And one more (final?) visit to the Minneapolis mayor’s race

A bunch of people have asked me why I am so concerned about Jacob Frey and developer money, I saw an online conversation involving Nekima Levy-Pounds that I wanted to talk about, and I got asked why I didn’t say more about Raymond Dehn. So whee, one. more. post.

I’m going to skip the linked list of candidates and just put my analysis below the cut.

I think most of the people who follow my blog don’t come here because they agree with me 100% but because I pull together a bunch of information and because I explain my thought process enough that they can find their candidates using my information even if their candidates are not my picks. And that’s exactly what I’m hoping for, actually! That’s pretty much exactly the service I’m trying to provide.

So with that in mind, rather than ranking the mayoral candidates again I’m just going to talk about what I like about them, and what worries me about them.

Betsy Hodges

I thought this Tweet was pretty on-point for me:

I think Jacob Frey is a slightly-more-business-friendly candidate who overall is likely to give you more of what you got with Betsy, and Raymond Dehn is a slightly-less-business-friendly candidate who overall is likely to give you more of what you got with Betsy. As I said in my analysis in the previous “final thoughts on the Minneapolis mayoral race” post, I fundamentally think that Betsy’s mayorship is what you get when you vote in a progressive mayor in a weak-mayor town. Jacob is business-friendlier: wanted the soccer stadium, the developers like him. Ray is a little more left-wing: wants rent control (if only it were legal under state law), Bernie supporters like him.

But the biggest difference between Betsy and either of her two most-likely opponents: they’re male, and they haven’t been mayor for the last four years, so they haven’t spent the last four years making the various unpleasant compromises you have to make as mayor to get anything at all done.

I think Betsy is fine. I think the people with the best argument against her being fine are usually talking about the stuff with the Fourth Precinct, and I don’t think either Jacob Frey or Raymond Dehn would have handled it any better.

My biggest concern is that the rate of improvement with policing will remain extremely slow. She did implement body cameras, but body cameras only work if they’re on(But she also appointed Arradondo. Eventually.)

Jacob Frey

So: developer money and why it worries me. I got an e-mail from someone asking, “Isn’t there at least some chance that he’s not bullshitting? That he would wrangle development in a progressive direction because he is able to bend developers towards a more progressive policy, since they would still have a more generally pro-development guy at City Hall?”

I mean, maybe? For the record, I don’t hate developers; developers are how you get housing and any number of other desirable things. They’re also how you get bullshit like Block E. I mean, the fundamental thing about developers is they want to build things that will make them money, and the vast majority of the time, on any given site, they want to build whatever will make them the maximum amount of money, shaped in whatever way will most likely get them approval from whoever needs to sign off on it. If the people holding the permits care about aesthetics, the developer will make it exactly as pretty as it needs to be. If parking is an issue, the developer will put in exactly as many spots as required. Etc. When a developer is making large, generous donations to a local politician, usually that’s because they think this person will implement policies that will let the developer make more money.

And that’s a legitimate goal! Just not necessarily my goal, even though plenty of our goals align. Developers tend to be fans of density and they would be perfectly happy to build less parking, smaller units, etc. On the other hand, if they’ve taken public money, they’d probably prefer a shorter term where they have to rent apartments at cheaper than market rate, and if they can call a parking lot a “woonerf” and get you to waive a $65,000 fee they’d otherwise have to chip on for green space, they will absolutely do it.

But okay, back to Jacob. You can see some really interesting breakdowns of where the money’s coming from and which candidates it’s going to over on the MSPVotes site. For some of the developers & individuals who are donating a whole lot, you can click on a name and see all their donations, which is pretty fascinating. And the pattern that emerges if you click on Jacob Frey’s donors is that lots of them have also donated to incumbents like Barb Johnson, Lisa Goodman, and Kevin Reich (who are among the less-progressive Council reps) and to challengers like Tim Bildsoe.

I view huge amounts of developer money as a red flag in general and I view it as an additional red flag when so many donors with deep pockets want Frey and Johnson, Frey and Goodman, Frey and Bildsoe, etc.

I am also bothered by phrases like “regain our citywide swagger,” which sounds to me like a dogwhistle-y way to harness misogyny toward Betsy Hodges. I am bothered that Frey took a donation from the police union in 2015, then returned it when it became an issue two years later, right before the endorsing convention. The Jamar Clark shooting happened in November of 2015; Bob Kroll was elected president of the Police Federation in May of 2015; I’m not sure when in 2015 Frey’s donation came in, but he had a whole lot of opportunities before 2017 to say “oh wow, the Minneapolis Police Federation has gone from ‘problematic’ to ‘absolutely terrible’ and I do not want any association with them.”

Sharon Sayles Belton was mayor of Minneapolis when I moved up here, and her term was marked by city expenditures on a lot of stuff I found incredibly stupid — Block E, but also the use of eminent domain to clear the way for the downtown Target (I was fine with the downtown Target, but not with forcing out successful small businesses to make way for it), lots more that infuriated me at the time but I’ve lost track of in the 16 years since then. Everything about Jacob Frey suggests to me that he’s the sort of guy who’d think Block E sounded like a good idea. That’s probably my biggest hesitation about him; I think the “police clearly would prefer him to Betsy, Ray, or Nekima” is also a legit concern.

