Election 2021: Minneapolis Park Board At-Large

Seven people are running, there are three open seats, you get to rank three, and your rankings matter. I find the counting process with ranked-choice ballots fairly intuitive for single-winner elections, but much more confusing for multi-winner elections. However, this video does a good job of explaining it:

The key things you need to know: you should definitely rank people in your order of preference, and don’t worry about “wasting” that top slot on a candidate you think will be broadly popular. Voting for a second and third candidate will not hurt your top candidate’s chances.

On the ballot:

Katherine Kelly
Charles Rucker
Meg Forney
Londel French
Tom Olsen
Mary McKelvey
Alicia D. Smith

You can rank your top three.

People I Just Wouldn’t Worry About

Katherine Kelly

Katherine Kelly had no website when I first looked, a website that consisted solely of a photo and “coming soon!” the second time I looked, and now has a website but it has only the most marginal content. The only stance she takes is that she seems to support the comprehensive plan. Other than that, well, she loves parks and has a family. She also filled out the LWV questionnaire and the Star Tribune candidate questionnaire. I do not recommend voting for her.

Charles Rucker

Charles Rucker doesn’t didn’t have a website that I could find. (Update 10/13: Meg Forney sent me the link.) I did find his LinkedIn, an article that talks about him (but not in the context of the Park Board race), and he filled out the League of Women Voters questionnaire. He’s a firefighter and he would keep Hiawatha golf course open with 18 holes. Overall, I’m not super impressed.

ETA: His website has an issues page that highlights dated programming, insufficient youth programming, and inadequate support for volunteers. “Our park facilities and programming are based on what people wanted to do decades ago and not what people want to do now” is a significant ongoing issue but I really think Exhibit A for that is the golf courses. (They’re so big and require so many resources to maintain them.)

(I’ve written about the golf course in a couple of posts because it’s still an issue in some races. The Hiawatha golf course is not viable in its current configuration because they have to constantly pump water off the course to keep sections of it from being underwater. This is causing a number of problems. There was a plan to reconfigure it to 9 holes that got voted down in July but will probably come back because the current configuration is not viable. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the problem, which is from 2017 so it doesn’t have the details about the plan — mostly it explains why the 18-hole golf course isn’t sustainable. The proposed plan would keep nine holes of golf; the golfers all hate it, but there’s a reason that opposition to the plan is an absolute dealbreaker for Friends of the Hiawatha Lake. I would prioritize a healthy lake over an 18-hole golf course.)

People (Well, Person) I Would Definitely Vote For

Tom Olsen

Tom is the one At-Large candidate that everyone on progressive Minneapolis Twitter likes. He’s endorsed by the Sierra Club and compassionate toward unhoused people. He also brings some really useful experience to the table: he served on the CEAC (Community Environmental Advisory Commission) which reviews environmental impacts of proposed policies and recommends for/against them. In recent years, they’ve pushed the City Council to adopt things like citywide composting, the plastic bag ban/fee, etc. He also works for the DFL at the State Legislature in communications, which means he’s actually in a position to talk to legislators about increased money for regional parks and so on.

Policies he has that I like: putting up gates to restrict traffic on parkways and open them up more for pedestrians/bikers. He wants to increase year-round space (especially for families of young children) and “innovation hubs” (“where Minneapolis youth can explore alternative recreation activities such as audio and video recording, graphic design, and other tech-focused hobbies.”)

He also wants to allow alcohol in the parks, which — have I ever mentioned that I grew up in Wisconsin? I grew up in Wisconsin, and of course people should be able to have alcohol in parks. Minnesotans are so weird about alcohol. (In Madison, Wisconsin, where I grew up, the only restriction on alcohol was that you couldn’t bring glass containers to the beaches, which was sensible enough.) Adults should be able to drink wine while on a picnic without hiding the bottle. It’s ridiculous that this isn’t allowed. (ETA: my father says that some parks in Wisconsin restrict alcohol during high school prom season, so things might be slightly less free-for-all than my recollection.)

Tom Olsen is endorsed by Friends of Lake Hiawatha, the Sierra Club, TakeAction MN, Young DFL, Stonewall DFL, State Senator Scott Dibble, State Rep Jamie Long, and retiring Park Board member Chris Meyer. He would reconfigure the Hiawatha golf course. You can read his answers to the LWV questionnaire here. You can read his responses to the Star Tribune candidate questionnaire here.

OKAY SO WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER TWO SLOTS

Yeah, this is why this post has taken me forever to write.

