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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2 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.

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