What’s the matter with Alondra?

Last December, Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano went to the Mall of America to join a Black Lives Matter protest.

Completely peaceful people including my fam but @mallofamerica already blocking entrances. #JamarClark #BlackXmas2 pic.twitter.com/2PQdxOpuWZ

— Alondra Cano (@People4Alondra) December 23, 2015

But the mall protest never really happened; crowds moved instead to the light rail and the airport, “creating a rolling wave of disruption on one of the busiest travel and shopping days of the year.” Cano tweeted a few pictures and words of support for BLM, causing her mentions to fill up with people–probably tweeting from home–more distressed by minor holiday travel delays than the death of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Minneapolis police a month earlier.

Around the same time, Cano was receiving messages to her official Council email address from local people upset by her presence at the protest. She tweeted screenshots and responses to those messages, explaining why she supports BLM.

Because Cano had tweeted screenshots of emails, some of which contained actual phone numbers and addresses, this became an especially delicious outrage (liberal Mexican-American big city councilwoman takes revenge against her anti-Black Lives Matter constituents) for a national network of internet trolls that, in the age of Trump, we’ve all come to know as the “alt-right.” And so Cano was targeted by a gruesome stream of racist, misogynistic messages, some of which described the violent things they’d like to see happen to Cano’s children and parents. Here’s a relatively tame one:

In the immediate aftermath of Screenshot-ghazi, Council President Barb Johnson, after saying she would not comment, brought the TV news into her home–on Christmas Eve!–to comment. Johnson was obviously determined to pour gas on the fire, leading some to speculate that she really does not like Alondra Cano.

Here’s Barb not commenting to the TV news she invited to her house on Christmas Eve.https://t.co/9Z1WSPawuI pic.twitter.com/hwpYRKwku8

— John Edwards (@johneapolis) December 29, 2015

Four months later, City Pages published the article “Alondra Cano flunks City Council 101”. The story was based entirely on anonymous quotes from at least two other members of the City Council. They called her “lazy” and lacking “self-awareness.” One described their reaction to Cano’s behavior during a particular Council meeting: “I just wanted to shoot myself.” In the days after the story was published, all 12 members of the City Council not named Alondra Cano publicly denied being the source of the quotes in the article.

Trashing your co-workers by giving anonymous quotes to reporters is a pretty mean and cowardly thing to do. But City Pages let anonymous insults distract from a real, legitimate story: there is widespread frustration with Cano among her Council colleagues that goes beyond policy disagreement.

Here’s an example of what that looks like. In June, Cano sat through an excruciatingly long Zoning and Planning Committee meeting in order to speak about a particular agenda item. Prior to the meeting, the committee’s chairperson, Lisa Bender, informed Cano that the item she wished to address would be postponed to a later meeting. Even though Cano isn’t a member of the committee, and despite the fact that she knew the topic would be postponed, Cano sat through three-and-a-half hours of unrelated presentations and public comment. As the meeting was coming to an end, she expressed shocked outrage that she had sat there for hours, yet wouldn’t get to speak:

Immediately following that Z&P meeting, Cano took to Facebook to call Bender a racist. (editor’s note: Lisa Bender is not a racist.)
Now, in politics it is perfectly legitimate to put people on the spot, in the middle of a meeting, to see if you can force an issue–to use the element of surprise to your advantage. But if it becomes a routine tactic, your coworkers might become legitimately annoyed with you. You have to pick and choose the degree to which you try to bull your way through other people’s agendas. And despite the fact there’s a lot of racism in the world, of which Cano has received more than her share, it’s good to be judicious when calling people racists.
Cano’s Facebook response to the Z&P meeting.

Cano’s tweets defending her support of BLM, along with screenshots of constituent emails, eventually led to an ethics complaint against her, which was taken up by the City Council in August. A few days ago, it was reported that Cano wrote an email to Council President Barb Johnson expressing her concerns about the process. The scanned image of the email printout makes it clear that it was printed from Barb Johnson’s email account, leading astute observers to wonder if Johnson released it to reporters in order to embarrass Cano.

The Star Tribune characterized Cano’s email as a “warning” to her colleagues. City Pages called it a “threat.” Here’s the relevant section of Cano’s email to Johnson:

I disagree with the findings and have kept screenshots of the ways other Council Members including CM Frey, Bender, Glidden, Abdi and others have used city property for “political” purposes. If the Council votes to approve the Ethics findings I will speak out against the vote and circulate a press release to the media about the issue with the screenshots I’ve gathered since January of 2016.

Cano responded to the stories about her email on Facebook, saying: “When a person of color speaks up, it should not be misconstrued as a “threat” to society, it should be respected as their truth.” Whatever Cano’s intent, the reason people interpreted her email as a threat, is because she constructed it that way: if you vote against me, I’ll put out a press release with incriminating screenshots. This is not to say Cano can’t make an argument that she’s being singled out unfairly, or that she can’t produce evidence to support her defense. But if she was trying to make that argument, she obscured it by writing an email that looked like blackmail.

Alondra Cano really has been the target of vicious racist attacks because of her support for BLM. Separate from those vile attacks, Council President Barb Johnson and some of Cano’s other colleagues really have gone out of their way, to a sometimes comical degree, to trash her in the local media. But it’s also true that Cano picks too many unnecessary battles, irritating her colleagues in a way that transcends race and ideology. If Cano is being unfairly targeted for punishment–and that’s difficult to judge unless/until details become public–that dynamic goes a long way towards explaining why.