Because various things have come out or turned up or been added to people’s websites since I first started researching the race two months ago (!) I’m doing a followup post on just the five candidates that I think might plausibly win this election.
Running (and likely to win the race) for Mayor of Minneapolis:
You get to rank three. Analysis under the cut.
If you’re a Republican, this is easy: you should vote (1) Tom Hoch, (2) Jacob Frey.
Tom Hoch donated to Republicans, including both the House GOP and Rich Stanek; he’s the darling of the Minneapolis Works PAC (which is either heavily funded by developer Steve Minn OR it’s entirely Steve Minn standing behind a curtain labeled SUPER TOTALLY PROGRESSIVE, NOTHING TO SEE HERE); he’s the law-and-order candidate, to the extent that you’ll get one in Minneapolis. (Although originally his website said, “Minneapolis is and will remain a sanctuary city. […] Our police officers should not be expected to participate in Donald Trump’s cruel immigration policies. On Tom’s watch, they never will.” And now it says, “Minneapolis is and will continue to observe and vigorously protect its separation ordinance, which limits the situations in which MPD officers can enforce federal immigration laws.” That’s quite the editing job!)
Jacob Frey supported Barb Johnson as council president (bringing John “I don’t wanna be the decider” Quincy along with him — ironically, now Frey wants her gone! Dude, YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO DO THAT FOUR YEARS AGO.) He’s also far and away the most popular candidate with developers: when everyone filed their campaign finance report back in August, Jacob Frey had $31K from developers. By way of comparison, Betsy Hodges had received $7250 from developers; Tom Hoch had received $5500; Raymond Dehn had $1250. (Levy-Pounds had overwhelmingly received small donations; I’m not sure if her total from developers was actually $0, but I did not find any large donations that came from people who appeared to be developers when I checked out that list. FYI, my “how much did they get from developers” numbers come from MSPVotes, which I think went through those PDF lists of donors by hand.) (Everyone filed new reports while I was writing this! Frey is swimming in developer money and Levy-Pounds still has none.)
Anyway. Frey talks a good progressive line but I’m guessing that the developers of Minneapolis are not betting wrong here. I’d take him over Hoch, mind you, but he is solidly not my pick for mayor.
So what should you do if you’re a progressive? You’ve got a set of three progressive candidates; you can rank three.
Honestly? I like Betsy Hodges. Hodges is, for the most part, what you get when you elect a progressive as your mayor in a weak-mayor town with a not-terribly-progressive City Council. Working with that not-terribly-progressive City Council, she successfully passed an Earned Sick & Safe Time policy. She was slower than advocates wanted to back the $15/hour minimum wage, but (a) I actually agree that a regional minimum wage would’ve been preferable — it makes it a lot harder for people to just move their businesses to Edina, and (b) when she came around, she helped quash the tip credit. Working with a police department so crap-ass they elected Bob Kroll as their representative, she got bodycams on everyone. If Minneapolis had elected Dehn mayor four years ago, I consider it genuinely unlikely that he’d have accomplished more than Betsy has, or have handled the fallout from Jamar Clark’s shooting with particularly more panache. Betsy is a progressive mayor; Ray would be a progressive mayor. This is what a progressive mayor looks like.
If, however, you are profoundly unhappy with how Betsy Hodges handled the aftermath of the Jamar Clark shooting, and you want someone who would be genuinely different, then it’s worth considering voting for Nekima Levy-Pounds.
The mayor doesn’t have all that much oversight over education: it’s very much the school board’s domain. Betsy Hodges’ response to this question was to say that the schools were the job of the school board, but that the city’s responsibility to was do what we could to ensure that kids arrived at the schools well fed, appropriately housed, not in need of health care their families couldn’t afford, etc. Nekima Levy-Pounds says that the mayor has a bully pulpit to signal that the schools are a priority; can bring people together from various arenas to solve problems; and can leverage relationships to bring in additional resources.
Her specific proposals: (1) out-of-school enrichment programs (“The city must be willing to make strategic investments and to leverage resources of philanthropy and government to supplement the existing programs so that all city youths have access to quality out-of-school time programming.”) (2) collaborate with trade unions to connect young people with job opportunities in the trades. (3) provide tutoring with people preparing to attend local community colleges to help them to better on the Accuplacer exam (which is the exam that determines whether you get stuck taking a bunch of remedial classes — stuff you were supposed to get in high school, for free, and are now paying money to learn). (4) work to end the school-to-prison pipeline, though she doesn’t say she wants to get rid of School Resource Officers. (“I will review data on the impacts of SROs in schools. Based upon the findings and analyses of information, I will work with Chief Arredondo to address the findings and concerns and to ensure that a holistic model is put in place that minimizes the criminalization of students, while balancing public safety concerns in schools.”)
