Two candidates are vying to unseat the incumbent council member to represent one of the densest wards in Minneapolis.
The ward in question–Ward 10–includes the Whittier and Uptown neighborhoods. It also includes the Lowry Hill East neighborhood, known as the Wedge. The ward is generally bounded by I-35W to the east, Hennepin Avenue to the west, Franklin Avenue to the north and Lake Street to the south. West of Lyndale Avenue, the south boundary extends to 36th Street and the western boundary extends to the eastern shore of Bde Maka Ska. West of Hennepin, the northern boundary moves south to Lagoon Avenue.
Community organizer Aisha Chughtai was elected in 2021. She replaced outgoing council member and city planner Lisa Bender, who decided not to run for reelection. Chughtai, who suffered health problems in October that necessitated her absence from her office, is one of two renters in the Ward 10 race.
The other renter in the race is Nasri Warsame, who is working towards becoming a police officer. Warsame contends that Chughtai is incompetent and hasn’t responded to his inquiries. Warsame, who was banned from receiving the DFL endorsement after instigating a brawl at the endorsing convention in May, defended his lack of DFL endorsement by saying he is not a career politician.
A third candidate is Bruce Dachis, a landlord who has lived in Uptown for 40 years. All three met for a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters and cosponsored by area neighborhood associations at the Abyssinia Cultural Center on October 26.
Participating in a black blazer emblazoned with skulls, Dachis said he could do a better job than the incumbent. His statement elicited chuckles from the crowd.
In addition to personal and property safety, they discussed housing, traffic safety, economic and environmental issues.
On personal and property safety
Violent crime appears to be increasing in Ward 10. Assaults, including domestic assaults, increased to 785 compared to the same time last year, when assaults were at 608. Burglary, breaking and entering, destruction, damage and vandalism to property are also up. The number of homicides remains the same compared to the same time last year.
However, some crime is decreasing. Larceny, theft, and stolen property offenses decreased to 1,416 so far this year, compared to 1,549 at the same time last year. In Ward 10, carjackings are also down; 41 have occurred so far this year, compared to 67 at the same time last year. Sex offenses are also down, as are shots fired calls.
Dachis attributes the decrease in crime to the decrease in 911 call responses. “I can personally say that in my office building, there were four … 911 calls made [that] were never responded to [so] they were never recorded,” said Dachis.
Chughtai remarks that decreases in crime is a good thing. She wants to work on 911 response times, which elicited chuckles from the crowd since she pledged to defund the police. At the forum, Chughtai said she believes the city needs fewer police officers. “What isn’t working right now is expecting our officers to do every single thing and to be every single thing. We expect our officers to be social workers and mental health providers and everything in between,” said Chughtai at the forum.
Both Dachis and Warsame believe we need the police, and that they need to hire more police officers and have them show up more in the community, so people can trust them to do their job.
The candidates also addressed the off-duty and buy-back policies. The buy-back policy allows neighborhood organizations to pay for extra police patrols, while the off-duty policy allows small businesses to pay off-duty police officers to act as security guards. The latter is a controversial practice that has come under scrutiny after a Minnesota Reformer investigation.
Dachis is fine with the policies, as long as officers do their work. Warsame needed to do more research on the policies. Chughtai doesn’t think the policy should continue. She contends that the city’s police officers are overworked since those in the buy-back program are often officers working overtime after their police shift. “Their first priority is still responding to 911 calls,” said Chughtai. “[Neighborhoods who pay for the service] don’t often see a change in the level of service in their neighborhood.”
On traffic safety and the environment
Though accidents between people driving and pedestrians or cyclists are going up, there are fewer fatalities among those walking or biking. The city is addressing the problem by ensuring that those who walk and bike have the infrastructure they need to do so. Over the past several years, the city has built and expanded sidewalks, as well as created off-street bike trails.
Dachis, who is a biker, contends bicyclists and pedestrians are dying at record rates because they are breaking the law. (He was not aware that the legislature passed a law this past session allowing people bicycling to blow past stop signs, which is commonly referred to as the “Idaho Stop,” when asked about it after the debate). He opposes bike lanes because he does not believe the investment is worth it, considering the number of people who bike.
He wants to see more traffic calming, such as roundabouts, as well as “high-density” transit lanes and electric vehicle charging stations. “That will help reduce the greenhouse effect,” said Dachis.
