Election 2021: Minneapolis City Council, Ward 5

Jeremiah Ellison is the incumbent, but almost lost to Victor Martinez at the endorsing convention. He beat previous incumbent Blong Yang for the seat in 2017; the Council Rep before Blong Yang was Don Samuels.

On the ballot this year:

Jeremiah Ellison (DFL, incumbent)
Victor Martinez (claims to be DFL)
Cathy Spann (DFL)
Kristel Porter (DFL)
Elijah Norris-Holliday (Independent)
Suleiman Isse (DFL)
James “Jim” Seymour (Witness)

tl;dr vote for Jeremiah Ellison, even if you’re annoyed with something he’s done.

James “Jim” Seymour (Witness)

Jim doesn’t have a website of any kind, but he is in the Star Tribune voter’s guide so I can tell you that he’s focused on crime, property rights of landlords, and lower taxes; he’s a “climate change skeptic” and thinks “Men in the Ward need to get right with God.” A side note: I’m pretty sure he’s the only white person in the race for this seat. I do not recommend voting for this guy for so many reasons.

Suleiman Isse (DFL)

Suleiman Isse ran against Bobby Joe Champion last year in the primary. I saw no indication he was getting any political traction and indeed he lost by a wide margin. Indicators remain low this year (he has 109 followers on Facebook, 3 on Twitter, and his endorsements page lists no endorsements.)

His actual positions: he doesn’t say whether or not he supports question 2, but he wants a truth & reconciliation commission on policing. His second issue listed is “Food Desert,” and he wants to open a second North Market. If you are super mad at Jeremiah Ellison over something, but also don’t want an advocate for more policing, you could list him first, Jeremiah second (but I really don’t think he’s likely to win, so you’ll definitely want Jeremiah second.) (Also, according to his response to the Star Trib, he’s opposed to rent control — no one in this race is running to the left of Jeremiah, so if that’s what you want, you are SOL.)

Elijah Norris-Holliday (Independent)

This was one of those “wait, where does this rabbit hole even go?” candidates.

Elijah describes himself as a “24-year-old business owner” but doesn’t say anywhere on his website what he does. So I went looking for his LinkedIn and didn’t find one; instead, I found an article from 2019 about him trying to run for the St. Paul school board and being forced off the ballot because of a probation violation. (Link goes to the St. Paul library newspaper database; PiPress story is here.) The story says he pleaded guilty in 2017 (while in college at Winona State) to two separate felony drug cases for selling weed and possessing amphetamine. “He received stays of adjudication in both cases, giving him a shot at a clean record after a five-year term of probation. But last month, after a third probation violation, a Winona County judge revoked the stays, making Norris-Holliday ineligible to vote or run for office until he exits probation in 2023.” He was working on having the stays reinstated, and presumably he received that, but there’s nothing about this on his web page. And he’s running on a “yay cops! cops are so great!” platform and endorsed by Operation Safety Now. In fact, his big high-profile thing was a ride-along a few weeks ago. His write-up (published in the Star Trib) included this bit: “Another surprise was the amount of drug dealing I witnessed. Broadway and Lyndale, 12th and Logan, 12th and Knox, 29th and Oliver, 30th and Oliver, and many other locations.”

If I were writing about a white guy who’d pled guilty to two felony drug charges in 2017, violated probation in 2019, and was now scaremongering about drug dealing and running on a “yay cops” platform, I would have a whole lot to say, but in part that’s because in that situation I would assume that a white guy who wound up with this particular plea deal had done something way worse. I’m a lot less inclined to make that assumption about a Black guy — I’m more likely to assume that selective enforcement and overcharging were involved. But going from there to handwringing over drug dealing and a website that says we should “Re-Power Police” is weird to me.

But getting back to his job: I tried searching his name and “business” and found Project Restore Minnesota, which is an organization that provides services to ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) youth. It looks like a nonprofit but it says, “Project Restore MN is operating under a private- non-profit social enterprise business model that has both a non-profit entity and for-profit entity, so that we may better serve our community. Our non-profit entity is currently searching for a fiscal agent.” Elsewhere on their site they say their fiscal agent is Project Legacy, and that “as a for-profit company, we are 100 percent invested in the sustaining of our non-profit partner, and we are wholly committed to spending a large percentage of all profits reinvesting into our communities through direct economic development, strategic partnerships, and community engagement.”

