Note: A forum focused on balancing expansion and historic preservation will be held on Thursday, June 15 at the St. Anthony Main Events Center (212 2nd St SE) at 7 p.m.
The afternoon of Tuesday, June 6 marked a chance to see all of the current Minneapolis Mayoral candidates in one place at one time. Seven local leaders lined up for a panel in front of a full auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and answered questions posed by professor Larry Jacobs and Star Tribune business columnist Lee Schafer.
Candidates included Aswar Rahman, Al Flowers, incumbent Mayor Betsey Hodges, Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey, Nekima Levy-Pounds, Tom Hoch, and State Representative Raymond Dehn.
The moderators did not call the meeting a debate, as candidates were not given time to respond to each other. Each candidate was given time to give a short answer to the question before moving on to the next topic, though the moderators adjusted their questions between candidates as the topics evolved with each answer. The event unfolded like a conversation and the whole affair was over within an hour.
Are you seeking the support of local business leaders?
Most of the conversation revolved around the city’s plan for businesses, with the first question setting the tone for the rest of the panel. More or less, all candidates answered in the affirmative, but to varying degrees.
Tom Hoch spoke first, going as far as to say that Minneapolis has no plan for facing business growth. Hoch said he would like to see Minneapolis follow the examples of Seattle and Boulder, Colorado.
Levy-Pounds said that equal representation is needed for black business owners, a goal she does not think the city has met.
Rahman said that a lot of people tend to make too much of a distinction between citizens and the people who run local businesses. “Business owners live in the city too, most of the time. They care about the issues of police, and they care about education. We’re all in this together.”
Do you agree that the input of businesses falls on deaf ears at city hall?
Levy-Pounds said that, in general, business leaders expect a lot greater response from city hall than most people, but receive less. Considering that local business supports affordable housing and overall quality of life, the city cannot afford to not be responsive to their needs.
Hodges said the city needs to make sure value is placed on its businesses. She admitted that she and the business side of the city haven’t seen eye to eye on many topics, but was quick to point out that disagreement doesn’t equal deafness, and that she’s heard the outcry. Hodges used the example of the turmoil stirred up during the Working Families Agenda discussion.
“We’ve learned a lot since then,” she said. “We could not find an answer to a real problem…but pulling it off the table was listening.”
Representative Dehn claimed that business has a good presence at state level, but also said at a city level, they sometimes go unheard. The city has a bad habit of springing changes on constituents.
“If the first time residents find out about an issue is when it’s on the city hall agenda, we’ve lost,” said Dehn.
When Flowers was asked the same question, he changed the subject, saying that the pleas of businesses should not be the forefront of this conversation. Flowers was more concerned with the death and crime rates facing residents in Minneapolis, saying that the concerns of ordinary people were what fall on deaf ears, not those of businesses (or at least, that the concerns of businesses shouldn’t take priority).
“I don’t think they’re short changing businesses,” said Flowers. “We have to change the focus on this narrative.”
Frey said that he was very pro-business, but that he has to recognize that not all businesses in Minneapolis are one entity. Different solutions are called for with different businesses, especially in matters of size. He thought there needed to be a more narrow focus on the Working Families Agenda, targeting “bad players,” above other businesses, rather than imposing tight regulations across the board.
Hoch added that he didn’t think there was any follow through after the listening sessions on the Working Families Agenda.
Hodges said she tried to make it clear from the start that she did not support the tip penalty that was a part of the Working Families Agenda (meaning servers would have made lower wages because they receive tips). She was at the sessions that were held, and based her ideas for the Agenda on the feedback she received.
Rahman comes from a family of small business owners, and based on his experiences, he said he thought business in Minneapolis is an entity that had things done to it, rather than being worked with. He had trouble thinking of an instance where he’s spoken with another business owner who hasn’t felt ignored by city hall.
Who is going to pay for a higher minimum wage?
Several candidates made one thing clear: They expect the increase in the minimum wage to go through. Ray Dehn was the first to answer the question.
