One of the season’s first genuinely nice days marked the Democratic Convention for the Third Ward city council election. Some 267 delegates and a conglomeration of viewers gathered inside De La Salle High School on Saturday, May 6 to endorse a DFL council candidate. The convention convened at 11 a.m., and began slowly as they all do. Most of the mid-day itinerary revolved around hearing campaign proposals and speeches from other local politicians ranging from Park Board to Governor candidates seeking DFL endorsement. Third Ward business started getting underway around 1:30 p.m.
The two candidates seeking DFL endorsement, Steve Fletcher and Cordelia Pierson were each given 10 minutes to speak before a Q and A session. Fletcher spoke first.
“I’m running, first and foremost, out of love for the community I call home,” he said.
Fletcher spoke on raising the minimum wage, bringing down the cost of housing, and bringing down the cost of car ownership. He emphasized a need for better de-escalation training in the police force, and for more consideration for racial equity.
“There’s an increasing disconnect between people who feel safer when the police are near, and those who do not. We need to make sure no decisions are made without considering their racial equity first,” he continued.
Fletcher has been working as a leader for a large part of his career. He was one of the founding members of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a group dedicated to advocating change in community policy and defending homeowners from foreclosure. Fletcher was also a part of the campaign to save North High School when it was threatened with closure in 2013. He has also previously run Dori Eder’s campaign when she ran for the state legislature (the seat Diane Loeffler won).
Fletcher touted himself as having a track record of action, saying “the DFL is made new each year, each election, each generation,” and that he would be a motivating force behind that change.
Pierson spoke second, after a short introduction from Ilhan Omar, the legislator whom she was one of the first to endorse to unseat Phyllis Kahn.
“One thing I have learned from Ilhan is the importance of leaders listening,” said Pierson, opening her speech by discussing how a well-functioning government revolved around communication and trust. “Our work here today isn’t about me or you, it’s about all of us. This is our ward, together!”
Pierson spoke on increasing minimum wage, and seeking better training for police, as well as the increase in poverty demographics in the city.
“We are not a city where all can live and thrive,” she said. “We cannot let these threats [incidents of police brutality] isolate us or shut us down.”
Pierson is an attorney in environmental law and neighborhood land use. In ’96, she began working for the Trust for Public Land, and worked there for 12 years. Additionally, she helped to create the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, and has since worked with the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, and she was elected as the president of the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association from 2013-2014. Currently she is Executive Director of the Minnesota Environmental Fund. She was one of the driving forces behind creating green zones in the city.
Both agreed that they would suspend their campaign if they were not endorsed at the end of the convention.
Questions from delegates
On empowering/engaging communities:
Fletcher said that he has been engaging communities ever since he helped found NOC. One of his key principles is making sure as many voices are heard as possible.
“Access to info is good, but being able to act on it is better, and that’s something I want to make sure everyone can do,” he said.
Pierson has a very specific plan, which she outlined quickly. She wishes to foster better connections and collaboration between neighborhood groups, offer resources to teach individuals how to be most effective at public meetings, support mixed-income living developments, and increase the number of community gathering places in neighborhoods.
On increasing minimum wage:
Both candidates were in agreement that the wage should be increased, and both said that in addition to increasing minimum wage, as well as better access to affordable housing. Pierson added that she wants to make sure small businesses are given support so they can keep up.
On racial inequity:
Fletcher said he wanted to make sure that marginalized groups had access to having their voices heard in the government.
Pierson lamented that since she moved to Minneapolis, she had only seen disparities worsen. She said the city needs to address housing segregation and criminal justice bias. She said environmental disparities must be addressed again.
They were also asked about the death of Jamar Clark, specifically. Fletcher said he would like to see more de-escalation training in the police, but he was encouraged by the peaceful protests that ensued after Clark’s death. Pierson said she wants to see trust between the community and the police built back up again. Community relations programs have received more funding this year, which she said was encouraging.
On affordable housing:
Pierson would like to see bonuses and incentives for density, loans provided for first-time home buyers, and assistance for landlords who need to keep their properties safe and up to date, but still cheap. She also said she would fight private sector developers in an attempt to keep better control over housing prices.
Fletcher admitted there’s no one solution to the housing problem. Some he would like to try, though, include better tools for inspectors to keep track of maintenance, writing variances to allow affordable units to expand into more areas, and providing support to struggling units so affordable places aren’t closing down faster than they open.
Voting began at 2 p.m. The floor was closed to all non-delegates, so onlookers were banished to the balcony overlooking the school’s assembly hall. Ballots were collected, and then counted in another room. After a tense waiting period, cheers could be heard distantly, but there was still more waiting. Cordelia Pierson eventually took the stage, announcing that she was stepping down from the election after seeing the preliminary votes. She asked to suspend the convention rules to allow herself to endorse Steve Fletcher for city council, a motion which passed.
“I want each of you to show the leadership you promised, and make this city a better place,” she said in her closing remarks. “And to the people who supported me in getting here, I am forever indebted to you.”
The motion to endorse Fletcher passed unanimously.
Fletcher took the stage after the endorsement, and thanked the voters, Pierson, and his supporters, promising to live up the expectations placed on him. The convention closed at 3:30 p.m.
“I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but DFL endorsed is amongst the nicest of them,” Fletcher joked as the crowd dispersed.