I can’t tell what they do — what services they provide — other than that they gave away some laptops in late 2020. They hired interns over the summer but it’s unclear to me what the interns did. I did find a KARE-11 news story about them from 2020 but the stuff the piece talks about isn’t mentioned on their site. The private-nonprofit partnership is something I’ve seen other places but it’s really unclear to me how the private organization makes money to funnel into the nonprofit — like, I don’t see anything on the site explaining something you could hire them to do. And in any case, “business owner and entrepreneur” seems like a weird way to talk about this whole enterprise, but I didn’t find anything else he might be talking about.

It also seems to be a project based in Ramsey County, and he ran for St. Paul School Board two years ago, which raises another question for me: when did Elijah move to North Minneapolis? Pretty much everyone else in the race has these long biographies talking about their roots in specifically the North Minneapolis community. There’s nothing I could find on the campaign website that talks about Elijah’s background at all. He went to college outside the metro — where’d he go to high school? See, this is the sort of thing I usually check LinkedIn for.

This is a lot more than I was looking for when I went looking for his LinkedIn figuring it would let me fill in the sentence “he’s a 24-year-old business owner who does…” with something specific (contract IT work, landscaping, video editing, whatever). But in part I got this distracted because his other information is so incredibly thin. He also has almost nothing to say about what he would do. At the top of his goals page is “ECONOMIC REPAIR AND RECOVERY — Ward 5 must first regain what was lost, then begin the process of carving out new economic opportunities for families, youth and our local businesses!” And then he has an e-mail link that says “your input.” And that’s it. Soliciting input is great. Listening is great. But I do expect people running for office to have some ideas they’re bringing to the table. He is endorsed by OSN but not by the DFL Senior Caucus (possibly because he’s not running as a DFLer.)

Not impressed.

Victor Martinez (claims to be DFL)

I say “claims to be DFL” here because Victor is well known to be openly homophobic and anti-abortion — he describes himself as “openly pro-life” but is cagier about his homophobic views (from that Sahan Journal article: “Martinez, who noted that he counts members of the LGBTQ community among his friends, said he respects the community ‘100 percent.'”)

Alas, no screen shots of the @PastorVictorAM Twitter account he’s now completely deleted, but I can tell you that he’s the pastor of a church that rejects same-sex marriage, transgender identities, and abortion rights, and embraces literal creationism and demon possession. And, he voted for Trump:

So yeah: even before we get to his views as expressed on his website and in candidate questionnaires, I would not vote for this guy. (He does not just worship at a church with conservative views; he’s a pastor. I think it’s fair to assume that the views of his church reflect his own.)

Onto his website and candidate questionnaires. He’s one of those candidates who likes vague high-level statements with minimal specifics. So for example, his priorities page near the top has a picture of smiling elderly people with the words, “SENIOR CITIZENS. RESOURCES / SAFETY / HOUSING.” That’s really not much of a stance. His housing plan on the LWV questionnaire: “Affordable housing It’s not simplify a roof over your head, but it needs to increase the quality of life. I tend to focus on rot causes. Your ability to afford is directly connected to your earnings. We need to focus on creating high paying jobs so people can choose where to live.” The Star Tribune questionnaire asked for climate change plans and his entire answer was, “I would support common sense efforts to help folks bike or walk around Minneapolis,” but then on the LWV questionnaire says in response to a question about the 2040 Plan, “Business parking should not be scarified on the alter of making it harder to drive in the city which is one of the goals of the 2040 plan.” (All the weird typos, spelling/grammitlcal/word choice errors, etc., are his.)

Despite all this, (a) he almost got endorsed at the ward convention; (b) he seems to be the candidate who’s most likely to beat Jeremiah Ellison. There are people running from the right in some of these races who at least look to me like they might be competent, but Martinez looks terrible to me from every possible angle. I would not rank him under any circumstances.

ETA: Martinez apparently has a troll account on Twitter that he uses to parade his bigotry unfiltered. I put together a thread of screenshots that starts here. Thread with screen shots of tweets where he admits it’s him starts here. The whole account is overflowing with bigotry, both transphobia and racism, and if you have any friends or neighbors who’ve been taken in by his performative niceness, I would strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with it to pass along the relevant material.