I’m always a fan of out-of-school enrichment. I think the emphasis on trades and community colleges here is solid. There are a lot of programs and approaches that emphasize four-year colleges to the exclusion of both community colleges and trade schools / apprenticeships. Not everyone wants to go read books for four years, and that absolutely should not be required to get a decent-paying job, especially given that there are skilled trade jobs out there. The idea of tutoring for people getting ready for the Accuplacer exam is also interesting and it makes me curious to what extent people just need a refresher on this stuff before they sit the test, vs. never having learned stuff in the first place.
So, Housing. Levy-Pounds is a fan of density and would allow duplexes and triplexes, she’d eliminate most parking restrictions, and she’d significantly ease the permit process for small apartment buildings. She also suggests allowing more 4-6 unit buildings scattered around neighborhoods; current zoning practices make it hard to build these.
This is a significant untapped source of affordable housing funds. Strengthening partnerships: As your Mayor, I would take a good, hard look at our partnerships with community partners such as the Minneapolis Public School District, City of Lakes Community Land Trust, and the Land Bank Twin Cities to ensure we are making the most of these relationships when it comes to creating affordable housing in our city.
I wish she’d said more about what she thinks these organizations are going to do differently. I was not familiar with the City of Lakes Land Trust but providing affordable housing seems to be what it does? Ditto the Land Bank. I’m really unclear on what she expects the Minneapolis Public Schools to do to increase affordable housing. What should these groups be doing, that they’re not doing now? The line about “a good, hard look” implies delinquency to me, like there she thinks there’s something they really truly SHOULD be doing and they’re fucking it up.
She has a number of suggestions for maintaining naturally-occurring affordable housing, including rules requiring that tenants be allowed to match offers if there’s a sale. She also raises this issue:
Naturally occurring affordable housing is not the only affordable housing at risk of being lost. Many subsidized affordable housing projects are coming up on the expiration date of their affordability requirements. Minneapolis must stay on top of these properties, keeping a comprehensive database of such properties and proactively seeking ways to extend their affordability terms.
When a developer gets a subsidy to build, they’re required to maintain the building as affordable housing for a period of time (and it’s a pretty long period, like 30 years, but eventually that expires and it becomes market-rate.) Again, I’d like to know more about how you extend their affordability terms — what’s going to persuade a landlord to keep apartments affordable?
I watched the Theater of Public Policy’s Mayoral Forum the other day, and incidentally, if you’ve been meaning to watch a mayoral forum but haven’t been able to bring yourself to sit through the opening statements, this could be a good one to watch. (Although you won’t see Al Flowers or Aswar Rahman, because they couldn’t make it.) (But hey, breaking news: Rahman has suspended his campaign and endorsed Frey.) The moderator starts out by skipping opening statements and instead inviting everyone to give the speech they imagine themselves giving in 2021 as they’re finishing their first (or second) term as mayor. They also swap out twice to let performers do improv comedy based on the forum.
After the first round of improv, the candidates came back on stage for audience questions. At 1:05 (ish), the first question was directed at Nekima Levy-Pounds:
If you were to characterize the city budget right now like a piece of pie, or a full pie, if you could first characterize how the parts of the pie are designated, and then, when you would become mayor, how would you change the makeup of that pie, for how much is going to the different sections?
(This is my own transcription, FYI, so I apologize if I screwed anything up.)
Nekima Levy-Pounds’ initial response:
Well I would say I didn’t memorize the city budget. So I’m happy to pull it up and then answer your question. And anyone can pull up the city budget to see how the pie is distributed.
The moderator asked her to not worry about the specifics and just to talk a bit more broadly about her budget priorities, at which point she got into the public safety budget and had an excellent answer, which is that we really don’t know whether the public safety budget should be increased or decreased if we’re not using data to analyze the effectiveness of how we are currently using resources. Then everyone talked about their take on the public safety budget. And then it came back to Nekima Levy-Pounds, who said:
So the PIE CHART… you all know how I felt about what happened in that situation, right? so I’m not going to go there. Anyone who knows me understands why I responded in the way that I did. But If you want to see the pie chart of the actual budget it is on page 7 of 37 of the city document that shows a synopsis of the much larger budget.
