The Northeast incumbent faces two challengers in the Ward 1 race
Eight years after he left a program director job in Northeast Minneapolis for City Hall, Council Member Kevin Reich still says he’s a “project director at heart.”
It’s a leadership style that has him not out front on hot-button issues like minimum wage, but in the middle of debate between Ward 1 residents and stakeholders. Even his role as chair of the City Council’s Transportation & Public Works Committee has him overseeing the basic services that keep the city functioning.
Now seeking a third term, the Windom Park resident wants more time to realize his work in housing, environmental advocacy and transportation.
“I’m very much an implementer. I get things done,” he said.
Reich’s less flashy approach to representing Northeast on the 13-member council sets him apart from challengers Jillia Pessenda, a Democrat who has worked on the advocacy side to pass same-sex marriage, anti-bullying and foreclosure legislation, and John Hayden, an independent candidate who is calling for a legal audit of the city’s spending on U.S. Bank Stadium.
With Pessenda in the race to represent much of the city’s East Side, Reich failed to win the DFL endorsement earlier this year. Zachary Wefel, another Ward 1 candidate who ran for the nomination, dropped out after the convention.
Pessenda championed a $15 minimum wage ordinance when she announced her candidacy late last year while Reich, who ultimately supported the ordinance, was still out on how the city would implement a higher wage. As a representative, he said talking with community members and business owners and weighing the plurality of opinions was a vital part of the process. Reich said he helped to bake-in an analysis piece to the ordinance and the staff direction around it to better assess the effects of a higher wage.
“I didn’t want to get ahead of it. I wanted to make sure people were heard, that things were accommodated. … It’s not the what. It’s the how,” he said. “There’s a role to play for the implementer types. There’s a role for the kind who listen to all sides. They’re called elected officials.”
One of the most pressing issues for City Council candidates this election season has been a lack of housing, especially affordable housing, across the city. It’s an issue that Reich says has him in his element.
Since joining the City Council in 2009, Reich has worked on affordable developments like artist housing project Jackson Flats, Audubon Crossing and supportive HIV/AIDS housing from Clare Housing dubbed Marshall Flats, among other projects.
The next in the pipeline is the Hook and Ladder Apartments, a 118-unit workforce housing complex consisting of one building complying with Green Communities requirements and another with Passive House certification proposed between Jefferson and Washington streets. The project could be the first of its kind in the country, he added.
Reich said his eight years as a council member and eight years with a neighborhood organization have made him a known player in the competitive affordable housing industry. With recent projects, he said he’s been the one to find appropriate sites, bring in partners and make deals.
“I didn’t wait around for affordable housing projects to come my way. … You’ve got to be proactive on housing in this neck of the woods,” he said.
Both Reich and Pessenda support cooperative models for affordable housing. Pessenda has also made tenant rights, such as a just cause eviction protection, part of her platform.
“While there have been good projects in the ward, we’re not going to solve this project one at a time,” she said.
The City of Minneapolis recently began moving forward with a plan for a new Northeast maintenance facility in the Holland neighborhood that would displace about 14 units of housing. Hayden criticized the plan, saying it would destroy naturally occurring affordable housing — units that have aged into lower rents — during a housing crisis. Pessenda, also critical of the facility plan, said she would advocate for a net-zero-loss policy when it comes to affordable units.
“What we have right now is an immediate need,” Hayden said.
Reich defended the project, which would consolidate Public Works facilities across the city into a roughly 5.5-acre site near several industrial uses, saying it will clear up other, more desirable city properties for more housing, possibly fives time more than what would be displaced.
While Northeast Minneapolis isn’t known for its riverfront like other areas of the city, Reich said making connections to the river has been one of his priorities.
He played a role in orchestrating a “green campus” model at Thomas Edison High School that saw the development of a stormwater re-use system, solar canopy, community garden and related green curriculum.
The river also plays a central role in the Great Northern Greenway, a proposed bicycle connection between North and Northeast Minneapolis that Reich has worked on before he joined the City Council.
Reich has also helped to secure property for RiverFirst, a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board initiative that includes several proposed destination parks and trails spanning the upper riverfront.
“Everything that we do is laying the groundwork for massive change, ” he said.