Q&A with the candidates running for Dorfman's seat

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January 24, 2014 // UPDATED 5:32 pm - January 28, 2014
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Five candidates are seeking the DFL endorsement to replace Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman who is leaving her post early March to take a job as executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services.

A special election will be held May 13, and a primary April 29 if needed, for the 3rd District County Commissioner seat since Dorfman is leaving her job several months before her term ends. 

The 3rd District includes St. Louis Park and Minneapolis neighborhoods in southwest and downtown. 

We checked in with the five candidates running for her seat to see how they compare in terms of top priorities and views on the proposed Southwest LRT line — an embattled project that will be a key focal point for the commissioner elected to replace Dorfman.

Here are the candidates’ edited responses to questions asking what makes them the ideal candidate for the job and thoughts on what should happen with Southwest LRT.

Precinct caucuses are on Tuesday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. Caucuses are the first chance for parties to start the candidate-endorsing process.

 

Marion Greene

Resume highlights: former state representative (60A); health policy analyst for St. Jude Medical

Top priorities: make county government more visible and connected to the community; invest in early childhood education; and strengthen county’s medical system to ensure its long-term sustainability

Website: mariongreene.org

SWJ: What makes you the strongest candidate in the field?

Legislative experience: The breadth and complexity of topics, interactions and partnerships that I experienced as a legislator is immediately relevant to the breadth and complexity of topics, interactions and partnerships that are part of the work of a successful county commissioner. I authored, introduced, and advocated for progressive legislation at the Capitol. Some has become law. In addition, I was known for maintaining exemplary constituent service.

Health care finance expertise: Mike Opat, President of the County Board, told the StarTribune recently that the financial situation at Hennepin County Medical Center will be a major focus for the board in the immediate future. My work for the last 10 years in health care finance (as well as my MBA) are directly relevant, and I will be an asset to the County in addressing the issue.

Independence and working relationships: I enjoyed collaborating with Commissioner Gail Dorfman and the other commissioners while I was at the Legislature, but I am also one of the few candidates not to have the county on my own resume. This gives me both fresh perspective and existing working relationships.

What do you think is the ideal plan for the SW LRT line?

I look forward to the release on Jan. 31 of the three SW LRT studies which examine freight-rail alternatives, and hydrology and vegetation impacts of shallow LRT tunnels. The ideal plan for the SW LRT line is one that can safeguard important local and regional assets (e.g., St. Louis Park High School, and the Chain of Lakes). This would lay the groundwork for securing municipal consent from both St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, which would show increased regional commitment to multimodal transit. 

 

Katie Hatt

Resume highlights: research consultant for the DFL Caucus of the Minnesota House of Representatives; former policy aide for Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin

Top priorities: Creating supportive, sustainable communities through better transportation options; investments in affordable housing; and an expansion of the countywide recycling program to focus on greater participation by renters and multi-family buildings.

Website: katiehatt.org

What makes you the strongest candidate in the field?

My mix of grassroots and County experience and policy expertise make me the best choice for District 3 Commissioner.

I love counties and I know Hennepin County.  I served for four and a half years as a Hennepin County Commissioner’s Principal Aide, where I gained ideal training in developing budgets, enacting forward-thinking transportation, environmental, housing and human services policies, navigating county government to help constituents connect to supports and negotiating complex project agreements.  With a likely special election this spring, I will be a knowledgeable and effective leader from Day One, ready to take on many important and time-sensitive issues, including the 2015 budget process and Southwest LRT.

I am an expert in transportation and housing.  I helped develop the joint powers agreement that created the Counties Transit Improvement Board to fund transit on a stable, regional basis.  I served as the Housing Policy Analyst for the Metropolitan Council, where I launched the process to create the Council’s first Regional Housing Policy Plan in 30 years and led the Fair Housing Equity Assessment. I have administered grants to clean up polluted land for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. I currently work for the DFL Caucus of the Minnesota House of Representatives as the lead caucus research staff on transportation and housing.

I have demonstrated success at building partnerships and forging coalitions to get things done. I began as a neighborhood leader, helping the Whittier, Elliot Park and Longfellow neighborhoods improve the quality of life in their communities and leading the state’s first Community Benefits Agreement between a neighborhood and a private developer. I was founding co-chair of the Bike-Walk Advisory Committee that directed the hugely successful federal grant to build bikeways in our region, and helped lead the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition during a time of amazing growth. I serve as an Advisory Board Member of the Cedar-Riverside Youth Council.

What do you think is the ideal plan for the SW LRT line?

We need a modern transit system to remain competitive as a region.  And we need a transit system that enhances, rather than detracts from, our communities.

