Last week, candidates for the Ward 7 seat on the Minneapolis City Council were asked to tell voters why they were running. Scott Graham used the introductory question to scare voters by raising the specter of “socialism” and “abolish the police.” He wasn’t quite claiming that his opponent Katie Cashman supports those ideas, just sort of throwing the idea out there that she probably does, because she’s several degrees removed from people who’ve said some things.
First, I was delighted because I go to a lot of these events. They can be boring and repetitive. Nobody ever unloads an attack line. This was exciting. And pathetic. The Lisa Goodman-endorsed candidate, the Mayor Frey candidate, the Chamber of Commerce candidate, the prohibitive favorite, has so little positive case for himself that he cut short this chance to introduce himself so he could launch a lame guilt-by-association attack.
But as sad as it is, Graham’s self-assessment is right on. There is no positive case for Scott Graham. It’s all what he’s against and what you should be afraid of.
On public safety, Graham is offering fear. He has repeatedly used the phrase “defund and abolish” as a cudgel in candidate forums, against an opponent who’s on record supporting the police hiring hundreds of officers.
On transportation, he offers false hope to the aggrieved, by claiming the Hennepin Ave reconstruction plan can be undone and that he’ll do so once in office. He has blamed bike lanes for the loss of parking (the actual debate was transit lanes vs car parking, but whatever Scott).
On workers rights, he takes his cues from mayoral press releases, claiming an ordinance to ensure higher pay and protections for rideshare workers was “rushed” and “performative” (it was neither of those things). On the policy details, he appeared not to grasp how a massive tech company might be able to figure out a way to set different rates for rides within the city’s borders.
When it comes to his professional background, Graham has racked up over 200 housing violations during a career in real estate and as a landlord. I can personally vouch for Naomi Kritzer’s description of one particularly bad experience by a tenant of Graham’s. That former tenant is a friend of mine, so I’d already heard the horror stories going back to at least 2017, long before Graham was a candidate. Graham’s response: “I am disappointed that there are those who have sought to exploit my business involvement for political gain.”
On housing, he agrees with halting implementation of the city’s nationally-heralded 2040 Plan. This is the plan credited with paving the way to more more affordable housing through increased supply. But he’s also against any version of rent stabilization. And don’t forget his demonstrated lack of care for his tenants. Whether you like more supply, or regulated rents, or goodwill towards tenants — Graham’s not your guy.
When the candidates were asked about downtown revitalization and its importance to the city’s tax base, Graham talked about arts and tourism, but spent most of his answer explaining why he’s the right person to slash the city’s budget. You might say this is a commendable acknowledgment of a shrinking downtown tax base. But I think it’s fair to read Graham as too willing to surrender to a future of austerity budgets instead of offering solutions:
“I think the Council in the future is going to have to wrestle with shrinking budgets. We’re going to have to learn to say no. It’s going to be hard. I’ve done that work. I look forward to continuing to do that work.”
Katie Cashman answered the same question on downtown revitalization by pledging to grow downtown’s residential population, by focusing on safety, livability, walkability, and access to amenities. We can grow our way out of this, if we commit to making this a place people want to be. It was kind of an obvious, conventional answer — admitting that you believe good things are possible. But sadly, that’s a contrast with Graham.
Cashman’s career shows a commitment to public service and sustainability. She’s proven to me her willingness to embrace a future that requires change to address big challenges. She’s got the collaborative style of someone who will seek out the opinions and expertise of others. And she’s worked incredibly hard to give Ward 7 a real choice this year, when all the smart guys (me) would have told her it couldn’t be done.
I recommend voters in Ward 7 (and across Minneapolis) watch these candidate forums. I guarantee Scott Graham’s performances (here and here) will make you queasy. And if it doesn’t, I’m afraid the problem is inside you.
In trading Lisa Goodman for Graham, Ward 7 would be getting more conservative, less responsive leadership. Goodman actually had the credibility with her constituents to take occasional positions they might not agree with. She could ease their concerns. She could get away with voting for things like the 2040 Plan. Though I disagree with her often, Goodman is strong-willed enough to be capable of leadership. Graham, on the other hand, will pander, fearmonger, and misinform his constituents from a place of weakness. We know this because he’s already doing it as a candidate.