Cathy Spann (DFL)

Like Victor, Cathy is endorsed by Operation Safety Now and the DFL Senior Caucus. She was also part of a lawsuit (along with Don and Sondra Samuels) against the city of Minneapolis to demand more police.

Cathy is the executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council and has done worthwhile stuff in that capacity: “I’ve also created scholarships for youth, business grants, forgivable loans for seniors and emergency situations, and neighborhood revitalization initiatives.” Of the three people endorsed by Operation Safety Now, she’s might be the least awful on “has done some identifiable public service work in the past” grounds. But that’s a low bar and I would not vote for her.

Kristel Porter (DFL)

Kristel is running on a “yay cops” platform and her website includes some straight-up false info about the public safety amendment BUT she’s not endorsed by OSN and is enough better than the OSN-endorsed candidates that I would rank her second (after Jeremiah) because while Jeremiah is solidly the only candidate here I would want to see win, she has at least some good aspects.

Things I like about Kristel: she runs an organization that promotes renewable energy and other environmental stuff heavily by connecting Northsiders to resources for things like “getting comfortable with bike commuting” or “getting low-cost energy efficiency upgrades,” and her page on energy/climate change policy has a number of innovative ideas that boil down to, “get Northsiders in on improvements like solar panels and organics recycling.” Her housing policy page talks about her own path from homelessness to being a small landlord, her priorities if the rent control charter question passes and if it fails.

Her page on public safety has some bogus information on it (the public safety charter amendment would not remove Chief Arradondo if it passed; he might opt to leave, but he might also opt to leave even if it fails. A “Department of Public Safety” is not something that’s never been tried before. However, she also has some specific ideas that might make at least some difference, like separating the unions for supervisors and supervisees, requiring 12 hours off between shifts, and requiring police to carry liability insurance.

I would rank her #2.

Jeremiah Ellison (DFL, incumbent)

Jeremiah coauthored a bunch of tenant protection ordinances and helped create the Office of Violence Prevention. But what I really want to talk about here is how he responded after the murder of George Floyd and during the unrest in May/June 2020.

He showed up immediately:

He refused to let The Former Guy scapegoat “antifa” for the arsons:

I found a video on Twitter that I’ve now misplaced that was an interview with Jeremiah the day after he spent a night trying to put out the fire at a Northside barbershop:

And he helped organize community self-protection. From that article:

It’s approaching 2 a.m., and City Council member Jeremiah Ellison is patrolling his neighborhood in a black sedan when the smell of smoke wafts through the open driver’s side window.

Several black-owned businesses had been destroyed in this area — considered the heart of the city’s black community — in recent fires that investigators have deemed “suspicious.” Neighbors suspect right-wing militias, and social media has been abuzz with purported — but unverified — sightings of masked white men in pickup trucks holding semiautomatic assault rifles.


Now Ellison — the son of former congressman Keith Ellison — is on patrol, hoping to catch the next fire before it destroys another business owner’s livelihood. He’s also ready to contend with danger of the more human sort, if needed.

As the car fills with the acrid scent of burning chemicals, Ellison tells his friend in the driver’s seat to pull over. Before they come to a stop, Ellison, 30, flings open the door and jumps out with a pistol in one hand and a small fire extinguisher in the other. He walks briskly down the street, scanning the block for the origin of the fumes.

“I was excited to fight over the budget. I don’t think anybody could have pictured this,” Ellison later said, noting that even as a city official, he can’t control how the police respond to the fires and other threats. “This was something I could do.”

In the early days of the unrest, Jeremiah was one of the only really visible elected officials. Over and over in Tweets from May 2020 (I saw a lot because I was trying to find that video of the interview) I saw people saying “can we just make him mayor?”

So yeah: for that alone, I would vote for him again. He showed up in every possible way in May of 2020 — he showed up at the protests, hoping that the presence of an elected official (who’s also the son of the State Attorney General) would pressure the cops to moderate their abuse of the protesters. (It didn’t.) And he showed up in his ward, doing everything physically in his power to protect his constituents.

He’s in favor of the public safety charter amendment and wrote an editorial about his vision for public safety.

I would vote (1) Jeremiah Ellison, (2) Kristel Porter, (3) Suleiman Isse.

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, bought copies of We Are Not From Here for North High students to read in 9th grade English class, and funded snacks for kids at Lucy Laney. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools:

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.

A math teacher at Andersen would like to provide her students with scientific calculators.

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.


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