Meg Forney

From what I can tell, Meg Forney is wildly popular among the same people who put up “don’t bulldoze my house” signs to protest the Minneapolis 2040 plan. She’s not a golf course booster (good) but she’s pretty fond of cars, tried to have the Bde Maka Ska food building moved halfway around the lake to her own neighborhood when it needed to be rebuilt, and tried to have her block declared a “conservation district” to block the 2040 plan for her immediate area. In 2017 she had a campaign event with “Independent” (but clearly Republican) Ward 13 City Council candidate Bob Reuer. All that said, she’s good on trees and water, she’s endorsed by Friends of Lake Hiawatha, and if she wins re-election I think she’ll be the longest-serving commissioner on the board. (There are advantages to institutional memory. On the other hand, there are disadvantages to having the most conservative person in a group being the one with the institutional memory.)

(OK: I got an e-mail from Meg Forney with a link to Charles Rucker’s website and a couple of corrections and things she was hoping I would add. She is endorsed by Linea Palmisano; also Kevin Reich. She pointed me towards this article that talks about her involvement with with the homeless encampment at Lake Harriet, and Project Back to Home, which she served on the board for. She also noted she’s been on the board for the same length of time as Steffanie Musich — my bad, I thought Meg had been on the board for longer. Regarding the moving the Bde Maka Ska building: “The moving of the sailing school is called for in the Master Plan.  Members of the Citizen Advisory Committee reached out to me, that with the refectory no longer there, moving the refectory would ‘fulfill the vision of the master plan for minimizing congestion with the traffic conflict of both the sailing club and the refectory.'” The moving of the sailing school is indeed called for in the master plan — the loss of the building meant that there weren’t funds both to move the sailing school and rebuild. The problem of congestion is legit, but the current location is a lot more accessible than the proposed new spot, and in general I’m opposed to solving the problem of an amenity being very popular by making it harder to access.)

She is endorsed by Jacob Frey, the DFL Senior Caucus, State Senator Scott Dibble, State Rep Frank Hornstein, and retiring Park Board member LaTrisha Vetaw. She is not endorsed by Linea Palmisano, maybe because she had a campaign event with the person who ran against Linea in 2017. She IS endorsed by Linea Palmisano and says, “Bob Ruer invited me to visit his fundraiser.  He is a constituent so I stopped by.” She voted to reconfigure the Hiawatha golf course. You can read her LWV questionnaire answers here. You can read her responses to the Star Tribune candidate questionnaire here. She’s also provided her Sierra Club and Housing questionnaires on her website.

(I’ll also say: her very amiable e-mail made me like her better than I had before.)

Londel French

Londel French, according to my friends who live in Powderhorn, is genuinely a mensch. Nearly every article about the encampments quotes him because, according to everyone, he was at the Powderhorn encampment every day for months. One of his supporters said on Twitter, “Londel French spent more time on the ground in encampments trying to help people last summer than almost anyone else in the city. Not on the park board — the city.”

A disabled friend also wanted me to know that after she posted to Facebook complaining that only one of the at-large candidates had said anything about disability access, Londel called her to talk about disability and ask for her ideas. His website is pretty basic (and for a while all he had was a Facebook site) but according to a lot of people, he reaches out, and is a good listener.

On the other hand:

One of the random issues that’s come up again and again over the last few years is that there’s a mosque in Northeast Minneapolis (Masjid Salaam Cultural Center, at 3141 Central Ave NE) that wants to buy a chunk of parkland and pave it, either as a parking lot, or as a dropoff circle, or some combination. The current proposal calls this a “land swap,” but it’s an entirely hypothetical land swap because there’s no actual piece of land that’s being proposed for the swap.

Here’s the Google Maps satellite of the mosque and the parkland:

And here’s a Google Street View image of the front of the mosque:

My understanding is that the group had been renting the building, then purchased it in 2018.

I can absolutely understand why they would like to be able to use that parkland for parking/dropoff. The dropoff zone in front of the building is not great: Central Avenue has two lanes in each direction and traffic moves fast. There’s no alternative space in the back along the alley (you can use Google Street View to take a look). The Park Board has floated the idea of renting them the golf course parking lot (1/2 block up, on the other side of Central); the mosque doesn’t like that option because it’s too far for people with mobility issues.

This park land is part of the Grand Rounds. It’s not currently being used for much; long-term plans say it would be used for seating and maybe some public art. Both North and Northeast Minneapolis are areas that have less parkland than they should, so “acquire more land in North Minneapolis, turn it into park” is in fact a goal, but they’re also trying to do that in Northeast.

