Crime dominates Warehouse District/riverfront legislative race

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October 18, 2004 // UPDATED 4:22 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

In District 58B, Incumbent DFLer Keith Ellison faces Republican Jay Mastrud

Voters in legislative district 58B have a clear choice between incumbent DFL Rep. Keith Ellison and Republican challenger Jay Mastrud. They clash most passionately on crime and punishment.

The district includes the Warehouse District and the Downtown riverfront; it includes low-income neighborhoods on the near North Side, which has had many of the city's murders.

Both men agree crime is a major district issue, but they have very different solutions.

Mastrud supports state death penalty legislation. Ellison counts among last term's accomplishments defeating Gov. Tim Pawlenty's death penalty proposal.

Ellison has authored a bill prohibiting racial profiling and requiring police departments to collect data, he said. Mastrud said he, too, opposes racial profiling, but he does not believe it is a widespread problem and opposes mandatory data collection.

The exchange gets heated on the issue of criminal rehabilitation. Ellison has worked on legislation to restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole, similar to 16 other states, he said.

It drew a stinging critique on Mastrud's Web site: "While my opponent concerns himself with making sure rapists, murderers, child molesters, thieves and other ex-cons have their voting rights restored, I will focus on restitution, rehabilitation and reorganization of our penal system," it said.

Mastrud backed up the statement in an interview. "I am more worried about the victims," he said. "I am more worried about the community that was impacted by the criminal than I am worried about the criminal, per se."

Ellison said it's easy to demagogue crime issues, tougher to solve them.

His district has a disproportionate number of people coming back from prisons, he said. District residents have a very practical need to reintegrate ex-offenders and have them become productive rather than return to crime. Restoring voting rights is one piece of it.

"We have a right to sentence them, and we have a right to lock them up according to law -- but when they re-enter society, we cannot erect barrier after barrier so they recidivate," he said.

"We want to draw people back into society. We want to tell people: 'Society has something for you if you are willing to go by the laws of society. We are not going to hold you out and keep you out of participating.'"

Another solution to the crime problem hinges on restoring state Local Government Aid (LGA) cuts, Ellison said. (The city is receiving $37 million less LGA in 2005 than the original 2003 projections.) If the city had the money, it could hire more police, he said.

The Legislature cut LGA to balance the state budget.

Mastrud said he is skeptical of the city's police cuts. He believes the city cut public safety as "a straw man" to generate press attention and build public sympathy for increased spending.

Quick takes

Ellison, an attorney and a father of four, is finishing his first term at the Legislature. He counts as his achievements getting a few bills passed, including one to evaluate parent involvement efforts in schools.

He also helped organize EJAM, the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, a group that pushed for the conversion of Xcel's Riverside coal-burning power plant to natural gas, now set for 2009. He said he wanted to continue to work on air-quality issues and incentives for property owners to reduce lead paint exposure.

Mastrud, a field service representative for a hardware and network company, is the father of one. He said he has diverse work experience, including working: on docks and loadingsemis, as a security officer and in Marshall Fields retail, performing electronics assembly and calibration, and delivering Wall Street Journals.

He served five years active duty in the Navy, including a stint on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy as an electronics technician during the first Gulf War. He participated in the first air strike on Baghdad, he said.

He would advocate a greater emphasis in schools for the vocational arts -- vocational electronics, machine shop, woodworking, graphic arts and graphic design, he said.

Pick a topic and chances are good the two candidates disagree.

Jobs: Both men want to increase jobs in the district. Ellison said passing the bonding bill is a good start, creating construction jobs. Mastrud proposed less regulation, lower taxes and a state sales-tax holiday for businesses that relocated in economically troubled neighborhoods -- allowing businesses to collect the sales tax and keep it.

Abortion: Ellison is pro-choice. Mastrud said abortions should be an option only in cases of rape, incest or if three doctors agree the mother's life is at risk.

Red-light cameras: Mastrud criticizes the City Council's vote to approve red-light cameras to catch traffic scofflaws. If elected, he would work to override it. Ellison said he thinks people ought to drive safely and didn't have a big problem with the red-light cameras.

Smoking ban: Mastrud also opposes the recently passed city smoking ban in bars and restaurants, which goes into effect next year. If elected, he would offer legislation to keep Minneapolis from getting any revenue from cigarettes, he said.

(The idea is ill-defined. The city does not get money directly from the 48-cents-per-pack state cigarette tax. The city does impose a .5 percent sales tax.)

Ellison said he supported the smoking ban, calling it a public health issue for people who work in bars.

Environment: Ellison's legislative agenda includes looking for ways to reduce auto emissions. He referred to a proposal by Rep. Frank Hornstein to give people tax breaks for driving hybrid cars.

"That is something I like," he said. "Asthma is a huge deal for kids missing school and adults missing work. It is a serious health threat. I will look for ways to impact that."

Mastrud posted a few environmental issues on his Web site, including tax breaks for solar, geothermal and fuel-cell technologies. In an interview, he supported the return of streetcars.

He also criticized the Minneapolis City Council vote against the I-35W/Crosstown fix. (The city vote was an effort to put pressure on the state for a dedicated bus rapid transit lane with a network of stations between Downtown and the Crosstown). Mastrud said he would support converting high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into express lanes for general traffic to relieve congestion.

Mastrud faces long odds. In the 2002 election, Ellison received 5,714 votes, or 67 percent. Republican Larissa Presho was the nearest competitor with 1,212 votes, or 14 percent.