All of the Minneapolis City Council seats are once again up for reelection, following the U.S. Census count two years ago that forced local, statewide and federal voting districts to be redrawn. Because the Charter Commission changed boundaries last year, candidates running for City Council seats are running in wards that have been redrawn and may reflect a markedly different voter base this November than in previous years.
Candidates running in Ward 4
Four people are running for the Ward 4 seat on the Minneapolis City Council. They include LaTrisha Vetaw, the incumbent who defeated Phillipe Cunningham in 2021. Challengers vying for Vetaw’s seat include criminal justice activist Marvina Haynes, environmental activist Leslie Davis, and business owner Angela Williams.
In the forum held by the League of Women Voters at North Market on September 20, candidates answered questions on public safety, housing, and environmental pollution, as well as the Upper Harbor Terminal redevelopment.
Leslie Davis, who spent the 1980s fighting the construction of the downtown Minneapolis incinerator, responded to questions from attendees lamenting the lack of public restrooms at the Downtown and East Lake Targets, complaints that the police and City Council are corrupt and need to be replaced, and other issues.
On public safety
Public safety and policing have been on top of mind for Ward 4 residents. According to the Minneapolis Police Department, assaults, property destruction, homicides, larceny and robbery are down compared to the same time last year. On the other hand, burglaries, carjackings, sex offenses and stolen property offenses are up. Voters elected Vetaw in 2021 in part because they felt more confident in her support for the police.
Vetaw pledged to collaborate with others who work for and serve the city to create policies to hold Minneapolis police accountable while also listening to her constituents. “We’ve worked on policies around the use of swear words when they’re interacting with people,” Vetaw said at the forum. She added she helped bring in state money to fund the police, and she also wants to address the shortage of 911 operators and diversify the city’s approach to public safety.
Angela Williams wants the police to build trust in the community. “We need more people, more officers in the community to show that they are human just like everybody else, and that they care,” said Williams. Williams also wants to connect “public-safety groups with a proven record of results” with the police, take away money from public-safety groups that don’t have a proven track record and give it to the police, as well as create police oversight commissions in each neighborhood.
Marvina Haynes, who believes her brother Marvin is wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he did not commit and has been working to free him, wants to reallocate funding from the police and invest it in resources for those who are suffering from drug addiction, as well as for youth jobs and resources. She also wants funding from the police department to be invested in mental health resources, since she is a single mother of a child with a disability.
“As far as the drug use, bring in more facilities to be able to give them the proper care that they need. We just need to see the money go somewhere else [aside from policing],” said Haynes.
Leslie Davis agrees with Haynes but has a different approach. Davis believes police who perform poorly should not be paid and thinks former Navy SEALs could serve as a private security force to replace the police. “I’d use half of that [$350,000] to hire a couple of Navy SEALs, let them patrol around a neighborhood,” said Davis, whose campaign promotes anti-vaccine, COVID-19 hoax messaging. He also thinks traffic safety issues could be addressed with speed bumps.
Housing and gentrification
The subprime mortgage crisis hit North Minneapolis hard. A 2011 tornado that ripped through the North Side made affordable housing even scarcer. In the following years, corporate landlords bought up what remained of the affordable housing stock and began to rent it out, charging exorbitant fees.
Councilmember Vetaw’s office is tracking 40 of those homes that are on the market and wants to ensure they go to people who will live in them. She is currently working on a program that helps first-time homebuyers and people of color buy homes in Minneapolis. Vetaw added that the public housing authority needs money so they can make repairs and bring their buildings up to standard.
Williams stresses the need to look at other factors. “We have to look at the racial wealth gap. We have to look at economic decline. We have to look at resources that are just not available to people like they used to be,” said Williams.
“How can I protect people from gentrification? That’s a loaded question.” Williams added that renters need protections and she did not think that the Upper Harbor Terminal project will help Northsiders.
On rent control
Some housing advocates have organized around supporting rent control to ensure housing stays affordable for those who need it. Rent control laws limit how much someone’s rent can be increased annually. But Mayor Jacob Frey opposes the measure because he believes it does not solve issues around affordability and the housing supply. Minneapolis voters approved a ballot measure in 2021, directing the city to study the concept.
