The new Minneapolis City Council has a majority of BIPOC members. Over the next few weeks, the MSR will give our readers an opportunity to get to know them and their thoughts on the pressing issues in the city, especially as these relate to Communities of Color.
This week we talk with Ward 10 newcomer Aisha Chughtai (AC):
MSR: Can you tell our readers who you are, where you come from, and what drives you?
AC: My name is Aisha Chughtai. I’m a renter. I live in the Whittier neighborhood in South Minneapolis. I’m a union organizer. I work for the Service Employees International Union here in Minnesota. I work in our political department.
I am the firstborn, the eldest daughter in a Muslim immigrant family. My parents are Pakistani immigrants. That’s who I am. I’m going to represent, starting January 3, the 10th Ward here in Minneapolis, which includes the Whittier, Lowry Hill East, South Uptown, East Bde Mka Ska, and East Harriet neighborhoods.
I know that the stakes are really, really high today for renters, for people living in poverty, for Black, Brown and Indigenous people. It’s why I ran for office, and improving the lives of workers and renters in this city is what drove me to public service.
MSR: What makes you a good council member for your ward?
AC: Eighty percent of this ward is renters, people who rent their homes. For context, Minneapolis is saying [they have overall] just about 50%… Ward 10 is an overwhelmingly renter community.
This ward has never actually been represented by a renter. Ensuring that the folks who live here and share this experience of not knowing what the cost of their housing is going to be for the long term is really important to me. And it was really important to the ward. It was the thing that I heard from folks that resonated the most with them.
MSR: What were your stances on the three ballot questions that came up in this last election?
AC: I voted no on ballot question one, voted yes on ballot question two, and I voted yes on ballot question three.
On ballot question one I voted no, because I really saw that it was…driven by and overwhelmingly supported by the wealthiest and most powerful people in our city. I really saw, I still do, as a bad faith attempt by the wealthiest, most powerful people in our city to consolidate power around a mayor that will always be accountable to them.
I supported question two because I know that the system of public safety that we have right now is not working for anyone. And not only is it not working for anyone, kind of regardless of where you live, it is inflicting disproportionate harm onto Black, Brown and Indigenous people.
I supported ballot question three because, again, I’m a renter. I represent a majority renter community, and I know that renters are experiencing severe economic insecurity. I also know that 80% of the rental property in the city of Minneapolis is owned by 15 corporations, and that rent control is a check on their monopoly.
MSR: What’s your priority for the upcoming term?
AC: I want to spend the next couple of years working to advance a strong anti-displacement and pro-tenant agenda. Making sure that we have strong rent control that is effective, that is centered in the needs of renters, and that prioritizes keeping people in their homes and in the communities that they love.
We have to pass stronger eviction protections. We need legal resources for renters who are experiencing eviction and may need to go through eviction court, and making sure that they are able to have the resources to navigate that very dehumanizing process.
We need more inclusive screening criteria. We know that one of the biggest barriers that people have to accessing housing is that the credit score limit is too high. The income ratio, they don’t meet it exactly.
I’m a union organizer, so the rights of workers are very, very important to me. Making sure that workers are treated with dignity and respect in their workplace and are not having their wages stolen is something that’s really important to me.
Housing rights and labor rights are my two biggest priorities.
MSR: What do you see as the major issues facing your ward?
AC: I think the biggest issues facing my ward specifically are the rising cost of rent and workers being treated with a lack of dignity or respect or not making enough money at work.
MSR: I know you supported question two. Now that that has failed, how do you plan to hold the police accountable?
AC: The reality is there is one person in the city of Minneapolis who has any type of authority when it comes to oversight or accountability of the police department, and that is the mayor of Minneapolis… I really look forward to spending the next two years of my term helping hold the mayor accountable to the promises that he made to us during the campaign about delivering real police reform. The responsibility we have as Minneapolis residents at this moment is to help hold our mayor accountable as well.
I really think that in the long term we need to uplift the community demand for community control of the Minneapolis Police Department. There is an ongoing campaign right now to establish a Civilian Police Accountability Commission, which is a separately elected body of government that is responsible solely for the Minneapolis Police Department or policing in the city of Minneapolis right. I think we really do need to have an independently elected body that is directly accountable to the community that is responsible for holding police accountable in the city of Minneapolis.
Making sure workers are treated with dignity and respect in their workplace, making sure that people are able to access safe, stable and dignified housing, making sure that people are able to access a transportation system that meets their day-to-day needs and gets them to and from the places that they need to go to live their lives—those are all of the different things that we can do to address our community’s public safety needs.
MSR: How do you plan to address youth violence?
AC: That is a really, really good question. We have spent the last couple of years really seeing how youth in our city and across the state and country experience such a severe, destabilizing force in our lives through the pandemic. Especially our kids who live in less affluent families, kids of color, immigrant kids, really seeing those disparities around Internet access and technology access and parents who are able to support them in distance learning—all of those types of things really, really play out in our communities.
As a result, we are seeing an increase in youth violence, and that is a reflection of the lack of support that we have provided as a society for our young people and our kids. Putting kids in jail is not the answer. It never was and it never will be.
We know that our parks and our schools are places where our kids come to occupy their time, so making sure that we are funding programs through our parks and other youth programming, so that we are actually investing in our kids and we are meaningfully engaging in their day-to-day lives and giving them access to the support and the resources that they need to grow into adulthood, all this matters a lot to me.
You will see me advocating for more and more funding for youth programming and things that are about meaningfully addressing our youth needs and fighting efforts to criminalize them.
This interview was edited for length.
RB King is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.