Pothole frustrations launch council campaign

Submitted photo Alexander Bourne

Once an up-and-coming businessman in New Orleans, Alexander Bourne looks to make his mark in politics with his run for a city council seat in St. Paul. He plans to emphasize the need for individuals to make their voices heard by exercising their right to vote, a right that Bourne himself nearly lost in a controversial incident. 

Bourne grew up near Payne Avenue in St. Paul, a bustling marketplace home to several small businesses and organizations. He recently recalled events in his life that led him to making the decision to run for the Ward 6 seat.

Much of Bourne’s adolescence was spent in and out of the juvenile detention system. He first was detained at the age of nine. By age 16, the support of his church and family helped him stay out of the system. 

“I believe in hindsight they [the authorities] were just looking to fill beds,” Bourne said. “I was one of those kids to accommodate those wishes.”

Bourne spoke critically of what he saw as the tie between the pharmaceutical and education industries with many children being “over-diagnosed and over prescribed” at a young age. He also sees a connection in the disproportionate disciplining of young black children in schools with the issue of police discrimination towards blacks.

Early days and battles

After graduating from Central High School, Bourne attended Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black university. There he developed his activism and community engagement by joining student groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group that works against industrial pollution through grassroots efforts. 

Bourne recalled the time when he organized against an oil company that released toxic chemicals in a low-income diverse community. The company gave the residents in that area the option to sell their homes for “pennies on the dollar” or suffer from the toxins, according to Bourne. He also took part in Mobilization at Xavier, a program at the university to drive engagement between students and the immediate community.    

In 2014, Bourne was incarcerated on what he states were false charges of theft brought on by a “misunderstanding” between him and a client. While operating Patina Shoe Parlor, a shoe repair business, a client of Bourne’s accused him of stealing shoes. He landed in jail. 

This began a long legal process in which Bourne was held in jail for a total of 22 months over the course of four years, going through 11 trial attorneys. He continues to deny these charges.

During his incarceration, Bourne organized other inmates to petition for the resignation of the head of the Orlean Public Defender’s Office due to what they believed to be inadequate legal representation. Bourne collected over 300 signatures, and although the call was ultimately unsuccessful, Bourne felt it gave the inmates reason to hope.

His case ultimately ended in a misdemeanor charge of theft after Bourne’s fight to avoid a felony. He credits the support he received from people in both New Orleans and the Twin Cities for steadying him throughout his ordeal.

Any web search for Bourne produces several articles highlighting the charges and accusations made against him. “Every news outlet perpetuates this narrative that ‘Alexander is a conman, he’s not able to be trusted. He steals women’s shoes,’” said Bourne. “We’re talking about size five women’s shoes here.”

After returning from New Orleans, Bourne worked with Restore the Vote in Minnesota, a coalition of individuals working together to restore the voting rights of people convicted of felonies. This experience with the legal system also gave Bourne the impression that there is a need for bail reform. Although he was given $10,000 bond, the judge had put a hold on him, denying him the ability to post bail.

Submitted photo Alexander Bourne

From potholes to public service 

Now, four years later, Bourne is embarking on bringing change to his hometown through policy work. His incentive to run for the city council did not come from his criminal justice reform work or environmental activism, but rather from a pothole that took too long to repair. 

Last year, Bourne hit a large pothole in his neighborhood. After complaining to multiple city departments and not finding an answer, he grew frustrated. He remembered the activist hashtag promoted by the Minneapolis NAACP chapter stating “Don’t complain, activate.”

Bourne started knocking on doors to build a consensus on the roads but quickly found many other topics residents were passionate about. He stated that all of his policy priorities come from conversations he’s had with residents in his ward and are subject to change based on feedback from community members.

He said he’s held over 200 public events like his free community barbecues on the corner of Payne and Maryland Avenues, which have gone on for 25 consecutive weeks and bring in 150 to 250 people at a time.

Bourne says his campaign is reflective of the way he’ll govern, pointing out that his personal cell phone number is listed on all campaign literature. He sees transparency, inclusion and access as missing components on the current St. Paul City Council. He hopes to change that.

Bourne vows he will, if elected, tackle many issues relating to housing, business development, and education. He proposes an exploration of a managed rent-to-value ratio which would require landlords to invest some of the money acquired from rent back into their properties. He also wants to look into ways of lowering property taxes in order to relieve some of the pressure on small business owners so they can grow. 

When it comes to education, Bourne recognizes the separate roles the council and the school board play. However, he would like to attach some stipulations to the funds provided to the district.

He sees the lack of after-school activities for students as having a negative impact on their learning, and many of them want to earn money at a certain age. Tying together education and employment, Bourne said, would work to bring young black adults interested in trade jobs together with the unions in St. Paul who have the ability to train, employ, and protect workers. 

“We’re in this together,” said Bourne. “I don’t come with all of the solutions, but collectively I believe we can work towards measurable solutions for the benefit of our residents and our city.”