Londel French sent out a resolution on this for the Planning Committee to discuss on October 6th. (Link goes to the YouTube video of the Park Board meeting. I watched the Planning Committee segment, and I’m supplying that link for those who would like to do the same. It should go to the point five hours in when the Planning Committee meeting starts.) You can see the resolution in the agenda packet.

I’ll note as background here that Londel French and Chris Meyer (who’s not running for re-election) have clashed on this a lot already and I’m not going to dig up the links to the whole history — but, Londel French has been supporting the sale, Chris Meyer has been opposing it.

Chris Meyer has a lot of concerns about the project, but one of the biggest is, if they sell this parkland to the mosque, and another religious group with no parking that’s next to parkland wants to buy some parkland, the Park Board would be vulnerable to accusations of discrimination (and lawsuits) if they don’t sell. And worth noting: when the cultural center bought this building, they knew the parking situation. They’d been renting the building for years. For any religious community that is choosing a location, the logistics of arrival, dropoffs, and parking should not be an afterthought.

In the arguments about it, Jaylani Hussein of CAIR MN has repeatedly brought up a land swap approved with the U of M earlier this year. (a) It’s not a remotely comparable situation. (If I’m understanding correctly, Fraser Hall has been encroaching on Park Board owned land since the 1950s, is going to be renovated, and they wanted permission to continue to encroach, but less than they’d been doing.) (b) They’re not remotely comparable organizations! The U of M is a public institution. Yes, I am more inclined to cut them slack than any private organization, even a private organization I like. In a text conversation between Chris Meyer and Londel French, Londel says the mosque wants the same thing “that white church asked for” — I asked Chris what church this was, and he said it’s Mount Carmel Lutheran, at 1701 St. Anthony Parkway, which was built in the 1970s and has one of those curb cuts for dropoffs. Which is definitely not what’s being proposed here.

At the actual meeting, Londel didn’t make a case for the sale/swap; he got mad at Chris Meyer for asking Jaylani to explain what he thought Chris was lying about, said the refusal to do the sale/swap was racism, and left. (It’s an online meeting, so he didn’t physically leave a room, but he said, “I’m out of here,” and then did not come back to vote on the resolution.)

I don’t think selling this land is a good idea. But if I did think selling this land was a good idea, I would want someone to make a good case for it, and I think it’s probably possible to make a case for it (“look at all this land that’s been up for sale in North Minneapolis that we COULD have turned into a park with the capital money handy if we’d done this a year ago,” say). I don’t think Londel made a good case for it. I’m not sure he’s clear on what they’re proposing to do.

I’m bringing this up less because I think this specific fight is a make-or-break issue and more because it illustrates concerns I’ve heard about Londel’s weaknesses — that he doesn’t pay close attention to specifics, to what exactly the tradeoffs are in the decisions the Park Board makes. (A bigger issue where this came up: the golf course vote. Londel voted against the reconfiguration.)

But he also brings a perspective that no one else does, something highlighted by this thread from a supporter:

Londel is endorsed by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, County Commissioner Angela Conley, State Rep Aisha Gomez, TakeAction Minnesota, Stonewall DFL, and a bunch of unions. He did not fill out the Star Tribune questionnaire or the League of Women Voters questionnaire.

Mary McKelvey

Mary McKelvey’s past experience includes working for the Loppet Foundation, and she’s very into skiing and biking. She’s served on two Community Advisory Councils (CACs), one on the Master Plan for the Minnehaha Creek Regional Trail System, one on the Parks for All Comprehensive Plan.

Her position on encampments is that parks should offer certain specific types of support to unsheltered people, including daytime resources (charging stations, free lunches, restrooms). She wants to have staff seek out anyone trying to camp to connect them with resources to get them into shelter or housing. Worth noting: her LWV questionnaire answers call out encampments as a “temporary board action that [she is] against making permanent,” along with banning state highway patrol members from park headquarters, and closing parkways to cars.

If you check out her Facebook page, you’ll see her weekly feature “Mondays with Mary” where she provides an overview of what the Park Board will be discussing in the upcoming week. That’s really useful for anyone who’d like a clearer sense of what they’re doing. She apparently intends to keep doing this (including also as an e-mail newsletter) if she’s elected — it’s a nice idea, although I’m somewhat doubtful she’ll have time.

When researching her on Twitter I ran across a discussion of an article that ran in Hill & Lake Press (the Kenwood neighborhood newspaper, I think). The article said she’d “restore civility,” in explicit contrast to Londel French. Just to be super clear about this: it appears to have been the newspaper drawing this comparison. When Mary says she’ll “foster better teamwork” on the Park Board, she’s drawing a contrast to Brad Bourn.

