Four candidates for the 7th Ward City Council seat weighed in on issues Sept. 28 ranging from affordable housing and bike lanes to Southwest LRT.
Candidate Janne Flisrand emphasized citywide equity, incumbent Lisa Goodman highlighted her 20 years of experience on the Council, Joe Kovacs pressed to stop raising taxes, and Teqen Zéa-Aida highlighted his diverse community connections.
Flisrand co-founded Our Streets MPLS (previously called the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition), works as a consultant, and writes and serves as a board member for streets.mn. She said the City of Minneapolis works for many in the five lakes area, but it’s leaving many groups behind. She highlighted her door-knocking time spent at downtown apartment buildings, meeting people whose rent has climbed.
“The job is to represent everyone who lives in the ward. … It’s critical to go that extra mile and do that door-knocking above and beyond simply hosting events where people can come to you,” she said.
The comment was one of a handful of jabs at Goodman throughout the evening. Goodman recently became the subject of national attention for handing her chewed gum to Zéa-Aida prior to a candidate forum. She later apologized and said it was an attempt at humor and not meant to be disrespectful.
Goodman, first elected to the Council in 1997, is running for a sixth term. She initially moved to Minneapolis to work for Paul Wellstone. She ran unopposed for the Council seat in 2013, took 68 percent of the vote in 2009, and more than 80 percent of the vote in two prior elections.
“The issues that I hear the most about when I’m at neighborhood meetings, knocking on doors, or people calling in to my office has to do mainly with the great debate about density,” Goodman said. “There seems to be a growing disagreement in our community broadly defined about how to handle the thousands of people that are going to come here, and we want them to come here and to allow our city to grow. I think we need to figure out … how and where density is good, and work with developers to make that happen.”
As an example, she highlighted the Bryn Mawr neighborhood’s “small area plan” that points to spots ideal for more density, such as the Penn Avenue LRT stop.
Kovacs, a Republican, works as a training specialist at a software company. He highlighted his experience as resident manager at the Ronald McDonald House of the Red River Valley. He said the biggest issues facing the ward include public safety and the impact of the $15 minimum wage on small businesses and restaurants in particular.
Zéa-Aida co-founded a modeling agency and opened a gallery, and he highlighted his identity as a person of color, small business owner and contributor to the arts. He said he decided to run for office after learning as a caucus delegate that most of the prevailing ideas didn’t resonate with him.
“Many of the issues facing the City of Minneapolis face people who look like me,” Zéa-Aida said. “…I am the only candidate that can effortlessly walk all precincts of Ward 7. I am the only candidate that can go where potentially, possibly many in this room would not really want to go. But we’ve got to go there if we want to fix some of these problems.”
Neighborhood groups hosted the forum at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Taking questions from the audience, a moderator from the League of Women Voters said she received a “pile of questions” related to bike lanes, particularly the new bikeways on 26th and 28th streets.
— Zéa-Aida advocated for a balanced approach to bike lanes where no group takes precedence over another.
— Kovacs said he favors bike lines, but said “I think we might be good for a little while.”
“Making traffic so bad that people are forced to bike is not a good strategy, in my opinion,” he said.
— Goodman said that while she’s not a bike commuter, she worked to fund the Cedar Lake Trail extension to the river and slow traffic through the revamp of Hennepin and 1st avenues downtown. She said that while she appreciates the importance of bike lanes, there needs to be balance.
“I don’t believe that we should be using bike lanes as a way to get people out of their cars,” she said.
“It puts the most vulnerable people on our streets first, because we have killed almost 140 people on our streets in the last few years,” she said.
A question on Southwest light rail generated critical comments from all of the candidates.
— Kovacs said he’s generally supportive of building light rail, but it’s clear from door-knocking that no one wants the proposed rail line from Eden Prairie to run between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles en route to downtown.
“It could be far better utilized in a higher-density area,” he said.
— Flisrand said she advocated for the train to run along the Midtown Greenway and Nicollet Avenue, and said the City Council should have advocated harder to change the alignment.
“We now have a train that everybody wants in a place nobody wants it,” she said.
— Goodman said she advocated vigorously for an Uptown alignment. City officials eventually provided municipal consent for a design that co-locates freight and light rail tracks (Goodman voted against municipal consent), and the city secured $30 million to re-forest the corridor and help protect the lakes.
“It certainly will not deal with the environmental degradation, the risk of dewatering the lakes that we will see, but it’s a start,” she said.
— Zéa-Aida said that if legally possible, the city should explore terminating the light rail contract. Rail shouldn’t come at the expense of the lakes, he said.
“There are other ways that we can tackle our transportation needs,” he said.
Another question asked for solutions to the affordable housing crisis, and questioned how council members should handle neighborhood opposition to new projects.
— Goodman said she wants to approve more market-rate and affordable housing and stabilize naturally-occurring affordable housing, perhaps by offering lower property taxes to landlords who keep rents rate down. She noted that Rita’s House, a new housing project for youth at risk of homelessness, is opening through an ordinance she co-authored that allows more unrelated people to live together. She highlighted her support for the controversial Lydia Apartments in her first term.
“When there is conflict between neighborhoods, I step in and work with the neighbors who have concerns…” she said.
— Flisrand said that as part of the Minneapolis Energy Vision Advisory Committee she proposed a new policy that uses utility programs, city funding and property tax relief to preserve existing affordable housing. She said she supports a project proposed near Hennepin & Franklin that would house youth aging out of foster care.
“I do think that a critical role of our council member when there is a controversial project is to step out and explain the values of the city, the values of the council member, and be transparent about that,” she said.
— Zéa-Aida said the city needs to see more affordable housing proposed each year, and leaders should talk about rent stabilization and rent control. As someone who is adopted, Zéa-Aida said he also supports the aforementioned youth housing project. Developers should be held accountable to build what they propose, he said.
— Kovacs said taxes should not increase to pay for affordable housing. Instead, he proposed divesting some of Minneapolis’ assets to put new funding toward affordable housing. If neighborhoods are adamantly opposed to a project, it’s the council member’s role to find a compromise but ultimately represent the people, he said.
All of the candidates spoke about a need to further reform the police department.
— “We must have a shift in culture in the police department,” Flisrand said.
— Zéa-Aida said disengagement and lack of jobs contribute to crime levels, and he said the department must confront systemic racism.
“If we have no tolerance for crime, we also must [have] a no-tolerance policy for bigotry and racism inside the force,” he said.
— Goodman emphasized community policing, saying new officers should focus on solving problems rather than “commanding the community.”
— Kovacs said that in addition to community policing, the city needs to incentivize officers to live in the area they serve.
In a lightning round asking what each candidate was reading, Flisrand said she’s reading science fiction, Goodman said she’s reading a book by Al Franken, Kovacs said he’s reading a “fantastically boring” behavioral economics book, and Zéa-Aida said he reads architectural magazines.
The forum was sponsored by the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association, Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association, East Isles Residents Association, Kenwood Isles Area Association and Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association.