Minneapolis City Council Candidates Answer Questions at Ward 12 Forum

At a Ward 12 candidate forum in the Longfellow neighborhood last Wednesday, candidates answered questions on public safety, climate, rent stabilization, homelessness, sidewalk shoveling, and more (livestream here* / live tweets here).

[Note that it’s the editorial position of this publication that Nancy Ford forfeited her right to be taken seriously during her 2021 campaign, and for whatever this is, so I won’t waste your time talking about her.]

The two viable candidates, Aurin Chowdhury and Luther Ranheim, began by striking similar notes on public safety, identifying it as a top challenge facing the city. Both called for a holistic approach and offered creative ideas for how to bring MPD back into the 3rd Precinct without housing them in a traditional police station.

Chowdhury called for unity and overcoming division several times during the forum, and said “unity behind public safety is our most valuable resource.” One piece of her answer seemed targeted at those who might question a progressive candidate’s commitment to police staffing: “I want to make sure that we get to that mandatory minimum of officers.” She also touted her work as a Ward 9 council aide at city hall to fund violence interrupters at light rail stations. Instead of a traditional police station, she called for a Lake Street “safety center” in the 3rd Precinct, to house the work of both police and other responders like violence interrupters.

Ranheim said “we need police but policing needs to change significantly” and pointed to the city’s Behavioral Crisis Response teams and community-based alternative responses as models he supports. He suggested razing the burned out 3rd Precinct station immediately, and getting to work with the community to decide what comes next. He put forward the idea of public safety satellite hubs, as an interim solution to the lack of a single, large police station.

Ranheim cited climate change as the other big challenge facing the city. He vowed to “sequester” $40-50 million worth of fees collected from utility companies and spend it on the city’s climate equity plan. Chowdhury responded that this franchise fee money is already committed to other items in the city’s budget — diverting it would cause a “budgetary catastrophe.” She suggested the alternative of negotiating with billion dollar utility companies to spend their own money on climate projects, citing an example from the City of Chicago.

It’s worth noting that for all of Ranheim’s budgetary ambition on climate change, when he was asked during a recent private meeting with landlords where he would find the money to pay for his priorities — broadly speaking, not specific to climate change — he said he wanted to address the behavior that leads to massive police misconduct settlements and to defund the city’s bike infrastructure. The problem with that is: 1) bike lanes cost the city a tiny amount of money and 2) building a city where people have fewer options to get around without a car has negative climate implications.

Ranheim pointed to the B Line bus rapid transit construction on Lake Street as a problem because, “while I think transit is a good thing,” East Lake businesses “weren’t consulted” and “had no say in the fact that they’re losing parking.” He suggested the loss of parking would deprive customers of access and threaten the continued existence of the businesses: “I worry about their long-term health.” Chowdhury supported the need for better communication with businesses, but didn’t go at the parking issue.

On homelessness, both Chowdhury and Ranheim rejected the city’s current approach. Ranheim said, “our cat and mouse game right now is not working,” and called for better partnership with the state and county governments, more effective engagement with the unhoused, and expressed support for a “housing first” approach. Chowdhury agreed that “what we’re doing right now is absolutely not working,” but that she’s “100% optimistic” about reducing the city’s unhoused population. She said addressing an unhoused population of 400 is a manageable number if we have the “leadership for it” — to develop a standard operating procedure for a “just transition” from encampments.

Only one answer was interrupted by spontaneous applause: Ranheim’s rejection of municipal sidewalk shoveling. Socialized snow shoveling was the evening’s hottest button. Ranheim listed his objections: the city’s cost estimate of $40 million (for the most aggressive program) was too much; the city wouldn’t be able to find staff for it; and that diesel equipment “would go up and down the sidewalks in the middle of the night waking up you, your babies, and your dogs.” His alternative is a “spirit of helping out each other” because “on my block there’s always a race to help out the neighbor who isn’t able to shovel.” And if that doesn’t work, enforcement targeted at the scofflaws.

Where Ranheim spent much of his answer identifying problems with a potential solution, Chowdhury emphasized the unacceptable status quo. Chowdhury said the winter accessibility issue was an opportunity to “unify council members around a solution,” because Minneapolis spends a significant portion of the year dealing with snow. “We need to do more” because seniors and people with disabilities are struggling. “While I agree that $40 million a year for [clearing] all the sidewalks in the City of Minneapolis is not the best spend… we also have an opportunity for implementing pilot programs that are more targeted.”

Ranheim rejected the idea of rent stabilization outright, saying “rent control will do more harm than good.” He pointed to St. Paul, which implemented a very strict form of the policy in 2021, where “affordable housing development nearly ceased.” He said Minneapolis had no need for a policy, citing median rent growth since 2017 of 1%. “I would start by bringing together renters, mom and pop landlords, the builders of housing and coming up with a solution that will meet the needs of all stakeholders.”

Chowdhury noted that, among 182 municipalities with a policy, not all rent stabilization regimes are built alike: “We do not need to have the St. Paul policy here.” She it’s not a “silver bullet solution” but one among a “constellation” of strategies on housing and displacement. She noted that she hasn’t committed to any particular policy framework, other than her support of a new construction exemption.

Her response to Ranheim’s suggestion that Minneapolis has no need for a policy: “rent stabilization is about planning for the future” and despite the statistics on median rent growth, “the reality is that the service worker who came and talked to me about a 20% rent hike happened.”

*Glitches in the official livestream seem to have cut out roughly 15 minutes of the candidates’ answers so I’ve made my audio recording of the event available here.