Minneapolis Mayoral Candidates Address Native Issues

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mpls mayoral candidates address native issues.jpgThe Native American Community

Development Institute sought to engage Native American voters in the

city’s mayoral race with its inaugural Minneapolis American Indian

Mayoral Forum on Oct. 17 hosted at All My Relations Gallery.

Candidates for the city’s highest

office included Jackie Cherryhomes, Dan Cohen, Bob Fine, Betsy

Hodges, Don Samuels, Cam Winton and Stephanie Woodruff. Noticeably

absent was Mark Andrew, who sent a representative from his campaign

to read a prepared statement. In his place, event organizers allowed

Merrill Anderson to take part in the forum, a first according to the

candidate.

Opening statements staked out the

positions of most of the candidates on issues, from qualifications

for office to personal stories and broader visions for the city’s

future.

Cherryhomes said her goal was, “to

build one city that treats us with respect and dignity.” Citing

affordable housing and employment disparities in the African American

and Native communities, she described her campaign for mayor as a

race to leave the city a better place for her daughter and that she

would, “look at everything through the eyes of justice and

equality.”

Fine characterized his involvement in

government as a strong point in his candidacy, serving 16 years on

the Minneapolis Parks Commission, two years on the zoning board and

as the longest-serving civil rights commissioner. He also said he

wanted to see city government streamlined, audits and attracting more

business.

Hodges took a more

tempered approach to her candidacy as a member of the city council.

“We have weathered tough times. We’ve invested in the common good.

And if we’re going to be the greatest city, we have to overcome the

achievement gap.”

Samuels gave his personal story as

evidence of his solidarity with Native issues. “I’m a Jamaican

immigrant. When I came to this country, I had $83 in my pocket, I

know what it means to struggle. I’ve been working against the grain

at every step of my life. I was born in the margins and I have

struggled in the margins.”

Winton cited his status as a home owner

and businessman, coming from the outside of government as his

qualifications for office. As the founder of Outland Energy Services,

a company that maintains wind turbines, he said that when his company

was sold, he was proud of the fact that his employees were able to

keep their jobs.

Woodruff laid claim to the title of

underdog, “I know what it’s like to be an underdog, fighting for

civil rights. I’ve never run for office before. I jumped in because I

didn’t like what I saw. I want to see Minneapolis be the smartest

city and open up government.”

Questions from the audience were

pre-selected and addressed a number of topics, among the foremost,

the issue of Indian gaming. When asked by Bill Means on where they

stood on the issue of gaming being opened up to non-tribal entities,

the majority of the candidates deferred to the standing arrangement

between the tribes and the state. Hodges saying, “There is no

gaming without the tribes,” Cherryhomes commenting, “Gaming is

the purview of the tribes” and Samuels simply responding, “We

need to keep the promises we made.”

Woodruff took a middle road, saying

that if elected, she would appoint an expert on the issue and take

public input. Cohen, whose campaign billboards include the single

issue of a downtown casino, said it would need to be a collaboration

between the city and the Native community. “One casino doesn’t

solve the problem, we need Indian participation as owners and as

employees.”

The lone dissenter was Winton, who

characterized tribal gaming as a monopoly, however deserved. “The

Native American monopoly on gaming is to address the historical

tragedy. But it’s my hope that within a generation or two, we can see

those historical wrongs in the rear view mirror.”

Community member Ashley Fairbanks posed

the question as to whether candidates would support replacing

Columbus Day with an Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Winton was again in dissent, saying,

“I’m not a fan of Columbus Day or creating a new holiday. Society

is becoming too fragmented, let’s create a Strong Families Day or

Involved Fathers Day.” Cherryhomes disagreed by explaining how her

father had raised her, “My father was a historian, I grew up in a

household where we took learning seriously, so I have no problem

celebrating difference and learning from other cultures.”

Fine, Hodges, Samuels and Woodruff

expressed similar sentiments toward supporting a Native-specific

holiday. Cohen expressed his desire for children to read “A

People’s History of the United States” to understand colonization

saying, “We need to get our kids educated how it happened and why

it happened.” Adding to the color, Anderson said simply, “I’m all

for kicking Spain’s exported hero to the curb.”

The topic of supporting urban

agriculture was raised for the candidates and included an array of

answers, generally in agreement with the practice. “We need to use

urban agriculture as a tool to feed people. My dad started farming in

the Phillips neighborhood with a group of Native women,”

Cherryhomes said. “I promised my dad that I’d figure our how to get

those lots free for urban agriculture.”

Winton took a more detailed approach,

saying that policing water usage was necessary but that he would like

to bring community stakeholders together and implement plans for the

distribution of water trucks, fertilizer, animals and addressing

overly-restrictive policies.

Woodruff took to her roots, growing up

in an Iowa farm. “We ate really well on the farm. We lived off

mom’s canned goods. I want to give away vacant lots for one dollar so

we can start feeding our communities and start pulling us up out of

poverty.”

Both Hodges and Anderson also agreed

with the need to foster urban farming in city limits. Anderson

saying, “I’m the only one here who remembers victory gardens and

it’s a great idea to put the old ideas into play and repeat the

victory.”

Fine made himself at home in the issue.

“I’m the only candidate here who is a true urban farmer, I have

three hens, chickens and collect eggs. I take care of my chickens.”

In the arena of educational reform

efforts, the candidates shared their diverse opinions on how to

address the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students.

“We will not be one city with the

education disparity. The mayor needs to take the lead with housing

for families and education that’s culturally-specific,” Cherryhomes

said.

Hodges took a historic route to explain

her plan. “We have a history of boarding schools that keeps people

from trusting. Housing has huge impact on achievements … we need to

make sure we can stabilize families and communities.”

Cohen believed that positive role

modeling beginning in the family could be one step in addressing the

gap. Winton took an economically-driven approach, “The difference

is my perspective. We are not going to achieve our goals by creating

another program. We cut red tape and make private sector jobs

available.”

Woodruff reiterated a campaign pledge

that if elected, she would defer her salary to fund learning labs,

saying, “this issue demands bold leadership.”

Eighth Ward City Council Representative

and NACDI Chair Robert Lilligren implored voters to take this

election seriously. “There’s a lot at stake for our community. It

will matter who the mayor is. I thank the community for turning out

like this. It matters to us who is the mayor of Minneapolis. You will

be more-informed voters than other people because you’re here

tonight. Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your neighbors why

they need to make voting a tradition. There’s a lot at stake.”

The Minneapolis mayoral election will

be Tuesday, Nov. 5. For more information on candidates, polling

locations or a sample ballot, visit vote.minneapolismn.gov.