Minneapolis mayoral candidates emphasize need for community involvement

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Katy Read, Star Tribune
·3 min read
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Racial justice, affordable housing and community building dominated the discussion in an online forum Saturday with six candidates for Minneapolis mayor.

Agreeing that the city is facing a pivotal moment in the wake of George Floyd's murder, candidates challenging incumbent Jacob Frey argued that city leaders are not doing enough to make progress on those goals.

"We need leadership to help us turn this historic moment into a real turning point to a more just future," said challenger Kate Knuth.

"It just doesn't seem like people are getting it that there's a whole new paradigm in play here," said candidate Phil Sturm.

Frey said the city and state "have been resting on good intentions and pretty words for far too long. ... Black residents are eyeing this moment with well-earned skepticism."

Other participants in the forum, hosted by the Minneapolis DFL Party and livestreamed on YouTube, were A.J. Awed, Sheila Nezhad and Jerrell Perry. They answered questions submitted by community groups on issues including rent control, crime, the arts, and whether to reopen the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, known as George Floyd Square.

They emphasized the need to seek the involvement of community members, particularly people of color.

"I want elected officials to make it easier for everyday people to get involved in the decisions that affect our lives," Nezhad said.

"To rebuild trust in this community, they need to be at the table," Awed said of repairing relationships between residents and police. "We have an opportunity ... to really talk about this issue in a way that's transformative."

Perry agreed that residents' ideas are essential in enacting changes to policing, which he said should include eliminating traffic stops for offenses that don't threaten public safety and not touching people unless they're under arrest. "City leadership has been blessed with an opportunity over and over and over to provide accountability," he said. "They have not."

Candidates spoke in favor of redeveloping the Upper Harbor Terminal, a 48-acre site on the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis. They agreed on the importance of supporting local artists — particularly artists of color — and on the need to push utility companies providing to provide affordable energy and slow climate change.

Opinions differed on whether George Floyd Square should be reopened to traffic. Sturm favors blocking off streets "to keep [the intersection] sacred and keep people from driving over it," he said. "The city and the police probably don't want a monument to their greatest failure, which is probably why they don't want to see anything happen but going back to normal. But there is no more normal."

Frey said he favors a "phased reopening" of the square — including a George Floyd memorial — because he has heard from residents and business owners who want it reopened.

"This is the reality of the conversations that you have when you need to face all of the people you represent when not all of them agree," he said. "There are times when people have legitimate and competing interests and you've gotta take a position."

In his closing statement, Perry struck a positive note, comparing the problems facing Minneapolis with the challenges of the global pandemic.

"We figured out how to defeat something we cannot see in less than a year," he said. "And yet we are grappling with what to do with public safety. Humans are so resilient, we're so creative ... we can figure this out."

Katy Read • 612-673-4583