District 2 is the North Minneapolis park board district. It’s been represented by Jon Olson since 2002 (so, long before I took up election blogging.) He opted not to run this year.
This race has been a hard one to research: the incumbent’s name is Jon Olson (do you have any idea how many Jon Olsons there are in Minnesota?), one challenger is named Kale Severson which gets a ton of false hits on articles about the vegetable, and the other challenger is named Mike Tate but also uses the nickname “Talley” so I have both the “common names” problem and the “person uses an alternate name part of the time” problem. (I think this article is about him? But it calls him Mat Talley throughout, so I’m not sure? Anyway.)
On the ballot:
Mike Tate was Jon Olson’s hand-picked successor. Originally, Mike was going to file for one of the At-Large seats, but Jon Olson contacted him and asked him to run for District 2, instead. Jon Olson talks about this in a comment to a post on Mike’s Facebook page:
Mike was running city wide. I spent a few days thinking about the next board and decided the park board greatly needs Coach Tate. He is a man of great passion, conviction and dedication. I want Coach Tate to represent the northside and myself so I am stepping aside and supprting Coach! Lets all get Mikes back and help him get elected dist2!
(This was posted in April, shortly after caucuses.)
However, Mike did not get endorsed at the DFL convention — he lost soundly, with Kale Severson getting 78% of the vote on the first ballot. He’d pledged to abide by the endorsement but promptly broke his pledge. (“Tate said after talking with community members he came to the decision to continue running due to about four decades working as a volunteer in Minneapolis parks. ‘I earned the right to run whether I was endorsed or unendorsed,’ he said.”)
(I am not sure how much I care about people abiding by these pledges. In part it depends on their history — have they made a huge stink in the past about people who didn’t abide? Did they coast to victory four years ago because an opponent did drop out? He broke his pledge but there isn’t a massive history of hypocrisy here that I was able to turn up, so I think I mostly don’t care.)
Here’s video from (I think) his announcement, shared on Facebook last February (by a supporter, because at that point all the comments from Mike were apparently posted by someone else):
He has a Twitter, which he does seem to post on. About 98% of his Tweets say something like “get involved in your local park” and “parks make a difference,” things that are upbeat yet content-free. Which is also basically what his website is like. Telling me that you’re passionate about parks, a team player, and committed to kids in the community (all mentioned on his website) is not helpful when I’m trying to figure out who to vote for (unless you’re running against Snidely Whiplash or Newt Gingrich.)
“Practiced public service for over 40 years” is good; that’s real information. As are the organizations he’s volunteered for.
His goals: bring in more money, improve recreational programs for youth, work for fair pay for park employees, educate families about the value of parks, and “invest in renewable energy opportunities like greening recreation centers as we update them over the next twenty (20) years.”
And that’s … more or less it? That’s really not a ton of content. Have I mentioned in some of these posts that advocating for more/better youth programming when you’re running for park board is like advocating for smaller class sizes when you’re running for school board? It’s just one of those things that almost everyone says. (Although this year we have a few people who are laser-focused on saving the golf course! Even there, at least one of them has a “and kids!” like his own personal “and Peggy!”) Mike does mention fair pay for park employees. But “greening recreation centers” — that is hilariously vague, it could mean almost anything.
Here is his Facebook page, which has pictures and some event announcements but again, not much information on policies, goals, etc.
Probably the best source I found for substantive answers on his goals (in a way that let me compare him to his opponent) was the LWV questionnaire (which also includes Kale Severson). That’s here.
Asked about the river front, here are the answers from the two candidates:
The key word here that is currently lacking is accessibility. I want to see access for Northside residents to the Mississippi River, as well as to Bassett and Shingle Creeks. Northside residents must have a seat and voice at the table when decisions are being made as how to approach North Harbor Terminal. I will continue to improve the communication with residents through email, social media, and general outreach through recreation centers and neighborhood events. I will work with other elected officials at the city, county, and state levels to make sure affordable housing and long term jobs are going to Northside and POC residents.
Bringing communities together is a strategy for healthy relationships within the whole city. My approach to ensuring that nearby neighborhoods fully benefit from the proposed developments that have and continue to be fleshed out over the last 6 years would be to focus on bridging gaps as it relates to the historical sense of all surrounding communities that will and should have access. There’s always an opportunity for people to learn about each other, and activities that harness that aspect would be my approach. I would work with park staff to assist in developing activities that include the community coming together to meet each other, or even monuments that teach the rich history of all communities.
Kale’s response focuses on access; on including Northside residents in decisions (which requires outreach so people know decisions are being made); and on including affordable housing and jobs in the considerations. Mike’s response focuses on bringing neighborhoods together to learn about each other, developing activities, and maybe monuments.
On climate change and environmental priorities:
In North Minneapolis and North Loop, we have many climate and environmental justice issues such as breathability, clean air, and clean. Communities of color and those living in poverty have been historically exposed to higher rates of lead, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants at a higher rate than their neighbors. As we know Northern Metals is leaving because of the latest lawsuit filed, and we as a community are still trying to decide how the funding allocated from the lawsuit should be spent. We should be working on solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling in our parks to reduce our carbon footprint and become more self sustaining. We need to play a larger role in our watershed districts and find a way to involve and engage more Northside residents.
