Cano 2. Schiff

    • “Death by 1,000 Papercuts” is an apt summary of every DFL convention I have ever been to.

      I don’t understand why anyone would try to break quorum when they are so obviously doomed to fail. The time I participated in that maneuver, it was a scenario where we were endorsing school board candidates and a bunch of people had already left plus there were other likely-to-get-dropped candidates who might have helped break the quorum….if Chanda’s communication had been better. (I knew as soon as I was out in the hallway we were going to fail — not enough people were out there.)

    • Regarding the doxxing thing:

      I just wrote a long post about the mayoral race (again) and one of my concerns about Nekima Levy-Pounds, which is that she’s coming in with an activist toolkit, not a politician’s toolkit, and there are tactics that are totally legitimate for an activist that are an abuse of power from a politician.

      And that’s kind of what I see here. If an activist is getting hate mail from detractors, and wants to screenshot those and put them on Twitter — sure.

      But this is a tactic that is wildly inappropriate from a politician (who’s getting mail from her constituents.) And I think that’s where Cano made her mistake: I think she was still thinking of herself as an activist, as an underdog, as someone who can’t abuse power because she’s not working from a position of power. But she’s an elected official. Minneapolis City Council Rep is not a tremendously powerful job, as these things go, but it is a job where you do have enough power to abuse it. And that’s what this was, IMO.

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