Election 2021: Minneapolis Park Board, District 3

There are three candidates on the ballot:

AK Hassan (Incumbent)
Becky Alper
Mohamoud Hassan

tl;dr vote for Becky Alper.

AK Hassan

Given how many people read this blog and circulate my endorsements, I was thinking the other day that I really ought to post my L’s more often. It’s easy to avoid talking (or even thinking) about the people I solidly got wrong when they just don’t run for re-election, and some of the time, when someone runs for a job that they turned out to be wildly ill-suited for, that’s what they do. In the case of AK Hassan, at least I wasn’t alone: back in 2017, AK Hassan was endorsed by nearly all the area progressive organizations and politicians.

So how’s he done? Well, he started by skipping most of the orientations offered for newly elected Park Board members by the MN League of Cities. In 2019, when he ran for Park Board VP, his Park Board colleague Chris Meyer wrote a long, scathing, frustrated public post about AK’s lack of interest in doing the work of serving on the Park Board. AK has a truly impressively poor attendance record at meetings, and on his Facebook post a few weeks ago announcing endorsement by AFSCME, someone replied asking if he was ever going to set up a voicemail that received messages. (A friend who lives in his district says he’s responded to her via Facebook, so there’s that.)

When the pandemic started, the Park Board switched to virtual meetings, which made it easier to mark yourself present but not participate. I watched sections of several meetings: he routinely misses roll call votes even when called twice, only to turn up at the very end (or later in the meeting) saying he was on mute. In part because of this, some of his colleagues passed a rule requiring that Park Board members turn on their cameras when speaking. (The Park Board provides everyone with a computer and a phone; this wasn’t a technological barrier.) You can find recordings of Park Board meetings online, and the debate over this proposed rule was kind of jaw-dropping in places. (Starts 2 hours 17 minutes in.) AK complains that the procedure to put this on the agenda hadn’t been followed, since he was the chair of the committee it went through and didn’t know about it, and I’m not sure if he didn’t know about it because he didn’t check his e-mail or read the agenda, or if he was just trying to block it because he didn’t want to have to turn on his camera, but neither option is great.

The other really striking meeting that I listened to was June 17, 2020, when they first had an extended discussion of the homeless encampment at Powderhorn Park. Powderhorn Park is in AK’s district, but it was clear from comments by At-Large reps (especially LaTrisha and Londel) that his constituents were calling them because they weren’t getting a response from AK, and his response was to get angry and defensive.

Policy-wise, he’s been good on the social issues, less great on the environment, voting against building bike lanes and in favor of keeping the 18-hole golf course at Hiawatha. He also voted against the pesticide-reduction plan, but after I went down a massive rabbit hole on that, I’m not sure if that’s because he didn’t want to reduce pesticide use, or if he was siding with Brad Bourn in this whole weird maneuver I really don’t want to try to summarize but the Star Trib story is here, or you can view screenshots via this thread on Twitter:

Anyway, I don’t know where AK Hassan’s vote was coming from on this. (Editing again: okay, he was definitely part of the Russ Henry faction on that issue.)

It’s clear from his endorsements page that I’m not the only one who finds him disappointing. I mean, it’s not instantly clear because if you look you’ll see a whole bunch of familiar names and organizations but if you look a little closer you’ll note the disclaimer at the top, “These are endorsements and testimonials for AK Hassan while running for Minneapolis City Council in 2020.” (He does have some endorsements in this race — AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, and Our Revolution have all endorsed him. I don’t know why he hasn’t updated that page, because “look at all these people who endorsed me in an entirely different race” is frankly sad.)

Anyway — my biggest issue with AK Hassan is that in a range of ways, he has just not engaged with the job he was elected to do. At the most basic level, the job of an elected official is showing up at meetings, paying attention, talking/listening to constituents, and talking/listening to the people working in the system you run (in this case, park staff). I’ve been told by various people that AK Hassan does this stuff badly, apathetically, or not at all, and the meetings I watched largely confirmed this.