This is a very important subject matter in which Tate for Parks plans to do a more in-depth hardline study to determine the best approach to handling the climate change/environmental priorities.
Kale wants to get rid of big polluters and add solar panels. Mike wants a study.
And on their top three priorities:
We may win the title of best parks but over and over again we also “win” at having the greatest disparities so those “best parks” and best park experiences are only for some residents of our city. Over and over my community gets left behind. Northsiders, people of color, people living in poverty, people with disabilities, people traditionally disenfranchised all deserve equal access and accommodation to be able to benefit from our great park system. This is not currently the case and until we evaluate our park system from that lens, we are doing a great disservice. The criteria must include affordability for those living in poverty, accessibility for seniors, and accommodations for those with disabilities, equity, and environmental sustainability.
1. Minneapolis Park System should work to become a safer/greener park system for our families and kids to enjoy.
2. MPS should work to become #1 in park system programming in our neighborhood parks.
3. Ensure that people of color, (POC) in our community have an opportunity to share in the job pools needed to build a diverse working culture.
So I am not sure Kale actually answered the question, but I do feel like I know that his priority is equal access and equal park opportunities for Northsiders. Mike Tate’s priorities here look to me like safety, partnerships with MPS, and diversity in the park’s workforce.
Kale Severson (DFL Endorsed)
Kale Severson is a lifelong Northside resident and graduate of North High who ran the successful campaign to save North High a few years ago. He ran for the Ward 5 City Council seat, as a Green, in 2013; I wasn’t super impressed by him. In part because I was not convinced North High was worth saving. (“They didn’t close it and I haven’t been following the news closely so maybe it’s rebounding and kids are enrolling and it’s awesome…” — in fact, it’s totally rebounding, with an 82% graduation rate. Go Kale, and I’ll add this to the long list of things on which I was definitely wrong.) I was also irritated at his reliance on a Facebook page for his campaign (in the intervening four years, Facebook has greatly improved campaign Facebook pages — they’re now a terrific way to keep your events up-to-date and share ongoing info with supporters, with a section for your stances so they’re easy to find. Also, Kale has a much more complete website for this race.)
He wants expanded youth programming and a full-time Youthline Coordinator at the Northside parks; solar energy in the parks; a “jobs pipeline” to make sure people from North Minneapolis are getting hired in parks jobs (he’s not clear about what that would look like); he wants to partner with the Minneapolis Public Schools (and he works at North High coaching the girls’ basketball team, so he’s in a good position to push for those partnerships).
The thing I find most interesting about him is the fact that he entered politics in the most truly grassroots way I can imagine: angry about the planned closure of North High, he set up a table in his front yard (which is across the street from the high school) with a sign. He wound up with 50 people plus news cameras and from that, organized the Save North High coalition.
Apparently shortly after the DFL City Convention someone was circulating a nasty rumor about him. I wasn’t able to find the rumor but I found his response, which in itself is pretty interesting. (I also found Mike Tate’s post saying that he did not condone this sort of negative bullshit.)
The Kale for Parks Facebook is a mix of news stories he finds relevant, and pictures of him with supporters. One thing that’s clear is that he has been campaigning very energetically. (It’s possible that Mike Tate has been campaigning just as energetically but with less technological savvy to make that clear on his Facebook page? I’m not sure. The fact that Kale won the endorsement on the first ballot speaks to a strong, energetic, well-organized campaign, though.)
Kale is endorsed by the DFL, Our Revolution, Take Action, most/all of the school board, and I think Ilhan Omar (I swear I saw her as one of his endorsements but it doesn’t seem to be on his web page. Probably somewhere on his Facebook.)
Mike is endorsed by Jon Olson and received early donations from Barb Johnson (President of the City Council), Liz Wielinski (District 1 commissioner — not running for re-election, though at the time I think she thought she would be), and Scott Vreeland (District 3 commissioner, who opted not to run again).
And here we get into one of those long-running things in Minneapolis politics — that thing where the Old Guard knows that their time has passed, but wants to hand-pick their own successor. Barb Johnson is in some respects one of the most extreme examples of this: her seat, which she’s held for 20 years, was previously held by her mother, and before that, by her cousin. Her family has literally held that City Council seat for almost fifty years. There are times that this sort of cozy arrangement works out fine; there are times when it emphatically doesn’t. One of the times it didn’t was when the Park Board decided to hire Bob Fine’s high school friend as the Superintendent in a deeply dubious decision favored by, among other people, Jon Olson. (Gurban was an abusive bully. He should never have been hired; he should have been let go the minute it became clear that his preferred method of dealing with dissent was screaming invective in people’s faces.)
Anyway, Jon Olson’s history with Gurban makes me distrust his endorsement on multiple levels.
(This is also why I’m probably not inclined to back Bob Fine for the seat he’s running for. Hiring Gurban was one of the more inexcusable bad decisions the Park Board has made during the time I’ve lived in the Twin Cities.)
I would vote Kale Severson as my #1 in District 2.