(FYI, I think you can see the pie chart here, although I’m finding a four-page city document. I’m guessing we’re looking at the same pie chart but different documents.)
My interpretation of her response here was that she felt she’d been handed a “gotcha” question. And she’s probably right! I mean, “How would you change the city budget from what it looks like right now” is a totally legit question, but the framing (“if you could first characterize how the parts of the pie are designated”) really does look like a question that’s designed to make her look like she doesn’t adequately understand the job she’s running for.
But if you’re running for mayor (or serving as mayor!) you need to be able to roll with gotcha questions. (This was something Jesse Ventura never got used to and it was one of his biggest weaknesses as a governor.) I thought her answer here was fine. Her open irritation at the question was what gave me pause.
The other thing that gives me some pause about Nekima Levy-Pounds is her involvement with Hashim Yonis.
Hashim Yonis was a Park Board candidate in 2013 and I initially gave him a pretty enthusiastic writeup. He worked at Currie Park; a bunch of local residents complained to park board reps (including Vreeland) because the fields there were constantly being rented to an adult soccer team instead of being available to local youth teams, and on investigation it turned out that Yonis had a rather cozy arrangement involving fees paid in cash that went into his pocket rather than into the park coffers. Yonis claimed he was framed by Vreeland in order to prevent him from winning the Park Board seat. (I think this is a ridiculous claim on multiple levels. For one thing, Tom Nordyke, one of the DFL-endorsed at-large candidates in 2013, didn’t even have a campaign website. If Vreeland had wanted to swing the race Nordyke’s way, helping him set up a web site strikes me as a vastly less labor-intensive option than an elaborate frame-job.)
Over the course of 2016, Nekima Levy-Pounds and a group of protesters/speakers went to a series of Park Board meetings. At the June 1st meeting (full video of the meeting here), Hashim Yonis spoke right after Nekima Levy-Pounds did. (She spoke 37 minutes in; he spoke 41 minutes in.) Yonis wasn’t speaking about his own firing but about poor communication with the Somali immigrant community. (He complained, inaccurately, that the Park Board website wasn’t available in Somali. His other complaints may have been more legitimate.) Vreeland went after him over the criminal conviction, setting off about a half hour of acrimony: first a long back-and-forth tangent between Vreeland and Yonis, then a bunch of other speakers objecting to Vreeland bringing this up, then Brad Bourn speaking from the citizen mic objecting to Vreeland bringing this up (“I don’t care what someone’s criminal background is when they’re trying to make our parks system better”), then a bunch more angry speakers…
Anyway, it’s worth remembering that Yonis did not bring up his own employment history — but he was there with a group that had come to complain about how the Park Board treats and disciplines and fails to promote employees of color. I agree with the premise that people stepping up to speak about how the parks could be improved should not be quizzed about their criminal record. But I think if (former City Council rep) Dean Zimmermann showed up with a group of people complaining about corruption on the Park Board, it would be legit to point out that Zimmermann, while a city elected official, was convicted of taking bribes. If he showed up with a group of people who’d been repeatedly objecting to corrupt practices and who were holding signs saying “End Corruption Now” and then he stepped up to the mic to complain about the website… I think the confusion would be understandable.
At a later meeting, Nekima Levy-Pounds specifically spoke about an e-mail Vreeland sent about some of this stuff, saying “I really don’t appreciate the disparaging comments you have made in public about Hashim Yonis” (2:35 in).
I mean, I guess my concern is that if Nekima Levy-Pounds sees Hashim Yonis as a victim of oppression rather than a guy who is still angry he got caught, I’m concerned about her judgment. On the other hand, if she is just standing up for his right to participate in the political process regardless of past criminal convictions, that’s legit and reasonable. Having watched way too many minutes of Park Board meetings, I’m honestly still not sure what I think.
Edited to add: in a discussion on a Facebook post, Nekima stopped by and addressed (among other things) the Hashim Yonis issue:
I’m really not sure how his Master’s degree relates to this. Looking at this as a conspiracy against Yonis really doesn’t add to Levy-Pounds’ credibility, IMO. (End of edits.)