I will preserve and protect the Kenilworth Trail and our Chain of Lakes, while ensuring that we make the necessary investments in transit. I believe that the best plan for the Southwest line would reroute freight rail off of the Kenilworth corridor. I do not believe that the private rail company’s ‘wish list’ is reasonable, and it would create unnecessary impacts on neighborhoods in St. Louis Park.

We also need to create the right transit connections to and from the line to expand access for Minneapolis residents in neighborhoods to the north and east of the corridor. We need to think about Southwest — and all LRT projects — as part of a network, not as standalone projects. For example, the Midtown Corridor Analysis shows great promise for connecting the Southwest LRT to the Hiawatha Blue Line via modern streetcar along the Midtown Greenway and enhanced bus service on Lake Street.

I am the only candidate in this race who has worked in the trenches to make a contentious light rail project a success. I participated in extended, complex, and difficult negotiations between the University of Minnesota, the Metropolitan Council, Ramsey County, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis regarding the placement and mitigation of the Central Corridor LRT line through the University campus. Working together we reached a resolution that will allow the new Green Line to open this year.

To build a fully functional transit network, we need a sufficient dedicated funding source for transit. Building on my deep connections to DFL leadership at the Legislature, I will be a fierce and effective advocate at the legislature for the “Move MN” bill, and for transit funding in general.

 

Ken Kelash

Resume highlights: two terms as state senator; union carpenter

Top priorities: prepare for population growth in the county; maintain infrastructure and cultural amenities while investing in better transportation; promote transit-oriented development and increase green space

Website: kenkelash.com

What makes you the strongest candidate in the field?

My background and experience make me the strongest candidate for County Commissioner.  With four years in the State Senate, 10 years on the Minneapolis Workforce Investment Board (WIB), two years on the Hennepin County Workforce investment Board, 15 years on the Neighborhood Revitalization Policy Board (NRP) and many years serving on a variety of civic committees, I have a store of knowledge and experience to bring to the Board. 

In the Senate I served on the Transportation, Economic Development, and Environment and Natural Resources Committees, working on transit-oriented development. Some of the bills I authored included a plan to attack aquatic invasive species, lead abatement training, ensuring that folks deemed by the courts to be ineligible to carry a gun be added to the National Criminal Background check data base.  As Chair of the Senate Sub-Committee on Housing I held hearings on homeless youth and affordable housing issues.  I know the issues facing Hennepin County.

My work history includes 37 years as a member of the Carpenters’ Union of which 14 years were spent as a Business Representative.  I’ve spent my entire life in South Minneapolis.  Went to De La Salle High School, and got a BA from Metro State.  The Bush Foundation recognized my leadership role in both labor and public service and awarded me a Leadership Fellowship which I used to earn a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

What do you think is the ideal plan for SW LRT line?

Unfortunately, there is no ideal plan for light rail.  If there were, there wouldn’t be any controversy about it; the Met Council would take that ideal plan.

The decision about the where and how of the SW LRT line is in the hands of the Met Council.  The best plan will provide necessary services for the largest number of people while inconveniencing the smallest number of residents.  Upon completion, the LRT will be a County asset that improves property values along most of the line in most places. We have already seen that happen along the Hiawatha route.

 

Anne Mavity

 

Resume highlights: St. Louis Park City Council Member; former congressional aide

Top priorities: Creating affordable housing and ending homelessness; creating a regional transit system and expanding connectivity; and fostering environmental stewardship and sustainable, healthy communities.

Website: annemavity.org

What makes you the strongest candidate in the field?

Having lived and worked in Minneapolis for more than 20 years and in St. Louis Park for 16 years, I am passionate about being an advocate for the entire district. Further, I have a track record of delivering results. I understand how to effectively navigate our complex systems in order to get government to work better on behalf of all people.

My expertise is drawn from a career in helping people engage in the issues that impact their lives: from neighborhood organizing in Minneapolis to international development work in Russia; to City Council leadership in St. Louis Park.  I have taken these skills and put them to work for our community, including:

Provided leadership in public policy and financing strategies to create thousands of supportive housing opportunities to end homelessness and leverage cost savings.

Lead the creation of city-wide, curbside organics recycling in St. Louis Park.

Served as a Housing Transition Team Advisor for President-elect Bill Clinton, and for Mayor-elect R.T. Rybak.

Managed more than $50 million in U.S. government grants for local government reform and democratic initiatives in Russia, as Chief of the Unit on Civil Society for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Throughout my life, I have dedicated my personal time and my professional career to helping empower people to have a voice in their own community. I ask for your support to continue and expand on this record of success and foster an engaged and prosperous future in Hennepin county.

