Minneapolis Mayoral Candidates Address Native Issues
Monday, November 04 2013
Written by Alfred Walking Bull,
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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.

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