For Haynes, the most important issue is housing stability. “The rent is too damn high,” said Haynes, who is a Section 8 voucher recipient. She wants to see rent controls capped at no more than a three percent increase a year. Haynes, who rented from corporate landlords that neglected to maintain their properties to the point where people had to move, wants to prevent corporate landlords from buying up homes on the North Side.
Incumbent Vetaw opposes rent control. “Rent control has never worked anywhere,” she said.
On the environment
Ward 4 is arguably one of the most polluted areas in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Department of Health found that people who live in the zip code that encompasses most of Ward 4 made 131.4 emergency room visits for asthma per 10,000 people between 2016 and 2020. This rate is about four times higher than the seven-county metro rate, which is 34.5 emergency room visits per 10,000. An attendee asked candidates how they plan to make the city carbon-neutral by 2050.
Vetaw wants to ensure money earmarked for environmental causes is invested in Ward 4. “As a council member that represents one of the most underserved communities in our city, [I believe that] we allocate funding to meet our climate equity goals. What I’m excited about is that we get to pick what those goals are based on the full plan,” said Vetaw.
Haynes says she is working with her best friend to improve the air quality on the North Side because of the air-quality issues the state faced this summer. She also wants to reduce the pollution coming from a nearby trash site.
Williams believes she needs to do something to address the environmental health of the people who are here today. She believes those issues can be addressed by continuing to fund solar programs, work with communities to address environmental justice issues, as well as hold the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) accountable for what is going on in the community.
On the Upper Harbor Terminal
United Properties, owned by the Pohlads, along with First Avenue, are currently working with the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to build a 20-acre park and concert venue to replace a closed warehouse and shipping port. The project, called the Upper Harbor Terminal redevelopment, was approved by the City Council in 2021.
The Upper Harbor Terminal is controversial to some Northsiders because they believe the project focuses more on the needs of outsiders, not so much on the self-determination of those on the North Side. The city plans to allow up to 570 homes on the site, some of which will be affordable to those making 50 percent of the area median income. Additionally, First Avenue will contribute proceeds from ticket fees to the McKinley Neighborhood Association that they can use as they see fit. The concert venue opens in 2025.
Haynes said at the forum that she needed more time to process the project and to understand its impact on the ward.
Williams thinks the project needs more housing and worries the proposed entertainment venue will bring public safety and environmental health issues. “What we didn’t need was another entertainment venue coming into our community. If we wanted to answer the question about gentrification, there it is right there,” said Williams. “There was an opportunity for [affordable housing]. There was an opportunity to get homeless people out of encampments and into a space where they can be safe.”
Vetaw thinks the project is good for the North Side because it will create access to the river, and those who buy tickets to see a show at the Upper Harbor Terminal will pay a fee to fund the nearby McKinley Neighborhood Association. “We have a huge opportunity for economic development and some help with our tax base here. We need business for that,” said Vetaw.
On their most important challenges
“Stable housing,” said Marvina Haynes. “I think if we are able to provide people with housing, we know we can provide people with stability,” she said. She also wants to fund more resources for youth. “We don’t need people babysitting our kids. What we need is for our kids to have real opportunities. We see a lot of organizations that come up and get funding from the city and other places. But we never really see their work come directly to the corners of the city.”
Angela Williams is more fiscally conservative. “Property taxes,” she said. “Why are they coming up with more taxes for us to pay? She added, “Another challenge is integrity, accountability and transparency at the City Council level. I live in the middle of two drug houses. I see cars coming out and they go down the street and then they turn and go that way. I see young kids standing at the bus stop with shirts over their heads getting high.”
Ward 4 Councilmember Vetaw has a different perspective: “All 12 of my colleagues and the mayor understand that we have a trust issue with government. People don’t feel like their basic needs are being met. And as the Ward 4 council member, I try my best to do that,” she said.
“Basic needs for folks over here are trash removal on time, adequate snowplowing, safe streets, and thriving neighborhoods. The consent decree is a big part of how we’re going to move [because it] is gonna cost us a lot of money.”