Rebecca Gagnon: Wrong for Minneapolis School Board

It has nothing to do with schools, but here’s an under the radar story from last year that explains what’s wrong with Rebecca Gagnon, who is running for re-election to the Minneapolis school board. It’s a story about billboard regulations. How does a school board member get mixed up with billboard regulations? Up until this year, Gagnon had been the school board’s representative on the City Planning Commission.

In the midst of the 2017 municipal election and preparations for the 2018 Minneapolis Super Bowl, there was a mysteriously persistent push to loosen downtown billboard regulations. It was pretty unpopular. The planning commission rejected it a few times. One commissioner called it “the rash that wouldn’t go away.” Council Member Abdi Warsame was the ordinance’s author. Former Council President Barb Johnson made statements in support. The billboard company CEO touted that it had the support of the “council member in the area” which was Jacob Frey, who is now the Mayor. But it never advanced to a vote in front of the full council.

Gagnon, who had always been a quiet presence on the Planning Commission, was unusually adamant about moving the ordinance forward to the City Council. Why the urgency? It appeared the election might lead to a shift in the Council’s balance of power. Delaying it to the next term could kill the proposal, or at least make it impossible for billboard companies to capitalize during the Super Bowl. (As it turned out, the city council added five new members, and the billboard proposal was never heard from again.)

During this time, the billboard company pushing the ordinance hired lobbyists; the company’s CEO donated generously to a handful of City Council re-election campaigns. One of the lobbyists working for the billboard company was Samantha Gagnon, who is Rebecca Gagnon’s daughter. You can read the full story here.

In her role as an elected official, Gagnon argued strenuously to advance an ordinance that was intended to benefit a company her daughter worked for as a lobbyist. When I published a post revealing the fact that Gagnon’s daughter was a lobbyist for the billboard company, Gagnon tweeted an embarrassing statement explaining why she believed there was no need for her to have disclosed it.

Here’s another Gagnon story, related to her work on the school board. At a June 12 school board meeting, Gagnon suggested letting schools like Kenwood, in a wealthy part of town, get a “one time pass” to use PTA fundraising to pay for staff positions. If you care about equity, you can probably guess why the school board has a rule against this sort of thing. The fundraising capacity of parents at wealthy, white schools far exceeds that of schools in lower income neighborhoods serving students of color.

Even though there is video of the meeting, Rebecca Gagnon denied that she had advocated for such a change.

We’ve established that no reasonable person should vote for Rebecca Gagnon, unless that person is a billboard company CEO; or the proud parent of a Katelyn or a Connor at Kenwood; or Abdi Warsame and Jacob Frey, who have both endorsed Gagnon.

(Full disclosure: Carol Becker, the elected official who tried to trademark “Wedge Live” in a bizarre attempt to steal the name of the website you’re reading right now, donated $50 to Gagnon’s campaign on June 5, which is hilariously the same day I published two tweets making fun of Gagnon. Coincidence?)

That leaves you with three choices for Minneapolis Board of Education, At-large. Every voter in Minneapolis will have this race on their ballot. There are two seats, which means you’re filling in two bubbles on your ballot. In alphabetical order, your choices are:

In the August 14 primary, Caprini finished first with 30%. The other three candidates were essentially tied: Gagnon (21.8), Pauly (20.7), and El-Amin (20.6).

Kim Caprini and Josh Pauly are DFL-endorsed, and both have a long list of endorsements from council members, local politicians, unions, and organizations. Gagnon has endorsed Caprini. Caprini has not endorsed Gagnon. Sharon El-Amin’s one big endorsement is Nekima Levy Armstrong.

Here’s an article briefly describing some remarks by the four candidates at a forum yesterday.

Here’s a story about homophobic and transphobic comments made by Sharon El-Amin in 2016.

Being on the school board is rough. The pay is low; the meetings are long; the politics are brutal. The people who tend to be willing to do it are either saints or assholes.

Josh Pauly has been a Minneapolis school teacher for the last three years. He has the most substantive website describing his positions. Kimberly Caprini has an impressively long list of the ways she’s been involved as a volunteer with schools over the last 10 or so years. Both Caprini and Pauly have run successful campaigns to win the DFL endorsement. As someone who doesn’t follow school board politics, I judge them to be most likely to beat Rebecca Gagnon. And remember: Rebecca Gagnon must be defeated.

Please vote for Kim Caprini and Josh Pauly for Minneapolis Board of Education, At-large.