Her site doesn’t include a concise endorsements page, but she’s endorsed by the DFL Senior Caucus and by Linea Palmisano. She has avoided making a commitment on the golf course. (ETA: According to a reader, she said in one of her Mondays With Mary posts that she’s in favor of reconfiguring the golf course.) You can read her responses to the Star Tribune candidate questionnaire here.

Alicia D. Smith

Alicia D. Smith is kind of a puzzle.

She’s been campaigning with Meg Forney (they have distributed joint campaign lit and have held events together) and she’s endorsed by the DFL Senior Caucus.

But when I went looking for her name, one of my first hits was a story from Unicorn Riot from August 2020 about the group occupying George Floyd Square and their demands before the street is reopened. The demands included a total tallied amount of $155 million over ten years. From the article:

Alicia D. Smith said that the amount of $155 million is “really not a lot of money when we’re talking about the oppression and systematic racism that has kept this community down from the beginning.“

Noting that councilors Cano and Jenkins along with the current mayor were voted into office under the guise of their progressive politics, she said that the voters “can see that their elected leaders no longer regard them and in fact have said that, you are no longer important“.

Smith said they are only pushing their own agenda and stressed the importance of the community to “groom our next elected officials that know the agenda of the actual people.“

The DFL Senior Caucus has been emphatically, strongly pro-policing. And Alicia also works for A Mother’s Love, which is an anti-violence organization led by the really really really strongly pro-policing Lisa Clemons (link goes to a sample tweet but you can check out her feed to see that she talks about this a lot.)

On her actual web page, Alicia talks about safety in the parks as follows: “With the city- wide rise in crime and concerns around safety we must work in partnership with families, youth workers, park staff and park police to address safety for all in our parks. We must deal with public safety collectively. We must address when, how and what our park police role will be in public safety in and around our parks.  How park police connect and serve is important us all.”

She highlights youth engagement, accessibility, and maintenance as her priorities. Regarding unsheltered people in the parks, she says: “My vision and plan for our great parks is to partner with non-profit, social service and government entities to ensure that we do not have unhoused people sleeping in our parks. The parks are meant as an escape or place of peace for families and those who frequent them. It is not a suitable option for our fellow neighbors to sleep in the parks.”

In addition to the Senior DFL caucus, she is endorsed by Friends of Lake Hiawatha, Stonewall DFL, Minnesota Young DFL, and AFSCME. She has avoided making a commitment on the golf course. You can read her responses to the Star Tribune candidate questionnaire here. ETA: Someone from her neighborhood dropped me a note to say she’s also the Executive Director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Association, “and in that capacity has done a lot of really good work.”

So.

Who to rank?

I would rank Tom Olsen first. That one’s easy.

Other considerations:

Of the District Park Board seats, 1, 4, and 6 are definitely going to be represented by a white person (unless I missed some key piece of information about someone in the race). 5 is almost certainly going to be represented by a white person (incumbent Steffanie Musich). 3 has a Black incumbent, but I’m really hoping he doesn’t get re-elected. In 2, I do think Eric Moran is likely to win (or maybe Mike Shelton) but 8 white people + 1 Puerto Rican person or 1 Black person is not a lot of diversity.

I feel like Londel brings a perspective that no one else does — in terms of his connections to the community, his willingness to show up in person in a moment of crisis, his stubborn compassion for unhoused people in the parks. That matters and it’s really important. So despite my frustrations with him, I think I would still rank him second.

For the third spot — it comes down to Mary or Alicia. Mary’s work on CACs has given her some good experience with park policy, but she’s also a white person from one of the richest parts of the city. I think Minneapolis benefits from having a diverse set of people serving on the Park Board. Both Alicia and Mary are endorsed by the Senior Caucus (which I view as a red flag) but Alicia is also endorsed by MYDFL, Stonewall DFL, and Friends of Lake Hiawatha. I would rank Alicia D. Smith third.


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 helped buy a refrigerator for the school nurse at Olson Middle School, outfitted 8th grade Algebra students at Olson Middle School with binders to stay organized, bought a 3-D printer for students at Humboldt high school in St. Paul, equipped a classroom at Whittier with an air purifier, bought a pug mill (a clay mixer that allows you to reuse dried-out clay) for art students at Andersen United, and funded snacks for kids at Lucy Laney. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools:

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

A teacher at Green Central Elementary would like a book/curriculum set that covers “themes such as racism, cultural identity, homelessness, immigration, gender and sexuality, and social activism.” (Your conservative aunt on Facebook who scaremongers about “critical race theory” would keel over in horror at this one.)

