Hennepin County District 2 Candidates Field Questions from the Business Community

At an early morning candidate forum hosted by the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Irene Fernando and Blong Yang fielded questions on matters of concern to the business community in Hennepin County’s District 2.

It was way too early to livetweet, so here are some things that stood out to me.

Blong Yang makes a lot of references to Plymouth. The people of Plymouth need bridges and roads. Plymouth is the fourth largest economy in the state. Plymouth is overtaxed while getting nothing from transit investments. The people of Plymouth think Hennepin County has a Minneapolis bias and doesn’t do anything for them. When Yang doorknocks in Plymouth, they want to know if he’s a Republican or a Democrat, and Republicans will often shut the door on him. But he says, you only have two choices, two Democrats — the implication being Yang is the acceptable Democrat. Blong Yang is running to be the candidate most palatable to disaffected Plymouth Republicans.

During a back-and-forth about transit, Fernando said this:

Excellent leaders pave a path where there has not been a path. Excellent leaders have a vision that goes for decades. Every decision that the county makes is a multi-decade decision about the future that we pass on to our kids and grandkids.

Fernando, talking about racial disparities:

Statistically you will receive stronger outcomes for a black family in the Mississippi delta than you will here — in Minnesota, where we’re at the top of all these lists[…] This is where I don’t believe incremental moves are what we need. We need vision, we need leadership, we need partnership.

And then Yang pushed back:

I think this idea that we need excellent leaders, that they have to have vision, I think we have seven at the county board right now. If they didn’t, my goodness, they probably would have been voted out. This idea of doing things in such a drastic way that we’re going to change the face of the county, I don’t think that’s realistic.

This is another of Yang’s themes. He kept repeating the idea that the county does a great job. And it’s not as though Fernando is running a negative campaign against the county, just that she will do it better. Yang delivers a persistent everything is fine, stay the course message, almost as if he’s the incumbent (the outgoing incumbent has endorsed Fernando).

It got fun when Fernando answered Yang’s “not realistic” criticism with a story about a couple of big-time CEOs named “Brad and Doug” (this went over my head, because I don’t know who Brad and Doug are, but I imagine they are beloved among the Business Community). She compared the 8,000 employee workforce of Hennepin County to a corporation:

We’re running to be on the board of a corporation essentially. It’s the size of a Medtronic or Best Buy. If I were to talk to Brad or Doug, these CEOs, “realistic” is not the word I would use to describe them. They’re visionaries.

Fernando came off as — no surprise — the candidate of vision. She made the case that taking bold steps to address the needs of “the marginalized and structurally disenfranchised” actually creates healthy communities that are good for business. She peppered her answers with references to being an “entrepreneur” with experience as a “non-profit executive and a corporate leader.” But I imagine the thing that impressed the Business Community the most was her use of the phrase “tail end revenue structures” and her observation that “dirt is sold… compost is sold.” 📈💰

Yang was likewise firmly in support of county requirements on organics recycling. Though he served one term as a member of the Minneapolis City Council, and Fernando is a first-time candidate, Yang was clearly the less polished candidate.

You can read my earlier endorsement of Irene Fernando here. With her performance today, Irene Fernando has earned the coveted Wedge LIVE Double Endorsement.