The minimum wage had been previously hiked from $7.25 an hour to $9.50, an increase of 31%. This increase was done in slow phases over time, and the increase to $15 an hour would follow suit. The wage hike currently on the table would be a 26% increase. Dehn went on to explain that yes, customers and businesses would be the ones who ultimately have to bear the burden, but the gains would outweigh the higher prices as the economy is stimulated. Dehn was also open to the idea of offering assistance to businesses who struggle to keep up with the increase.
Hoch was unsure if there has been enough research to indicate whether job growth would be affected by a wage increase.
Levy-Pounds was very sure that $15 an hour was reasonable; she has been very encouraged to see many local businesses already offering wages higher than the minimum required. She said she wants to see businesses express more concern for the well-being of their workers, who she has seen being pushed out of the city more and more as housing prices go up. As far as actually implementing the higher wages, she would like to use a regional approach and work with businesses to find out how to best bring about the change in the most feasible way.
Flowers and Rahman were vehemently dissonant from the other candidates’ attitudes on minimum wage. Flowers called the issue a ruse that could kill a lot of local businesses. He thought a better solution would be to focus on bringing down the cost of living in the city, especially in affordable housing.
“Al called it a ruse, it’s also a trap,” said Rahman, going on to say a higher minimum wage would increase the gap between existing businesses and startups, which would be quashed by the demands they would need to meet. Earlier, Frey said he didn’t think there would be a mass exodus of businesses from Minneapolis, but Rahman begged to differ, saying the exodus has already begun.
What is the feasibility of Minneapolis starting its own municipal bank?
Flowers said he needed to do more research on this topic, but again expressed his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. “Why put time and effort into a municipal bank when we should be focusing on holding the banks we do use better accountable?” He would especially like to see the city end its relationship with Wells Fargo for its poor treatment of minorities.
Every other candidate echoed the sentiment that the city had enough problems on its hands without having to deal with its own bank, but the subject on what to do with Wells Fargo varied.
“The reality is that they’re a big employer,” said Hoch. “We need to make sure they behave in the way we want them to.”
Rahman said he asked a friend of his who was a business owner what his thoughts were on a city bank. His answer: “So my house is on fire and you’re trying to sell me a lawn mower?”
Dehn said the city needs to look beyond the investments Wells Fargo has made in the fossil fuel industry, as there are much graver misgivings he has about working with the bank. While he said he wasn’t for a city-operated bank, he still wants to hold the banks the city works with accountable for their actions.
Are you for a property tax increase?
Rahman said that taxes have gone up by twice the average rate, during Mayor Hodges’s term. He worries that Minneapolis’s high taxes are muscling people out of the city.
“The people that suffer the most suffer the longest,” he said regarding impoverished families struggling to keep up.
Dehn wants to see tax abatement programs to stabilize rent costs, but also doesn’t mind taxes for those who can afford them.
Hoch would like to see the city’s property taxes limited while still maintaining other sources of income.
Frey’s solution for the pressure of taxes was to increase the city’s tax base. More people means more taxes, which means everyone pays a smaller share. Frey has been working on encouraging higher population density in his ward. The long game here is bringing down taxes, though they may have to go up before they come down. In the meantime, to ease the pressure, the city should make sure its money is more wisely spent.
“With all due respect, Jacob,” said Levy-Pounds. “I don’t think you’re living in the real world.”
Levy-Pounds went on the explain that a balanced approach would be needed in terms of tax increases to avoid gentrification, something she believes is happening too rapidly in Minneapolis, leaving behind the poor and especially minorities. The effects of tax increases need to be evaluated more thoroughly before being implemented.
Frey asked for a chance to respond, but the moderators said the panel had run out of time; the discussion’s end was set for 1:15 p.m., and the clock was pushing 1:20. Schafer and Jacobs thanked the candidates for participating and wrapped the meeting up. A forum focused on balancing expansion and historic preservation will be held on Thursday, June 15 at the St. Anthony Main Events Center (212 2nd St SE) at 7 p.m.