What do you think is the ideal plan for the SW LRT line?

One of the challenges of the SW LRT project is the lack of confidence in the process itself. With a background in neighborhood organizing, and a lifetime spent creating opportunities for people to have a voice in issues that impact their lives, I know that ensuring transparency, accountability and authentic community engagement will be critical to the ongoing success of this project, and to restoring confidence in future projects.

I’ve been on the front lines advocating for SW LRT because I understand its importance as a platform for jobs, growth and the ability for the region to expand economic equity for all residents. I will utilize my expertise in development and as a local government leader to ensure that we maximize the investment potential along the corridor.

I respect the vote made more than four years ago by all five affected municipalities to run the SW LRT in the current Kenilworth alignment.  However, protecting our Chain of Lakes is also a critical factor in this project.  I will be looking forward to the Met Council’s and Minneapolis Park Board’s studies on this issue, to ensure that the design of SW LRT does not negatively impact our waterways.  

While I initially voted to re-route freight trains through St. Louis Park, I have been open-minded in reviewing all the options for dealing with freight.   Data and research by the Met Council has demonstrated to me that these proposed re-routes are not viable options, either because of the grades and curves or the considerable costs and community impacts.

I am committed to creating SW LRT as a critical component of building a regional transit system.  With a commitment to getting this project done, I am confident that we can find solutions that work for our community and the region.  

 

Ben Schweigert

Resume highlights: Hennepin County prosecutor; former clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit; former associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell law firm in New York City

Top priorities: encourage livable neighborhoods; invest in transportation improvements; fight for living wages and opportunities for all; invest in affordable housing; forge strong partnerships to keep communities safe

Website: benforhennepin.org 

What makes you the strongest candidate in the field? 

I am a lifelong DFLer and a lifelong progressive.  I work in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, where I prosecute white-collar crime, including mortgage fraud, identity theft, and public corruption.  I also serve as the Office’s legislative liaison, working to enact sensible gun laws and expand voting rights.  I am on the executive board of my union local.  Throughout my career, I have fought for people, especially those who need an advocate.

I am also a person who gets excited about serious public policy. I love analyzing data and studying the details of a problem. It’s this passion that prompted me to become a policy fellow at Minnesota 2020. This kind of detailed study is what I do every day in my work as a lawyer, as well.  I analyze challenging problems, often involving mountains of information about complex financial transactions, and I work with other people to create solutions.

And I love this community.  Every day I bike or bus from my neighborhood to my job at the County Attorney’s Office.  I’m involved in the Redevelopment Committee of my neighborhood association.  My wife and I are members of our community garden. We know that we are lucky to live in a vibrant community where people are engaged and care about the future.  

I will bring a relentless energy and progressive vision to the challenges ahead that will shape our future. I’ve never run for office before. I have no grudges, no debts, and no rivalries.  I’m ready to be forward-looking, to forge new partnerships with the City of Minneapolis, the City of Saint Louis Park, and other units of government to take on our shared challenges. I want a Hennepin County that is optimistic enough to take on these challenges and strong enough to succeed.

What do you think is the ideal plan for the SW LRT line?

I strongly support the light rail system. I want to see it expand and I want to see it succeed.  The ideal plan for the Southwest LRT line is one with strong ridership that helps people use their cars less.  This will mean smart planning around all of the new stations on the line. Communities should be able to connect easily with the stations, on foot and by bicycle. The county should work to facilitate development around the stations, working closely with the cities along the line to achieve this goal.

The most controversial short-term question, of course, is the question of how to accommodate light rail in the Kenilworth corridor. The opportunity to study the complications of the current plan is important. I’m glad that we’re taking a serious look on the impact that any plan will have on the lakes, which are a priceless treasure.  I’m also glad that alternative freight routes are being studied. When the Met Council meets to look at these studies, I have every expectation that they will take seriously the results of these studies and make an informed decision about how to proceed.

My intention, at the moment that I become commissioner, is to be forward looking, focusing on the questions ahead rather than revisiting decisions already made. I might not have made all of the same decisions at every point in the planning process of the Southwest line, and some of the decisions disappointed me.  But I remain committed to the line’s success. As we begin planning the Bottineau line and other infrastructure projects, I am committed to learning lessons from the Southwest planning process, applying them, and solving the challenges of the future to make sure that light rail continues to succeed in our region.

FYI …

— The League of Women Voters of Minneapolis is moderating a forum with the candidates Jan. 30, 7:30–9 p.m., at SpringHouse Ministry, 610 W. 28th St.

— Precinct caucuses are Tuesday, Feb. 4. For more information about caucuses and to find locations, click here.