By Jamal Denman
On Thursday, June 6, the Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis hosted the One MPLS Mayoral Forum, giving candidate hopefuls the opportunity to address the questions and concerns of members of Minneapolis’ communities of color. Questions were collected from the audience before the start of the forum, and the candidates were randomly selected to answer each question.
While it is assumed that the participants in the forum were made aware of the forum’s overriding theme, because of the candidates’ constant inability or unwillingness to directly answer questions posed to them it would not be hard to believe otherwise.
The auditorium in the Sabathani Community Center was packed with a diverse crowd of community activists, politically active young people, and concerned citizens eager to hear what the people vying to become the next mayor of Minneapolis had to say. Mayoral candidates Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Betsy Hodges, Tony Lane, Doug Mann, Don Samuels, Gary Schiff, and Jim Thomas faced the 500-plus people in attendance and their questions that centered on addressing issues facing communities of color. Bob Carney Jr., a GOP mayoral candidate, was given a chance to introduce himself, but did not participate in the forum. Cam Winton, an Independent mayoral candidate, was scheduled to participate but was a no-show.
The forum was masterfully moderated by Nekima Levy-Pounds, associate professor of law and director of the Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Levy-Pounds started the forum with an introduction that set the tone: “In some ways, I think Minneapolis [is] a tale of two cities. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. And unfortunately, for many of our communities of color, we are experiencing the worst of times. So our new mayor is going to have to understand what is happening in our poorest communities.
“They’re going to have to understand how we have the largest gap in unemployment between Blacks and Whites in the nation…that we have one of the highest rates of racial disparity in public education…that we have high rates of contact between law enforcement and African American men; and even today, in our community we’re mourning the loss of Terrance Franklin.
“Our [next] mayor is going to have to understand the pain that we feel as a result of these losses of our young men.” Levy-Pounds also brought up the issue of affordable housing, and how these compounding factors negatively impact communities of color.
Every candidate acknowledged that they were aware of the racial inequalities and neglect of communities of color. For instance, Mark Andrew started his introduction with, “I want to welcome you to one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in America!” Andrew went on to say that being able to make such a statement about Minneapolis is what made him want to run for mayor so he could “address” the “equity questions.” However, during the two-hour forum, he never got around to explaining how he planned on doing so.
Andrew was by no means the only candidate who did not provide much detail about specific actions it would take to address the issues. The lack of detail in the candidates’ answers may have been attributed to the time constraints of the forum, but judging from the statements made in the time allotted, that did not seem to be much of a factor.
For the most part, candidates answered questions by reverting to their talking points and making attempts to connect something they did in the past. Nekima Levy-Pounds did her best to get candidates to answer questions thoroughly by calling them out numerous times in response to vague or irrelevant answers.
Most of the candidates talked about the need for jobs and the hiring of minorities in city jobs and contracts awarded to private companies by the city. Tony Lane was mainly focused on the rights of workers to the point that he suggested that the discussions about racial and cultural issues were intended to distract people from the issue.
Don Samuels and Jim Thomas expressed their feelings on the importance of education. Unfortunately, neither of them went into any details about actions they would take to improve the educational system for people of color.
Adjusting to the rapidly changing demographics and diversity of communities in Minneapolis is a challenge for leaders and residents alike. Jackie Cherryhomes described how she views the city’s current communal climate: “One of the things I’m struck by as I travel throughout the city right now is how we are not ‘One Minneapolis’; we’re four, five, six, seven, maybe 13 [different] Minneapolises. And we won’t be a strong city until we are ‘One Minneapolis.’”
The forum was organized by Henry Jiménez, Marjaan Sirdar, Ishmael Israel, Nimco Ahmed, Jenny Lock, Jeff Hnilicka, and a host of concerned community activists, youth and residents. Jiménez also pointed out that the group involved with organizing the event is not associated with the City of Minneapolis or the Minneapolis Foundation.
After the forum, the candidates and attendees met at El Paraiso Mexican Restaurant to socialize and continue the conversations started during the forum. Questions that were submitted but not posed due to time will be posted on the One MPLS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/oneminneapolis. The entire forum is available online at the Twin Cities Daily Planet website.
Jamal Denman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.