The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s District 1 takes up all of the city east of the Mississippi River, stretching across Northeast to Southeast Minneapolis.
Three general political newcomers are vying for the seat left vacant by incumbent Liz Wielinski, who dropped out of the race after not clinching the DFL nomination earlier this year. As the sole East Side-specific representative on the nine-member board, the District 1 commissioner will be especially important given high-profile projects in the area, including the restoration of Hall’s Island at the Scherer site, the Park Board’s rapid expansion of riverfront land and trails, and the ever-popular Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park.
If there’s a political veteran in the race, it’s Chris Meyer, a DFL-endorsed candidate. Meyer, a longtime DFL volunteer and political organizer, ran against state Sen. Kari Dziedzic last year and worked on several campaigns before running for a seat on the Park Board.
Meyer said he would prioritize environmental sustainability issues, such as reducing carbon pollution through the adoption of electric vehicles and making parks into a source of local food with fruit trees. He would work toward restoring youth athletic programs and on issues pertaining to seniors and people with disabilities, Meyer added.
As the East Side commissioner, Meyer said he would lead on issues pertaining to the Mississippi River, such as reducing water pollution and pesticide use as much as possible.
Reaching communities that the board has historically neglected is also a priority.
“I want to work hard to bring in students, renters, people of color [and] people who haven’t historically been at the forefront of these conversations,” he said.
Billy Menz, a math and ESL teacher in a local elementary school, said his experience working with children and families in the parks gives him a unique perspective over his challengers.
Menz, a Green Party candidate who also coaches youth athletics with the Park Board, said he wants to ensure families have a positive experience in the parks. This work starts with building engagement in youth programs and investing in local park employees, both with money and in time listening to their needs.
“Workers are the face of the parks,” he said. “When we invest in those workers they’re going to come back around and invest in our parks.”
With three City Council members representing various parts of District 1, a key skill for the East Side commissioner, Menz said, is working well with others. As a commissioner, Menz said he would build relationships and collaborate on issues facing the parks.
“People who know me know I work well with others,” he said.
Mohamed Barre, who’s running a non-partisan campaign, describes himself as a “community-oriented individual.”
Barre said the primary reason he’s running is a need for quality youth programs on the city’s East Side.
With six children in local schools and playing soccer in the parks, Barre said he understands these programs and their effect on the community. Sports and other youth programming are important to connect families to the parks and keep kids out of trouble.
“The simple issue in Northeast Minneapolis is a lack of quality programs,” he said. “My goal is to reach families so they can have a place to call home.”
Barre is taking a non-partisan approach to his campaign, which he said makes him not accountable to a party. The real endorsement, he said, is from the people of Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis. If elected, Barre said he’d be in the parks every day, reaching under-privileged families.
“I’ll bring change that matters to all,” he said.
Past Park Board race coverage:
Occupation: Human Services and Public Health Department employee, Hennepin County
Relevant Experience: Photographer focusing on the Twin Cities Somali community; volunteer, Prepare + Prosper; volunteer soccer trainer with local schools; Edison Activity Council
Neighborhood: Windom Park
Occupation: Elementary school teacher
Relevant Experience: Volunteer baseball and soccer coach, Park Board; president, Street Roots Board of Directors; volunteer, AmeriCorps; member, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59
Endorsements: Green Party of Minnesota
Occupation: Campaign field manager
Relevant Experience: Member, Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association; member, Chateau Student Housing Co-op Board of Directors; Executive Committee member, University District Alliance; columnist, The Minnesota Daily
Endorsements: Minneapolis DFL, AFSCME Council 5, Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, Minnesota Young DFL, Our Revolution, Stonewall DFL, District 5 Rep. Keith Ellison, State Rep. Ilhan Omar (District 60B), State Sen. Scott Dibble (District 61), Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender, Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson
District 4 stretches from the riverfront of Downtown East and the North Loop to the northern half the Chain of Lakes, including Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and part of Lake Calhoun.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Anita Tabb left her District 4 seat open after two terms on the nine-member board.
Parks in the district have been in the spotlight in recent years due to a push to change Lake Calhoun’s name to Bde Maka Ska, an effort that the Park Board has taken the initiative on.
District 4 features some of the most-visited park sites in the city, such as the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park and the Cedar Lake Regional Trail. In the next few years, the Park Board will begin to implement new visions for the area, such as the Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska-Harriet Master Plan, which will direct millions of dollars toward improving the parks. On the other side of the district, the board will build Water Works, a new destination park site and restaurant, along the downtown Minneapolis riverfront under the board’s RiverFirst initiative.
Tom Nordyke, who served as president of the Park Board just eight years ago, is looking to return to the board as the District 4 commissioner. Previously he represented the entire city as an at-large commissioner.
Nordyke said he entered the race following the city’s DFL Convention where the party nominated many fresh faces. He could bring experience to the nine-member board, Nordyke added.
Having been a commissioner, Nordyke said he’s learned the biggest jobs are working with constituents and other government bodies. It’s important for commissioners to be able to “bridge the gap between what can sometimes be a very interpersonal institution and individual residents,” he added.
His priorities include fighting for resources for District 4, which sees a disproportionate amount of visitors from within and outside the city. He also plans to work on the Bassett Creek restoration, finish renovations to Loring Park and draw from his 30 years of real estate experience to lead the district.
Challenging him is Jono Cowgill, an urban planner who serves on his neighborhood’s board.
