Minneapolis Park Board, District 4

On the ballot for Park Board District 4:

Tom Nordyke (DFL)
Jono Cowgill (DFL endorsed)


Tom Nordyke

It really takes a special kind of guy to look at the people currently in a political race, take offense at how few women have been endorsed, and decide what that race really needs is for you, a man, to add yourself to the mix.

What was a surprise to him, and others, was that the candidates who emerged with DFL endorsements — including the eight Our Revolution candidates — were nearly all men. The only endorsed woman was incumbent Steffanie Musich in the fifth district, who wasn’t backed by Our Revolution.

After seeing the convention play out the way it did, which included a fistfight between supporters of two third district candidates, Nordyke decided to run himself for district 4. He thought he could bring a measure of calm leadership to a board that seems like it might need it.

And it gets worse:

What diversity do you bring to the Park Board?

Tom Nordyke – “I was the first openly gay President of the Minneapolis Park Board. That is something I am proud of and one of the reasons I jumped into this campaign. We are seeing less diversity in this year’s local election cycle than we have in years. Regarding the LGBTQ community, we are looking at less representation in local government than we have seen in a very long time. I believe as a gay man and member of our LGBTQ community I have a unique and diverse voice to bring the Park Board.”

I mean, let’s talk about this for a minute.

(1) LESS DIVERSITY IN THIS YEAR’S ELECTION CYCLE? The Park Board is currently 100% white. In a city that’s (approximately) 20% Black, 10% Hispanic, 6% Asian, and 2% Native American, every single person on the current Park Board is a white person.

(2) LESS REPRESENTATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT FOR THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY? There’s this stereotype of a certain sort of (usually white, usually pretty wealthy, generally privileged) cis gay man who sincerely believes that the only queer people who really count are other white cis gay men, and … I am forced to conclude that Tom Nordyke is in this category. There are two trans people running for City Council. Devin Hogan (candidate for Park Board At-Large) is nonbinaryTequen Zea-Aida, Jillia Pessenda, Erica Mauter, Gary Schiff, Carol Becker, David Wheeler, and Tom Hoch are all LGBTQ, and I’m pretty sure I’m missing some people! How do you look at this list and feel under-represented as an LGBTQ person? Unless the only people you’re counting are Gary Schiff, Tom Hoch, and David Wheeler?

I mean, the election isn’t for another two weeks; we don’t know how many of these people will get elected, but “some” is a pretty safe bet. (Especially since Carol and David are unopposed on their ballot.)

Reading further down in that article I hit this gem from Tom:

There are a number of candidates who have tried to label the MPRB as a racist organization with no concern about racial equity or justice. That is simply not true.

On Tom’s actual website, he promises “civility” and “sane leadership” and he talks about “bring[ing] the Board together after years of acrimony” and “heal[ing] the differences with the staff.”

And, I mean, “civility” and “sane leadership” would be an improvement over the Park Board president losing her everloving shit over the fact that Nekima Levy-Pounds has shown up to speak at a meeting that didn’t have a scheduled slot for community participation. I’m not sure he’d agree with me on where things went wrong at that meeting, especially since he wants to pre-emptively dispute the idea that the MPRB has not shown enough concern for racial equity, and thinks that a board that might have one or more Black people on it is less diverse.

On other topics: he’s solidly pro-pesticide use: “There is simply no other way right now to deal with the invasive species that clog our waters and trails and obstruct or views and access to the Lakes and River. It should be noted that the Park Board is extremely judicious about the use of pesticides. I absolutely support the goal of moving toward a pesticide free system. But to do so now would cause damage to our system that our community would not accept.” I may actually agree with him about this. I mean, my feeling here is that if we have people running things with ideas about drastic reductions, that’s totally worth a try, but there are absolutely things I’m not willing to accept as a consequence of eliminating all pesticides. If the anti-pesticide progressives sweep the board — which I’m hoping will happen, actually — I would encourage those who are on the fence to keep an eye out and speak up if this starts to create actual problems.

(My college has this little artificial lake by one of the dorms. In order to stay a lake, it requires regular dredging. While I was a student, the arb manager talked the college into turning it into a wetland instead of a lake, so they tried it. What resulted was a really foul-smelling swamp. There was a bunch of “just wait, things will get better, it takes time for habitat restoration blah blah blah.” After a year or two, the president called the arb manager in and asked, “when is this going to be nice?” The arb manager said, “what? it’s awesome, what do you mean?” The president ordered dredging the next week and turned it back into a lake. What I’m saying is, sometimes what environmentalists think is super awesome and what normal users of a system think is super awesome are two separate circles with none of that overlapping space that makes a Venn Diagram. Sometimes! Not always! But if you find that the system you wind up with is not the system you want, push back!)

Jono Cowgill

Jono Cowgill is an urban planner, with both a degree and work experience in urban planning. He’s endorsed by Our Revolution, Lisa Bender, Scott Dibble, and Andrew Johnson.

The LWV questionnaire asked this fairly convoluted question (they had 250 words, I think, to answer it):

For the past five years the Trust for Public Land has determined that Minneapolis has the best park system in the nation. Do you agree with this assessment? By what criteria do you hope the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is measured in the next four years and what steps do you see necessary to ensure that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board scores highly within those areas? What are your top priorities for the next four years?

Jono’s response focused on new ways we might assess the MPRB: increasing the proportion of park funding that goes to recreation programming, and increasing the proportion of contracts that go to DBE firms. (Tom’s response was a “priorities” answer — things like “finish the renovations and upgrades to Loring Park including paths, tennis courts, lighting and Berger Fountain.”) And I’m a little frustrated that Jono’s actual priorities are pretty opaque to me: he wants “parks for and by the people,” he wants a climate action plan and to move toward pesticide-free parks, and he wants “safe parks for everyone” by which he means “dynamic, intergenerational programming.” This is all pretty vague.

I like his experience as an urban planner, though.

Tom Nordyke arrived on the board in 2006 during a pretty serious ongoing meltdown over a nightmarishly bad Park Superintendent who was an old friend of Bob Fine’s. Gurban was hired in late 2003; in 2004 he was given the permanent job. Tom Nordyke came on the board in 2006; he then didn’t win re-election in 2009, and the new board that took over was the board that kicked out Gurban in 2010. I do think that Nordyke was less-notoriously-awful than some of the Park Board members of that era.

But in any case: this is not that board, and they’re grappling with really different stuff. I think electing a guy who thinks that a board would be less diverse if it gains non-white members and who is 100% confident that the MPRB is definitely not racist is probably not the person who’s equipped to resolve the issues they’re dealing with now. I would vote Jono Cowgill as my #1.


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