Chughtai agrees that the city needs to have more traffic calming, more so because she believes everyone deserves to feel safe no matter how they decide to get around. “Everyone in our community should be able to safely walk, bike, take transit, or drive to get from place to place,” said Chughtai. “Right now, our infrastructure is not built to allow people to walk from place to place.”
As for parking, Chughtai supports the city’s efforts to have business and property owners share unused parking spaces in their lots as part of the upcoming Hennepin reconstruction project, which will rebuild the street with transit and bike lanes.
Both Dachis and Warsame believe the city needs to provide more parking for small businesses that need it. “We’re not here to subsidize businesses. We’re here to provide people access,” said Dachis. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re not spending a lot of money on things that really don’t help our community,” adds Warsame, who believes more parking could address safety more than bike lanes.
Warsame added he would support reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging public transit use without offering specific policy ideas.
On rent control and homelessness
The 2021 census data shows about 80 percent of Ward 10 residents are renters. In 2021, voters approved a measure that directed the city to study possibly implementing a rent control ordinance. Rent control would restrict how much one’s rent can increase annually. Such a rule is in place in St. Paul, and the rule appears to be supported by those who want affordable housing.
Some also may not want to be vetted to get access to federal housing vouchers, which have long waitlists. Also, federal housing vouchers might not necessarily be accepted by landlords, some of whom don’t want to participate in the onerous inspections process.
Dachis, who is a landlord, opposes rent control and believes vouchers are a better solution. He supports a bill that will be considered in the next legislative session to increase the number of available affordable housing vouchers. Warsame agrees, and believes the city needs to hold abusive landlords accountable as well as make the ward safer to attract more housing construction. Regardless, the city appears to have considered almost triple the number of building permits for Ward 10, so far this year compared to 2022.
Both Dachis and Warsame are concerned about the impact homelessness is having on homeowners in Ward 10. “The Somali community, who are low-income families … hard workers [who] do everything in their power to make sure they provide [for] their family, are driven out of the city by the encampments,” said Warsame. Dachis and Warsame agree that those who are unhoused need help. Both believe they need drug addiction treatment. However, they differ in their approach: Warsame believes they need access to mental health treatment as well, while Dachis wants to deploy shelters similar to Avivo Village in North Loop, but with an added provision that prohibits drug use.
Chughtai believes that housing is a human right and that the ongoing encampment sweeps are inhumane. She drafted an ordinance that would only allow sweeps if there are available shelter beds. “The city has invested nearly $200,000 per individual just … playing whack-a-mole with [the unhoused]. That’s not working for anybody,” said Chughtai, who believes the encampments need sanitation services in addition to shelter.
Longer term, Chughtai believes rent control will help preserve housing affordability and that the majority of Ward 10 residents support rent control. “It is one of the strongest tools to keep tenants in their homes,” said Chughtai. She also said she drafted an ordinance that allows renters to be given the first right of refusal to buy the building they live in before their landlords offer their building for sale on the open market.
On supporting small businesses
Businesses at the intersection of Lake and Hennepin have closed in recent years, annual festivities canceled for a time, because of the pandemic and quality of life issues that arose from the killing of Winston Smith and the protests that followed.
Dachis and Warsame believe business owners looking to locate in the area should pay lower taxes. They also believe the neighborhood needs more parking. Chughtai believes the city should help small business owners purchase their storefronts, and touted her record investing in technical assistance to help local business owners do what they need to do to keep their businesses afloat. She also supports a dedicated revenue stream to support the city’s commercial corridors.
On the most important challenges in Ward 10
Warsame: “Public safety. If a Somali person tells you, ‘Hey, you got to do something about the safety,’ that tells you how bad this is.”
Chughtai: “Safe and affordable and dignified housing. We are one of the youngest communities in the city, made up in large part by frontline workers [who] walk, bike and take public transit to get from place to place. We need to invest in holistic public safety and urgently address our climate crisis as well.”
Dachis: “I want safe and affordable housing for the Ward 10 residents. But I also want them to be able to leave their house because they feel safe to go to the businesses that I hope will return. I want to help the opioid crisis, which I believe fuels the unhoused population. It’s critical for the livability in the city and in our ward.”