A first-year teacher at Bryn Mawr would like a variety of classroom supplies, including individual dry-erase boards, a big easel, a classroom rug, a selection of books, and some educational games.

Elementary teachers at Jefferson, and two at Folwell, would like help providing a mid-morning snack to their students.

Two science teachers at Washington Technology high school in St. Paul would like learning materials for their chemistry classes: glassware and microscopes, and equipment that will allow students to “see how adding nanoparticles to a conductive solution affects voltage.”

And a different kind of school fundraiser:

Kaytie Kamphoff is a special education resource teacher at Patrick Henry High School and the co-director/producer of Henry Drama Club. (Christopher Michael is her co-director and their full-time theater and dance teacher.) She initially asked for funds on Twitter just so the Henry Drama Club could stage a couple of plays this year. Ms. Kamphoff has now set her sights higher: she’s hoping to raise enough to run a summer theater program for Northside kids, free for participants, paid for the recent grads/Drama Club alums who work. You can donate to her by Venmo or Paypal: Venmo is Henry_DC and PayPal is Kaytie.Kamphoff@gmail.com. Note “Henry Drama Club” in the memo and if Paypal insists you need the last four digits of her phone number, it’s 5548.

Her Twitter thread is solidly worth reading if you’d like some heartwarming stories of the transformational power of theater in the lives of high school students.

8 thoughts on “Election 2021: Minneapolis Park Board At-Large

  1. Maybe you’ve mentioned this in other blog posts, but I think it’s worth noting that you don’t have to rank three candidates. You can just rank one or two, if only one or two candidates align with your values/preferences. Thank you, Naomi, for your ever thoughtful analysis.

    • But, if you have any preference at all between the remaining candidates, especially in a multiwinner race, you should use all your ranking choices, even if it is a lesser-of-the-dislikes choice.
      Like in this race, I don’t particularly *want* any of the remaining candidates to get the third seat, but since one of them will anyway, and I would rather see someone I oppose somewhat win over someone I oppose a lot, I will use my third choice.

  2. The good news is that ranked-choice gives much better results in multiwinner elections than it does in single-winner elections. In single-winner elections with ranked-choice, you still have spoiler effects and have to be tactical. In multiwinner elections with ranked-choice, you can pretty much vote your honest preferences and have them respected by the counting system.

    • How are there spoiler effects? If you rank a “spoiler” first choice and a frontrunner second choice, but one of the other frontrunner gets to 50%+1 before the ballot round when your vote moves to your frontrunner, that was still going to happen even if you ranked your frontrunner first choice, right?
      I guess if there are three “spoilers” and you rank all of them and no frontrunners you might label it that, but the same thing would then apply to a multiwinner race with as many “spoilers” as there are ranking choices.

  3. Thank you so much for what you do here! I find so much value in your balanced approach and insight. Can you expand on your comment “Senior Caucus (which I view as a red flag)” I’m curious what characteristics of the group are concerning to you. Thanks!

    • 1. In the City Council races, where Operation Safety Now has been doing endorsements, the Senior Caucus endorsements and OSN endorsements are nearly identical.

      2. The Minneapolis DFL Seniors site has their questionnaire available (you have to tell your browser you don’t care that it’s “unsafe” in order to see it) and their questions include the following:

      “There has been some concern that the Park Board has been losing focus on that mission and being distracted into other issues like housing the homeless in camps. What priority would you give to such issues as compared to the Parks mission? Be specific.”

      “Do you think spending $300,000 on traffic control to close parkways was money well spent instead of using those funds to improve parks? Why or why not.”

      “Have you considered the negative impacts on seniors and people with disabilities of adding Bike paths/lanes? Do you think bike paths and walking paths should be equally funded?
      Yes:___ No:____ Explain”

  4. I wouldn’t call Meg Forney’s plan for a carbon credit offset scheme “good on trees” by any means. The NAACP as well as numerous Indigenous and grassroots environmental advocacy groups oppose carbon pricing, credits, and offsets that allow businesses to pay to pollute instead of reducing their own emissions, exacerbating climate injustice and commoditizing the atmosphere with the same free market approach that got us into these problems in the first place: https://naacp.org/resources/nuts-bolts-and-pitfalls-carbon-pricing-equity-based-primer-paying-pollute and https://www.ienearth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Carbon-Pricing-A-Critical-Perspective-for-Community-Resistance-Online-Version.pdf

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