With arguably the most decisive Minneapolis election in our lifetime rapidly approaching on Nov. 2, I went to Open Streets Minnehaha this past weekend on a mission to ask mayoral candidates questions submitted by streets.mn contributors.
I got the three main contenders: incumbent Jacob Frey, former state representative Kate Knuth, and organizer Sheila Nezhad. I did not see AJ Awed, and passed on interviewing other candidates, as I wanted to focus on those who have done the groundwork (fundraising, endorsements, field operations, communications) necessary to have an impact on election day.
In the interest of time and fairness, I went with two questions, and asked each candidate both questions.
Streets.mn writer and copy editor Amy Gage’s question focused on the role of the mayor in forming transit policy:
“Where do candidates see themselves having influence on transit policy, knowing that outstate legislators tend to promote ‘roads and bridges’ in Greater Minnesota?”
Writer Andy Singer’s question focused on what has been the dominant issue this election cycle: public safety.
“If Minneapolis fails to get rid of problematic police officers, and fails to fundamentally reform its police department and police review processes, will all the protests following George Floyd’s muder have been vain?”
Finally, I asked them all if they had anything they wanted to add for streets.mn’s readers and contributors.
Here’s how they responded.
Frey was carrying his daughter Frida as he walked down Minnehaha Ave with his wife Sarah. On the public safety question, Mayor Frey acknowledged that there had not been a “culture change” within the police department but argued that the changes achieved during his tenure, like the banning of “warrior training,” the overhaul of the use-of-force policy and the department’s move to end pretextual traffic stops, should not be overlooked. And he pointed to the city’s investment in alternative public safety programs, like mental health responders and violence interrupters.
“Are these enough to see a culture shift in the department? The answer is no. We need to do even more. We need safety beyond policing, and we’ve invested record amounts in mental health responders and violence interrupters. All of this work, because not every 9-1-1 call requires response from an officer with a gun.”
“We need to make it more accessible and efficient so that more people decide, ‘Hey, you know what? I could see taking a bus.’ Those are just a few examples of the work that we need to do. But you’re right, it requires investments from multiple different jurisdictions and it requires all of us kind of lining up and all working together. And this needs to happen, both in terms of city building and in terms of environmental sustainability. It’s not really optional the way I see it. It just needs to happen.”
Former State Representative Kate Knuth said opposition to the status quo on policy safety is one thing that unites residents of Minneapolis, and that she is “excited to be the mayor in our city who helps us find that path towards a more just city for every person in it.”
On transit, she pointed toward her experience negotiating budget proposals at the state legislature: “I will use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office and I will use my relationships across levels of government to make sure we’re doing the work we need to have a really world class transit system.”
On transit, Nezhad said her experience as an organizer would help shape how she would pursue transit policy as mayor.
“The mayor is a role for an organizer, in my opinion, and that’s why I chose to run for mayor because it’s really about bringing together all of these actors, which for transit is especially important that the state, the county, the MET council, and the city all need to come together to make sure that we’re crafting policy that helps those who are most impacted by our transit policy.”
On whether the protests following Floyd’s murder would be “in vain” without deeper reform, she said that she is running for mayor so we “don’t waste this moment.”
“We can’t waste the sacrifice that brave folks made not only in Minneapolis, but across the country in challenging our racist police system. And we’re going to make change by passing question 2 and by being firm in crafting new solutions for safety beyond policing. And it’s going to take time, and we’re only going to get there by bringing all of us along.”
And for streets.mn, she pointed to her proposal to create a municipal snow shoveling program with city jobs.
“I want to start a citywide municipal shoveling program to make sure that our sidewalks are accessible all winter long for those who walk, bike, roll and [to make it] easier to get on the bus in the wintertime.”