On the upside: he’s responsive — I e-mailed his campaign asking a question early in the campaign and I heard right back. (I emailed Dehn’s campaign on September 2nd and never got a response.)

Nekima Levy-Pounds

So I guess both her biggest plus and my biggest concern about her can be summed up with a statement she’s made: that she’s not a politician, but a change agent.

In the case of Levy-Pounds, I’m not going to say that you’d get basically the same thing you’d get from Betsy. She would be different. But what strikes me about the “not a politician” statement is that politics are generally how you get things done from elected office. Activist tactics of disruption and protest are legitimate when you’re trying to demand action from someone in power, and disruption is the tactic you’ve got to work with. When you’re an elected official, you’re the one with power. Not as much power as people tend to assume, but nonetheless, those activist tactics of active disruption and interruption can go almost instantly from “a completely reasonable way to do a protest” to “seriously an abuse of power.”

A few days ago, David Brauer, who’s a retired journalist, posted to Facebook about the mayoral race. He said he was listing Betsy first, Ray second, and for his third he said he was undecided between Jacob and Nekima. After saying various nice things about her he added:

Although I’m no fan of many Minneapolis Park Board incumbents, I thought her advocacy for park board employees became unproductive harassment at board meetings. I wasn’t impressed she brought along a guy convicted of stealing from the parks. I’ve noted with interest some Black Lives Matter organizers supporting Ray, not her. I’m not convinced she can bring a city together behind her leadership.
Nekima posted a long response to David starting here, and also wrote on her own page:

Friends, I have been going to bat on my own behalf on a FB thread started by David Brauer, a former Strib journalist. Lots of white progressives tend to listen to David even though he is not objective and is uninformed on equity and racial justice issues. I have challenged him numerous times on Twitter for his biased commentary and subtle attempts to undermine my leadership. Another local journalist Ben Garvin, saw my responses on David’s thread and then reposted it with his own comments in the beginning. This is not the time to be silent. This is the time to advocate for the future of our city while so many are still undecided! Please don’t allow false narratives to go unchallenged!  #TheTimeIsNow#WeRiseTogether#WhiteSilenceIsViolence
“Can this candidate bring people together and lead effectively” is a really common question that is particularly relevant for an outsider candidate who hasn’t held public office before. (It is also not a question that’s being asked uniquely about Nekima Levy-Pounds.) There are all sorts of ways to respond to people saying they don’t think you can lead effectively: “I have brought the following disparate groups together in my campaign” is a standard one, or “I have been endorsed by the following groups which don’t much like each other.” Or “I am so proud of my very large number of small donors from all over the city” or “here is testimonial from supporters who know me as a leader” or even “I would love to discuss this with you personally, can I call you.”
“He is trying to undermine my leadership” is not a good answer.
Going back to Nekima’s response to David, I wanted to draw out a few points and excerpt one bit.
First, she’s absolutely correct when she says that BLM is not a hive mind and it’s not actually surprising that people who have been heavily involved in this grassroots movement do not march in lockstep. She has the organizational endorsement, which indicates overall support even if there are people in the group who are supporting someone else.
She also revisits the Park Board stuff in a useful way. I agree with her that disruption is a completely reasonable activism technique. Annoying the hell out of the people in power is one of the ways you get them to take your concerns seriously.
But there’s also this:
The person you called a criminal is Hashim Yonis. Not only does Hashim have a Master’s degree, he became a Principal of a school for Somali youth, and is now an International businessman. They charged him and accused him of theft after he decided to run for Park Board. They tried to destroy this man’s life through what he feels are false accusations. And he is not the only one who was treated this way and dragged through the mud.
The claim that Yonis was falsely accused is (in my opinion) (and the opinion of a jury) bogus. His academic credentials and job might be relevant if the statement here was, “he has turned his life around since his unfortunate mistake four years ago” but the implication seems to be, “someone with a Master’s degree could not possibly really be a criminal.” (FTR: you can very definitely hold a Master’s degree and really be a criminal. This is a thing that happens. Regularly!)
That thread also deals with a couple of weird rumors about Levy-Pounds that I wanted to address before wrapping up. Someone on that thread had heard she wasn’t pro-choice. She says she’s pro-choice on her website! there’s literally nothing about her background I’ve seen that suggests anything other than a pro-choice stance! I don’t know where this rumor came from, but it seems to be bullshit. People also suggested she’s unfriendly to organized labor because she didn’t go for those endorsements; she says in the thread she tried for one labor endorsement, that it was clearly an old boys’ club, and that she is very supportive of organized labor but not the old boys’ club aspect. I don’t think either of these is a particularly valid concern about her.
So: while I’m not sure what she’d do with MPD, I think she’d bring about significant change. My concern is that, as she says, she is not a politician. She would bring an activist’s toolkit, not a politician’s, to a political job.
Raymond Dehn

On the plus side, I’d say Dehn is reasonably close to me philosophically. Again, I think he’d run the city similarly to Betsy, although while he brings a politician’s toolkit, he’s coming in with a state legislator’s, and his website is full of proposals that the legislature has the power to enact and the city doesn’t. I do not think he’d bring a particularly different approach to city policing, despite his utopian “sure, we could have a city without police” answer on the Pollen questionnaire and his proposal to look at situations where the police could just leave their guns in their cars.

