Six new faces, three incumbents elected to Park Board

Updated: November 15, 2017 - 10:57 am

Voters elected a swath of fresh faces to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Only three incumbents — At-large Commissioner Meg Forney, District 5 Commissioner Steffanie Musich and District 6’s Brad Bourn — will return to the nine-member board next year.

In District 1, which includes all of Minneapolis east of the Mississippi River, Northeast and Southeast residents elected DFL-endorsed candidate Chris Meyer over Mohamed Barre and Green Party-endorsed candidate Billy Menz. Commissioner Liz Wielinski will vacate her seat after two terms, including several years as president of the board.

Kale Severson was elected to represent the North Side in District 2, which stretches to include the North Loop neighborhood. Severson beat out longtime coach Mike Tate to replace Jon Olson, a four-term commissioner whose father also served on the board. Severson, a DFL-nominated candidate, once ran as a Green candidate for a spot on the City Council.

The race in District 3, a triangle-shaped district that includes the Cedar-Riverside, Powderhorn Park and Longfellow neighborhoods, has been close since AK Hassan and Abdi “Gurhan” Mohamed both failed to win the DFL nomination. Hassan was elected over Mohamed and Green candidate Charles Exner.

Jono Cowgill narrowly defeated Tom Nordyke, a former Park Board president, to represent some of the most-visited park areas in the city, including the downtown Minneapolis riverfront and the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park. Cowgill, an urban planner, is a member of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association.

District 5 Commissioner Steffanie Musich easily won a second term leading the southeastern corner of the city, which includes Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha and Hiawatha Golf Course. Musich, who won the DFL nomination, was challenged by Bill Shroyer and Andrea Fahrenkrug.

Commissioner Brad Bourn was elected to a third term on the board, besting Bob Fine, who previously served four terms as a parks commissioner. Bourn won in the first round of voting with about 600 votes more than Fine’s roughly 7,500 votes. Republican candidate Jennifer Zielinski and independent Bob Schlosser also sought the District 6 seat.

Voters elected incumbent Meg Forney and two newcomers, Londel French and LaTrisha Vetaw, to the three citywide seats on the board.

Forney did not abide by the DFL nomination and continued to run after French, Russ Henry and Devin Hogan received the party’s support.

Vetaw garnered the most overall support from voters, capturing nearly 23,000 votes after four rounds of tabulation. Forney, just a few hundred votes behind, was the other clear favorite, with about 22,500 votes.

French was elected after four rounds of tabulation with nearly 18,000 votes, blocking candidate Mike Derus, who received the support of a number current commissioners and City Council members, from winning a seat.

A group of younger, more racially diverse candidates led many Park Board races this year thanks in part to  Our Revolution, a group dedicated to the platform of former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders; local chapters supported several candidates who won the DFL nomination.

“Minneapolitans also sent a clear message that they want our parks to play larger and different roles in uplifting people’s lives and ensuring that everyone, regardless of the zip code they live in, the gender they identify as, the color of their skin, or the language they speak have the same access to world class parks and programs,” Bourn said on Facebook. “I believe this new board is up to all of these tasks and more.”

The new board will take up several large projects left by current park commissioners. Wielinski and other commissioners were behind the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan, a long-term funding plan that will pay for neighborhood park maintenance and repair over the next two decades. A new equity matrix developed by park staff is designed to direct funding to areas in the city facing racially concentrated areas of poverty and those that have been traditionally overlooked in the past.

The Park Board has begun work on Water Works, a destination park site along the downtown Minneapolis riverfront that will be realized over the next six years. In November, the board began work to restore Hall’s Island in Northeast Minneapolis. So far, the board has only planned and funded a first phase of the project, which will need further phases to bring pedestrian bridges, an observation platform and other improvements to the island just north of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.