Am I holding other candidates responsible for the folks they associate with? Holy shit yes; see “Jacob Frey, darling of the developers” and “Tom Hoch, buddy of the Minneapolis Police,” and literally anyone who takes a donation from Jackie Cherryhomes. Yonis bothers me a lot less than Cherryhomes: this speaks less to the question of “what sorts of influences is she signalling she’ll be under” and more “…is she really so willing to give a person the benefit of the doubt that she sees this guy as a victim? Really?”
Which brings me to a friend’s really positive story about Nekima Levy-Pounds, actually. She went to a meet-and-greet back in October and asked a question about Minneapolis’s system to respond to people going through a mental health crisis:
She answered my concern very well, and I truly believe she understands how difficult this is. And it’s not just some kind of gut feeling that makes me think this. As she responded, she talked about going into the juvenile detention center, and going into the basement and seeing where they kept rooms for the kids with mental health stuff. As she talked, she described the brick walls.
I know not everyone thinks in symbolism the way I do. But there is not a better symbol for the horrific unfairness of our mental health care system than those brick walls. When you are at the end of your rope, and you use the last ounce of your will to survive to call for help, when what you need is people to understand…you get to look at the brick walls. Stark, colorless brick walls, and there’s no promise of how long you’ll be looking at them. Maybe the psych ward will have a bed for you. Maybe they won’t for six hours. Maybe they won’t until tomorrow.
And the whole time, you sit there, staring at the brick walls. When what you wanted was help. When what you wanted was for someone to give you a reason, any reason, *any* reason to stay alive. You get brick walls.
And when she talked about that, that’s when I knew she got it. Maybe she can’t do anything to help fix the problem. Maybe she’ll be stymied in her attempts by stupid politics and asshole city councilmembers. Maybe there just won’t be enough tax income to devote to helping it. I can’t say for sure, because I can’t tell the future.
But I know she understands. And I know she’s not dismissing those needs. Because I know she saw the brick walls, and she understood what they meant.
And today’s followup:
Nekima Levy-Pounds legit just messaged me to check up and see how I was doing, what with the sort of really intense mental health stuff I posted as a testimony.
I have never had a politician of any stripe do that.
So, yeah. I like her; I think she’s a good person; I am concerned both about her willingness to defend people I consider deeply untrustworthy and her ability to work with some of the groups she would definitely have to work with as mayor. (On the other hand, they’d also have to work with her.) I am somewhat worried about how she’d relate to the press. However, if you are unhappy with the status quo and want someone who will change things a whole lot, I think she’s a better pick than Dehn.
So yeah, Raymond Dehn. I feel like as Nekima Levy-Pounds’ star has risen and people have started to view her as their potential next mayor rather than a protest vote, Dehn’s star has fallen, although I’m sure there are still plenty of people planning to vote for him.
I will say that I like Nekima Levy-Pounds’ housing plan better than Dehn’s; Dehn is too enthusiastic about rent control as a solution. On the other hand, Dehn has a much more complete platform; looking again at his website, I was struck by the fact that I have no idea what Nekima Levy-Pounds’ take on transit is. (So I googled. She didn’t do the Our Streets questionnaire. There was a transit question on the Pollen questionnaire, though.)
Dehn seems nice. Less confrontational than Levy-Pounds. I really think that if you vote him in, you’ll get a slightly less business-friendly version of what you’d have gotten under Hodges. I don’t see a compelling reason to list him first.
I think Betsy has done an overall decent job in the face of a lot of conflicting pressures and a City Council that she had to persuade to go along with the changes she wanted to make. If I were voting in Minneapolis, I would list her as my #1.
The area where I’m least satisfied with Betsy is her handling of police stuff. I’m honestly not convinced that anyone else would have done better — but putting Nekima Levy-Pounds in the mayor’s office would definitely change something. I also like her housing plan, and her response to my friend who spoke about her mental health crisis. She’d be my #2.
And if it comes down to Dehn vs. either Frey or Hoch, I would definitely take Dehn! So he’d be my #3.
(I am much less worried about a Frey vs. Hoch final round than I was previously; I think Hoch’s contributions to Stanek and the GOP have damaged him enough that even the developers think he’s a lost cause, which incidentally I think is why the Strib endorsed Frey and not Hoch. A Frey-vs-someone final round seems like a real possibility, though, and I would prefer any of Dehn, Levy-Pounds, or Hodges over Frey and his sweet, sweet developer money. Holy shit did he get a lot of developer money. So much developer money.)