(I said this on the Ward 9 post, but that whole “do you think we could ever have a city without police” question was basically, “tell us what your utopian vision looks like,” not “describe your plans for overseeing MPD.” His “we should have the police leave their guns in their cars” is a lot closer to an actual proposal, but it’s one that the police would fight tooth and nail, so I think it’s deeply unlikely to come to fruition.)

I thought this analysis (from Streets.MN) of the issues with his housing platform was good. And goes along with my hesitation about his fondness for rent control and in some ways is kind of the flip of my issues with Frey. Developers are in it to make money. If you make it too hard for them to make money, they’ll go build somewhere else. I am definitely less worried about Ray signing off on another Block E than Jacob; I am more worried about the housing crisis deepening steadily for four more years while developers wait for a friendlier environment in which to build.

Someone commented (on Twitter? somewhere on one of my posts? I can’t remember) that they liked Dehn’s approach to crime, describing it as part of a dysfunctional system of public health and scarce resources, rather than a product of individual morality, and I agree that this is a worthwhile framework (up to a point, anyway). Going back over his policing plan, I was struck by this bit:

Begin the full-scale demilitarization of the Minneapolis Police Department:

  • Residents should know what military equipment MPD possesses so we can systematically end these practices.
  • My administration will prohibit using funds for the acquisition of military-grade weapons. I will also work the City Council to pass a resolution making such a ban permanent.

This came up at the Theater of Public Policy forum and Betsy said that in fact the military equipment MPD possesses is nothing — the feds sent some stuff and Minneapolis sent it back. I mean, “we should pass a permanent ban” is great and I approve of the idea of looking at the possibility of having police officers leave their guns in their cars for at least some situations (I maintain this isn’t going anywhere? but it’s a nice idea) …but this is a deceptive presentation. (Mind you, there may be some military-style equipment that MPD bought for itself out of its own budget. When I hear “militarization of police” I picture police in riot gear, and they sure as hell have riot gear.)

Overall: I think Dehn could do the job and wouldn’t make too many egregiously stupid decisions (the stuff he wants to do that would be egregiously stupid is all stuff he wouldn’t actually be able to do). I don’t think he’d be an improvement over Betsy.

My sense from coverage and social media is that it’s likely to come down to Betsy Hodges and Jacob Frey. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess. If I’m overestimating the Betsy support, then I think it’s likely to be Raymond Dehn vs. Jacob Frey. (I think Tom Hoch’s been discarded as Too Republican.)

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!

 

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6 thoughts on “And one more (final?) visit to the Minneapolis mayor’s race

  1. I agree that there is a difference between an activist mindset and an elected head mindset – or at least there should be. This is one reason why I thought Nekima Levy-Pounds would be better suited for a council role. That was before I interacted with her online.

    Aside from our illustrious president, I’ve never seen someone with such thin skin. Anyone disagreeing or even questioning is full-out attacked. Inquiries for policy specifics are ignored in favor of clobbering someone for daring to question her in a way she doesn’t like. I no longer think she would be a good elected official in any capacity and am mystified by people who are ok with that approach.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. As you suggest I come to read this not necessarily to agree with everything but appreciate the thought and balance. On Ms Levy Pounds I agree with your points about her likely effectiveness. Another relevant and illustrative episode is her mini-melt-down on social media following the Strib endorsement of Jacob Frey. The paper tried to say something nice about her having experience that could help her “hometown”. She decided that was their way of saying they wanted her to “move back to Los Angeles!” – even though hometown can mean where you live, or where you are from, and meaning Los Angeles made zero sense in the context of the article, unless you employ substantial paranoia. Then when the editor clarified this on Twitter and edited the word to say “Minneapolis” to eliminate the ambiguity, she accused them of lying, of “being caught with their pants down”, trying to erase her campaign, etc…. I didn’t hear Raymond Dehn accuse them of trying to erase his campaign, though he got similar treatment. It speaks to judgement and temperament better suited to activism and advocacy than political leadership.

    • What I learned from that kerfluffle is that “hometown” is a word that everyone thinks has a clear and unambiguous meaning, and some people think it very clearly means “where you live” and some people think it very clearly means “the city where you were born.”

      I read that Strib line as meaning “Minneapolis should definitely draw on Nekima Levy-Pounds’ expertise here, just not by making her mayor,” but Nekima was not the only person who read it the other way. I’m glad they clarified.

  3. Hey, that person who left the crime is a lack of resources comment was me. Glad to see you took a 3rd (?) look at the race. Totally agree that the rent control policy of ray is a bit weird/out there and I can totally understand the desire to not replace a woman with a man of similar position. I look forward to results and hope either Ray or Betsy gets the nod.

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