Becky Alper

Becky Alper works for Move Minneapolis, so at the very least, I expect she’ll vote in favor of bike lanes. Her website says she wants “thoughtful, community-centered and respectful solutions to closing our parkways to cars and opening them to people.” She wants to raise the minimum wage of Minneapolis Park employees to $20/hour, and her Twitter calls out the fact that the Rec Plus childcare workers make less than that.

One goal I was intrigued by: “I support greater emphasis on cost-effective pilot projects with evaluation and engagement built into the process, as opposed to  classic waterfall style projects that engage first, and build years later.” Waterfall-style project management is described here — it’s the approach where you gather requirements, design the system, implement, deploy. The problem I have noticed over and over when this comes to public works is that a lot of people don’t pay close attention until it’s too late to stop a project they’ve realized they hate. Or something made sense when they designed it but conditions changed before it got built. So if there’s an option for doing engagement at a point when people are more engaged, that doesn’t mean you have to live with the public works equivalent of a ripped-out kitchen for a decade or more, that would be great.

Her website includes questionnaires she completed for groups that endorsed her, like Friends of Lake Hiawatha. She supports significantly reducing pesticide use (“use as little as possible in as few areas as possible”) and she would implement the Hiawatha Golf Course master plan (that turns it into a more sustainable 9-hole course).

Some novel ideas, from the LWV questionnaire: “One of my goals is to increase partnerships with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). Seasonal educators at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in North Minneapolis curate programming featuring wildflowers native to Minnesota. I would push to make these positions full time year round through an MPS collaboration, so that summer is spent in the garden and winter is spent indoors with classroom greenhouses and related learning at local public schools.” And from the Star Tribune guide: “Systemwide, significant discrepancies in our urban tree cover exist. This is a climate issue and an equity issue. The MPRB is in charge of all the boulevard trees in Minneapolis, trees which differ in terms of maturity between neighborhoods. Because of the lack of tree cover, the average outdoor temperature in poorer neighborhoods is often 10 degrees higher than it is in wealthier neighborhoods. … The MPRB should enter into strong partnerships with the City of Minneapolis and non-profit partners to improve our urban tree cover, both by planting more trees and caring for the trees that already exist.”

In addition to the Friends of Lake Hiawatha, Becky is endorsed by the Sierra Club (and I thought the DFL but on closer look, no, she just got 55%, not quite enough for an actual endorsement).

One of the questions I’ve been trying to weigh regarding each candidate is how they talk about homelessness. Here’s what Becky’s website says about the situation: “Our unsheltered neighbors deserve a dignified place to lay their head. I share your mixed feelings about last summer’s encampments. The Park Board was between a rock and a hard place. As the steward of 15% of the land in the city, it made sense in the early stages of a global pandemic to offer safe spaces to unsheltered people. However, it became abundantly clear that without the support of other jurisdictions, predominantly from the state of Minnesota, the effort was set up to fail. […] The Park Board can play a role, but it is certainly not incumbent upon the board to step up and take on Minnesota’s housing crisis alone.” This feels like a reasonable statement to me.

Mohamoud Hassan

The only thing I could find was Mohamoud Hassan’s personal Facebook page, with a now-dead link to his page from the Ward 6 City Council race. He’s on the ballot, but as far as I can tell he’s not actually running.

I would vote for Becky Alper if I lived in District 3.

Did you know that I had a book released this April? Chaos on CatNet is a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and takes place in a future Minneapolis. Signed copies are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s. Books make great holiday gifts, but should be ordered early this year — Tubby & Coo’s bookstore explains why.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. My readers have now bought a refrigerator for the school nurse at Olson Middle School, and outfitted some 8th grade Algebra students with binders to stay organized. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools:

An art teacher at Andersen United middle school is starting a ceramics program and needs a pug mill to recycle dried out clay back into usable clay. (Over time, they’ll save a lot of money on clay if they have this!)

The North High School librarian would like copies of We Are Not From Here for students to read in 9th grade English class.


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