Southsider and public policy specialist Aurin Chowdhury became the first of two newly elected councilmembers to be sworn into office last Tuesday.
Twenty-six-year-old Chowdhury, a Southside native, was sworn in on November 21 to represent Ward 12. Ward 12 includes parts of the Longfellow, Nokomis, and Standish-Ericksson neighborhoods. Her swearing-in allowed her to succeed councilmember Andrew Johnson, who decided not to seek re-election and opted to leave office early for a new job.
“Ten years is pretty much the perfect time on this body because it probably is about equivalent to 30 years anywhere else,” said Johnson at Chowdhury’s inauguration. “I was ready to find my next opportunity to grow as a leader … at a renewable energy investment firm.”
Who is Chowdhury?
Johnson’s departure allowed Chowdhury to be sworn into her role early. Chowdhury, who was born and raised in the Southside to Bengali immigrants, has experience working in the DFL and with local government.
She ran the campaigns of Southside Minnesota State Representative Aisha Gomez, Ward 9 city councilmember Jason Chavez as well as Southside Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley. She also served as a legislative aide to former and current Minneapolis city council members, including Chavez and Steve Fletcher.
Chowdhury is excited about the two-year challenge that looms before her. “The next two years [are] going to be really critical for bringing our city from healing and recovering to thriving,” said Chowdhury shortly after she was sworn in.
Ward 12 is a diverse area that includes some of the city’s wealthy, white-collar neighborhoods. But it also has its share of issues. The ward is located entirely within the Third Precinct, which police headquarters was destroyed during the uprising that happened days after George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chowdhury, once a proponent of abolishing the police, believes the ward’s residents deserve a police precinct headquarters. “Residents feel pretty clear on their need for policing, especially in addressing emergencies that require them,” said Chowdhury. “People have been really concerned about [the] lack of response times. They want the same level of service that other community members have.”
Chowdhury also believes the city needs to invest in a comprehensive approach to public safety that doesn’t exclusively consist of police officers. “Ward 12 residents sent me to City Hall to work on a comprehensive, accountable public safety system, both bringing back up our police staffing numbers to the required amount and also doing the really important [and] necessary work to build out our underfunded neighborhood safety tools,” said Chowdhury.
Ward 12 also includes about 2.5 miles of Metro Transit’s Blue Line, a light rail route that operates adjacent to Hiawatha Avenue. The route, which will have its rails and signals and at least one station completely rebuilt over the next three years, is plagued with crime, drug use, and homelessness, issues that make some riders feel uncomfortable.
Some of those the MSR spoke with earlier this year for a profile of Metro Transit’s police chief say they use the train as shelter because they were living in encampments that were swept by the city of Minneapolis. Chowdhury believes homeless sweeps need to end.
“We need to stop the process that we currently have of surprise, inhumane encampment evictions,” said Chowdhury, who advocates for a standard operating procedure where the city coordinates with the county and the state to develop a short and long-term plan to address homelessness.
“There are smart ways to help people get out of an encampment and reduce the number of people that are unhoused to begin with. If we don’t understand what’s available to us, and what connects and what doesn’t, it’s going to be more difficult to do what we want.”
Chowdhury also wants to help renters survive and thrive in Minneapolis. Her agenda includes strengthening protections for renters, implementing a rent stabilization ordinance, as well as increasing the amount of money available in the affordable housing trust fund.
As for what she plans to do to address economic disparities in the Black community, she outlines some of her ideas. “I don’t think we have enough Black and Brown people at the table to give their lived experiences, in terms of what policies they need.
“I think there needs to be a whole overhaul on who we’re empowering in terms of developing land, how we’re going to influence the school board and curriculum, and that’s a part of the conversation that I want to help facilitate,” said Chowdhury.
To that end, she plans to do more door-knocking of residents and host town halls, sometimes in partnership with neighborhood associations. “I don’t believe that one council member can get this job done. It really takes a whole community,” said Chowdhury.
Enthusiastic supporters from all over
Some of her supporters attended her inauguration, as well as her mother Ruba. “I’m very happy and proud for her. It’s not only one word I can express. It’s just huge and that she made us proud,” said Ruba. “She just told me [about being a council member and] I said ‘no, no, no, don’t do that.’ She’s very good about explaining and you know, telling everything—the good part and the down and upside. And then I say, ‘Are you sure?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’”
Cassaundra Adler, a Ward 12 resident who was present at Chowdhury’s swearing-in, is another supporter. “When I speak with her, I feel like she’s going to tackle some things. I love her energy. I love her spirit. I love her background story,” said Adler.
Emmanuel Duncan, who owns a business in Ward 12, was there to document her swearing-in. Duncan thinks Chowdhury will be great at tackling homelessness and police accountability. “There’s just a lot of encampments that need to be picked up, cleaned up. But also, they need some places to go,” said Duncan.
Duncan thinks it was also great to have a woman of color elected to office. Though Chowdhury is not the first woman elected to the Ward 12 seat, she is believed to be the first Muslim, first Bengali, and first Asian city councilmember elected to that seat.