In a rather unique and cozy setting, Minneapolis mayoral candidates debated for the second time Wednesday night, seated on couches in Kingfield neighborhood church Solomon’s Porch and circled by a crowd of about 250.
The debate gave viewers a first glimpse of independent candidate Cam Winton, who wasn’t invited to the first forum, as well as Jim Thomas, a special education teacher who petitioned the hosts to let him in.
It turned out Thomas, who was mostly focused on schools, provided plenty of levity to a debate about the city’s future.
Some candidates focused on their Minneapolis roots. It started when Jackie Cherryhomes led off introductions by touting her childhood in South Minneapolis and her adulthood in North Minneapolis.
“I’ve lived in Minneapolis all my life,” she said. “I truly, truly love and am committed to this city.”
That prompted fellow North Minneapolis candidate Don Samuels to bring up his immigration to the United States from Jamaica with $83 in his pocket.
“I am the one person you will not hear say I grew up here and I went to school down the street,” Samuels said.
Actually, out-of-towners make up the majority of the seven candidates. Only Cherryhomes, Mark Andrew and Thomas were born and raised in the city.
“I was born in Minneapolis at Swedish Hospital (formerly of Elliot Park), and I can even beat Don (Samuels),” Thomas said. “I had no money in my pocket when I arrived in Minneapolis.”
Gary Schiff is from Youngstown, New York. Betsy Hodges grew up in Wayzata. Winton is from Pennsylvania.
Candidates were asked if they would support allowing the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center in the North Loop to burn more garbage, a request Hennepin County has made to the City Council.
It was an interesting question because Andrew, when he was a Hennepin County commissioner, supported the construction of the garbage incinerator, which now generates 30 megawatts of electricity that helps power downtown.
Schiff, Hodges, Thomas and Winton said they would not support the HERC’s expansion plans. Samuels and Cherryhomes said they would have to see more information.
“I don’t think we should increase the amount that we are burning at the HERC, bottom line,” Hodges said.
Andrew defended the decision, saying the state mandated the county to lower its landfill loads because of leaching toxins into groundwater.
“It has been proven, time and again, to be way, way, way below the state standards and the federal standards for toxicity,” he said. “I am going to have to take a look at any studies that anybody references here today to see if that has changed. If it has changed, we’ll revisit the additional capacity.”
Winton, a Republican who is running as an independent, offered some of his ideas as a contrast to DFL platforms.
He said he would seek four mayoral appointments to the Minneapolis School Board in order to push forward several changes, including longer school years, longer school days, more power for principals to choose teachers and teacher performance pay.
“As Mayor I will promote all of those and anything else that improves educational outcomes,” he said. “We cannot let another generation of kids fall through the cracks.”
Winton does not support streetcars and instead prefers bus rapid transit.
Candidates were not asked specifically about streetcars, but Schiff and Samuels mentioned streetcars in their vision for the city’s transit future.
Cherryhomes and Schiff also said they oppose co-location of Southwest light rail and freight trains on the Kenilworth Corridor, a hot-topic for residents near Cedar Lake.
The last 15 minutes of the debate was supposed to be a lightening round in which candidates would answer questions in one sentence or less. That quickly turned into a series of long-winded answers.
One question was whether or not candidates would abide by the DFL endorsement if the event one of their opponents got it. Only Gary Schiff said he would abide by the endorsement (Winton isn’t seeking a party endorsement).
“I will abide by the endorsement because I believe in the DFL,” Schiff said. “We are stronger as a party when we stand together.”
Click here for coverage from the first debate
Click here for video footage of the second debate from the Uptake.