Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park both made history in the November elections as both Twin Cities suburbs elected Black mayors. Brooklyn Center is a first-ring suburb outside Minneapolis. Brooklyn Park is the sixth largest city in Minnesota, also located north of downtown Minneapolis.
April Graves will become Brooklyn Center’s first Black female mayor, while Hollies Winston is the first-ever Black mayor of Brooklyn Park. Both will assume their respective offices and duties in January.
The MSR in separate interviews recently spoke to the two mayors-elect.
The fourth time running for elected office proved the charm for Hollies Winston. After losing by only two votes when he last ran for Brooklyn Park mayor, Winston in November emerged victorious and will be that city’s first Black mayor in January.
“[Being] the first Black mayor thing hasn’t hit [me yet],” admitted Winston. “That was not the motivating factor [for running for office].
“The motivating factor was I have three specific issues that I want to achieve. It was less about making history as an African American and more about [making] history as a different type of leadership than what the city has seen.”
Winston’s campaign centered on the issues of addressing crime and improving the city’s tax base, along with being accountable to all city residents. “You’ve got to build those relationships. There is a vision going forward, and we are reaching out to some of the people that disagreed with this.
“But there’s also this larger vision that we’re slowly putting together a governing coalition to make that happen.”
Brooklyn Park’s population is 52% White, 24.4% Black, and 15% Asian, and according to Winston, some members of the city have been ignored over the years.
“Historically, there are parts of the community that just have not been involved, that hadn’t been welcomed to the table,” continued the mayor-elect. “We’ve had a city council and former mayors who had tried to divide and conquer…pick this community and use them against this community…take that community and play them against that.
“I’m not really interested in continuing that,” said Winston, “and that may raise some feelings. I’m not looking to cut anyone’s funding, but I am looking to say if I’m concerned about reducing crime, what does that mean in terms of interacting with different communities…building different relationships.
“In the State of the City speech I’ll probably give in February, I’ve got to find a very clear way to help people understand those two issues—reducing crime permanently and slowing the growth of property taxes. We’ve never had anybody very clearly say [that] was the top two things we’re dealing with, I would say making it very transparent to the community,” added Winston.
“The issue that we’re facing is a level of security. When it comes to crime, a lot of people don’t know where it’s coming from [or] how it’s happening. Who are the major players? Is it homegrown or is it coming from other areas?
“As far as our property tax, people don’t understand why our property taxes look the way they do. Why do they continuously grow? Why is it falling disproportionally [on some] homeowners? What businesses do we need to bring [to Brooklyn Park]?”
Brooklyn Park also operates on a “weak-mayor” system—the mayor only has one vote along with the other city council members, and the hired city manager “is the one who is supposed to execute the direction of the city council,” explained Winston. “My vote is equal to the other city councilors. I run the meetings, but my vote is equal to their vote.”
The mayor-elect also stressed the importance of recognizing the need for post-election healing. “Part of unifying people is putting that unified vision out there,” said Winston. “We were hoping that beyond all the noise being disingenuous…we’re hoping that people would understand that. They understand the vision, and they believe that I can make that vision.”
The mayoral campaign, unfortunately, produced “frayed feelings,” he concluded. “I do think it’s incumbent upon us to reach out to those folks.”