Cowgill said his priorities would be improving access to the parks, making investments to combat climate change and expanding programming through partnerships with local groups. Intergenerational programs, addressing safety concerns at Cedar Lake East Beach and seeing the completion of riverfront investments like Water Works are also on his to-do list. Cowgill said he’s interested in an initiative to bring a pocket park and/or skate park to a strip of land at 4th & 2nd in the Warehouse District.
As the District 4 commissioner, Cowgill said he would reduce pesticide use in the parks through changes in the Park Board’s integrated pest management system and looking at examples set by cities like Toronto and Portland.
Cowgill said he’d like to empower regular residents to make an impact on their parks.
“I pledge to be a Park Board commissioner who is ready to just listen to folks,” he said.
Neighborhood: Lowry Hill East
Occupation: Urban planner, Community Design Group
Relevant Experience: Board member, Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association; chair, Open Spaces Committee; authored a report of capital spending allocation in St. Paul for the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs
Endorsements: Minneapolis DFL, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFSCME Council 5, Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, Minnesota Young DFL, Our Revolution, Minnesota Sen. Scott Dibble (District 61), Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender, Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson
Occupation: Principal at real estate firm W+Noordijk, Inc.
Relevant Experience: Former Park Board commissioner at-large (2006-2009) and Park Board president (2008-2009); board member, Minneapolis Parks Foundation; commissioner, Minneapolis Planning Commission; chair, Minneapolis Arts Commission; board member, Minneapolis Institute of Art
Endorsements: Former Speaker of the Minnesota House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman, Park Board President and District 4 Commissioner Anita Tabb, Park Board Vice President and At-Large Commissioner John Erwin, District 3 Commissioner Scott Vreeland, At-Large Commissioner Annie Young
Three members of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board represent the entire city.
Only one incumbent is up for re-election: Commissioner Meg Forney, who has served one term. Current District 3 Commissioner Scott Vreeland ran for a citywide seat, but dropped out earlier this year after not winning one of three DFL nominations. Annie Young, one of the longest serving commissioners in the board’s history, chose not to run. She will have served seven terms spanning nearly three decades.
The open field has attracted many candidates, from activists and political outsiders to small business owners and Park Board volunteers.
Occupation: Content coordinator at Minnesota Continuing Legal Education
Relevant Experience: Executive director, Twin Cities Beach Bash; former volunteer coordinator, Minneapolis Aquatennial; ski ambassador at Hiawatha Golf Course
Endorsements: Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, Southside Pride
Occupation: President and CEO of business consulting firm Fulton Partners
Relevant Experience: Board member, Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership; member of the Development and Finance Committee, City of Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development Department; co-founder and mentor, Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers’ Emerging Leaders in Community Development
Endorsements: Minneapolis Police Federation, Minneapolis Firefighters Local 82, District 8 Rep. Rick Nolan, City Council President Barbara Johnson, Park Board President and District 4 Commissioner Anita Tabb, Park Board Vice President and At-Large Commissioner John Erwin
Neighborhood: West Calhoun
Occupation: Realtor; Park Board commissioner at-large
Relevant Experience: One term as Park Board commissioner at-large; ex officio board member, Minneapolis Parks Foundation; executive committee, Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership; chair, Park Board Planning Committee
Endorsements: Women Winning
Occupation: Special education paraprofessional, Minneapolis Public Schools
Relevant Experience: Former Park Board employee in positions such as recreation worker to running a summer lunch program; adaptive floor hockey coach, Park Board
Endorsements: Minneapolis DFL, Stonewall DFL, Take Action MN, AFSCME Council 5, Our Revolution (Minnesota and Twin Cities chapters), Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation AFL-CIO
Occupation: Artist studio administrator; Sea Salt seasonal worker
Relevant Experience: Master’s in International Development Practice with concentration in Population Studies, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; former historic streetcar operator at the Chain of Lakes; board member and former treasurer, Lyndale Neighborhood Association; board member, Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing
Endorsements: Minneapolis DFL, Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, Take Action MN, Stonewall DFL, Minnesota Young DFL, State Sen. Scott Dibble (District 61), State Rep. Ilhan Omar (District 60B), State Rep. Frank Hornstein (District 61A), Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender, District 5 Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn
Neighborhood: West Calhoun
Occupation: Owner of a development company
Relevant Experience: Youth football and basketball coach, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board; fundraiser for youth programming in the parks; developer and general contractor of green building and energy projects
Endorsements: Minneapolis City Republican Committee
Occupation: Owner, organic landscaping firm Giving Tree Gardens
Relevant Experience: Co-chair, Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council; implementation team member, Park Board’s Urban Agriculture Activity Plan; facilitator in restorative justice programs; ecosystem and soil health educator
Endorsements: Minneapolis DFL, Take Action, Our Revolution, St Rep. Ilhan Omar (District 60B), Rep. Karen Clark (District 62A), Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson, Ward 9 Council Member Alondra Cano, Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon, District 5 Commissioner Brad Bourn, District 6 School Board Member Ira Jourdain, School Board President Rebecca Gagnon
Occupation: Civil engineer, ITCO Allied Engineering Co.
Relevant Experience: Attends City Council meetings; election judge
Endorsements: Minneapolis City Republican Committee
Occupation: Health policy and advocacy manager, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center
Relevant Experience: Board chair, Our Streets Minneapolis; co-chair, Minnesota Tobacco Free Alliance; program director, Neighborhood Bike Program; founder, Breathe Free North
Endorsements: Green Party, Women Winning, Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon, At-Large Park Board Commissioner Annie Young