By Jerry Freeman
In view of the former city council president Jackie Cherryhomes’ return to the political scene with her current mayoral campaign, the MSR is reprinting, with the author’s permission, a commentary that appeared in these pages August 23, 2001, two months before the Fifth Ward elected Natalie Johnson Lee to replace Cherryhomes as their council member.
Minneapolis has a shadow government, and its name is Jackie Cherryhomes.
Judging from the prevailing media slant on Minneapolis city politics, the mayor [Sharon Sayles Belton] is the captain at the helm of our metropolis, steering the city through the shoals of scandal and controversy, while the city council and its president labor on our behalf in comparative obscurity behind the mayor’s lead.
When troublesome issues arise, such as abuses of Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the [Brian] Herron extortion case, or reduced bond ratings, reporters and photographers show a marked tendency to focus primarily on the mayor and only secondary on the council president. In case of the TIF, major heat was applied to the mayor, while Cherryhomes got off with just a quote or two buried deep in the text.
Yet the reality in Minneapolis is just the opposite: In this strong-council-weak-mayor system, Jackie Cherryhomes wields the real power, with the mayor’s role of secondary importance in the decision-making process. If anyone can be said to be in charge, it’s Cherryhomes. It’s time our council president and her policies got the foremost attention they so richly deserve.
In her capacity as the most powerful individual in Minneapolis city government, Jackie Cherryhomes has waged a relentless war against a “city of neighbors” in favor of “the big money agenda,” to borrow language from a report issued last March by the “A City for Neighbors” Committee. The report rated voting records for city council members on a dozen key issues going back as far 1996.
Considered “neighborhood friendly” were votes for affordable housing; tax fairness; ethics and campaign finance reform; safe, livable neighborhoods; accountable policing; and living wage jobs. Votes considered “big-money friendly” were votes for special tax favors for developers; more air, water and noise pollution; neglect of basic city services; large and growing city debt; denial of racial profiling; and tax for stadiums.
Cherryhomes earned a prefect “zero” on this report card for consistently voting against neighborhoods and for big-money interests. Of 13 council members, only two others scored zeros; Brian Herron — often accused of being a puppet of the Cherryhomes machine — got a 44 percent score for votes against Cherryhomes on housing and airport issues.
During her watch, Cherryhomes has presided over what can be called the most irresponsible destruction of the city’s affordable housing stock in history. Beginning in 1991, shortly after she came to the city council, housing demolitions have annually outpaced new construction, resulting in a net loss of over 4,000 housing units in the past 10 years and creating a housing market nightmare, the second-tightest among the nation’s 50 largest cities. The 4,000 lost units correspond closely to the number of homeless families now living in misery in county emergency shelters at exorbitant cost to taxpayers.
As principle cheerleader for the Hollman Consent Decree fiasco, Cherryhomes has led Minneapolis into what history may record as one of its most despicable land grabs at the expense of poor people of color. Flawed from the very start, the project’s most disastrous blunder was to destroy over 900 units of perfectly habitable affordable housing years before providing replacement units (which many still doubt will ever be built). Hundreds of children living in homeless shelters today would have stable homes were it not for our council president’s apparent disregard for the human consequences of her pet gentrification project.
In stark contrast to the tireless energy she has devoted to demolishing and not replacing housing for low- and moderate-income people, Cherryhomes has bestowed her blessings on lucrative development projects like the one now under construction in the St. Anthony Falls area budgeted at $100 million, including over $1 million in public funds and a whole slew of tax breaks. The condo and townhouse prices start at $400,000; the penthouse units will sell for $1.3 million each.
Just such greed-driven, elitist priorities have characterized Cherryhomes’ tenure as council president. Whatever the short-term gains may have been for large corporations, developers, and wealthy penthouse dwellers, the long-term losses for citizens of average means include an increasingly divided and polarized city of haves and have-nots, more children growing up without stable homes and failing in school, a widening gulf of distrust between citizens and police, and a general atmosphere of belligerent and mean-spiritedness emanating from City Hall. These conditions cast a long, chilling shadow over Minneapolis city government as it has deteriorated under Cherryhomes’ leadership.
Recent events have disclosed yet more Hollman perfidy as the jobs promised to displaced public housing residents have failed to materialize. We can thank Cherryhomes for this deception as well, although true-to-form she has adeptly concealed her complicity behind staff flack-catchers.
While depriving thousands of decent places to rent, much less own, Cherryhomes still claims, “I’m absolutely here to be an advocate for home purchases.” This statement came on the heels of a disclosure that she helped herself to a public subsidy in excess of $150,000 for rehabilitating her own Northside home. The obvious “appearance of impropriety” and conflict of interest involved in the 1996 deal — not to mention its moral turpitude — have been quietly swept into a dark corner of Cherryhomes’ shadow government.
Many voters in the Eighth Ward have expressed outrage over charges that Jackie Cherryhomes attempted to manipulate the election of a successor to Brian Herron following his resignation from the council. They do not see their interest as corresponding even remotely to her agenda and expect their next council member to be as independent as possible of her influence. In fact, many voters all over the city hope that the good people of the Fifth Ward will see fit to send Cherryhomes packing and elect someone who will strengthen neighborhoods and curtail corporate welfare rather than further dividing the city along class and racial lines.
While city residents outside the Fifth Ward cannot cast their votes against Jackie Cherryhomes’ reelection to the council, what many are doing is putting the following question at the top of the list for their own city council candidates: “If Cherryhomes is reelected to the council, will you vote for her as city council president?” Any response but a resolute “No!” is considered the kiss of death.
Next week: How Cherryhomes trashed the Fifth Ward’s City Hall records rather than pass them on to her successor.
Jerry Freeman welcomes reader response to jfreeman@spokesman-re corder.com.