“I’m very much grounded in the notion that I don’t need to have an election certificate to be engaged with the positive trajectory of Northeast,” said Kevin Reich as he reflected on changes in Northeast during his three consecutive terms representing Ward 1 as a Minneapolis City Council member. He also shared his thoughts about his future, including how he might further serve Northeast Minneapolis. In November, Reich lost the seat to Elliott Payne by 554 votes out of a total of nearly 11,000 Ward 1 votes.
Reich will step down in January, but he still is very engaged at what is a critical time, he said. “Day one wasn’t a holiday for me, and the last day shouldn’t be, either,” he said, explaining how final budget work going on now keys up policies for the future. “Come January, February, there’s no going back. Once it’s in the budget, that’s it. When it’s not in the budget, just try to figure out how to fund it,” he said, musing on how hard it is to find funding if not already allocated.
Reich’s enthusiasm for serving the Eastside runs deep. He grew up in the Logan Park neighborhood, two blocks west of Central, and now lives a block and a half east of Central in the Windom Park neighborhood. “I boldly moved from my roots … I’m a very adventurous guy,” he joked.
Before running for his first City Council term in 2009, he had served on Northeast boards, committees, and task forces, on projects ranging from opening the Eastside Food Co-op to developing plans for Central Avenue and Lowry Avenue. Reich was on the Windom Park Citizens in Action board and worked as the project director of the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association, focusing on parks, housing, and repurposing industrial buildings. That work carried over into his efforts as a Council member.
“When I was elected, I certainly did my part in the new role to expand on the direction I think we charted out, which was to improve Northeast,” he said, characterizing Northeast then as “a classic American, urban industrial … collection of neighborhoods,” dealing with aging housing stock and legacy pollution.
He talked about how communities aren’t always able to “self-generate” needed investments, and how outside investment can change the make-up of a place. In Northeast, though, that was not the case. “In fact, we turned it around on our own terms with our own resources and assets. Now our challenge is, in some ways, how do we manage success so that it doesn’t turn into displacement and an erosion of the character that makes the east side of the city unique. Displacements are real things, particularly when you’re the newly discovered successful urban turnaround story.”
Reich spoke about preserving Northeast’s “core energy, that core sort of character.” For him, that character includes the Central Avenue corridor, on its “fourth iteration of local entrepreneurship of more recent American populations,” he said, and the many employment and production opportunities.
Manufacturing, two of the most active rail yards in the state, and former industrial buildings converted into housing new enterprises – art, tech, new industries, craft beer and more – all contribute to the fact that outside of downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, Northeast Minneapolis has the most employment in the state, he said, and with that comes the opportunity for closing equity gaps.
“We’re a working city, we’re a making city, that actually is a source of opportunity for folks,” he said. “Of course, having opportunity doesn’t mean an outcome. Of course, other policies will have to come in place to make those connections.”
He cited the planting project this summer in the retention basin across from Edison High School as an example of one way to introduce young people to public sector work. High school students were paid to plant native flowering plants to increase filtration in the basin, while learning about the environmental benefits of such plantings. The students worked through the organization Spark-Y and with the Minneapolis Public Works department. “We need to do more of that,” Reich said.
The environment has always been a focus of Reich’s service. Before his work with Holland neighborhood, he organized for environmental justice with Citizens for a Better Environment. As a Council Member, he has represented Minneapolis as chair of the board of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization for 10 years.
That work, as well as serving on the Metropolitan Council Advisory Board and chairing the committee on Transportation and Public Works, has led him to think about the possible connections and opportunities between the different areas of government. “How can you create something synergistically that wouldn’t have happened otherwise and is bigger than any one particular area?”
One concrete example: He sees environmental issues dovetailing with other critical issues, such as housing. “There’s a tension between environmental objectives and affordability,” he said, talking about the upfront costs of doing things environmentally, which can have back-end savings often not recognized by lenders. The Hook and Ladder development, which he calls “the country’s first deeply affordable, highly energy efficient” apartment building, can be a laboratory for merging housing and environmental goals, he said, but it’s going to take a lot of work to make that a system. “That’s something I’ll probably be pushing for as a citizen of the city,” he said.
The theme of Reich as citizen of the city, and specifically, of Northeast Minneapolis, came up a lot during conversation. He’s not sure what’s next for him, but he did say he likely will go back to participating with boards that are doing “meaningful things” in Northeast, having dropped all but one (Edison Community and Sports Foundation, on which he still serves) when he was first elected 12 years ago. “I think that’s something we all should do in our communities.”
He said that he wants to take the time to consider the options, whether it it’s in the private, nonprofit or public sector, but right now he is giving thoughts about such things a “time out.” He said, “One thing I do want to make sure I think through is what I can do here in the Eastside, first and foremost.”
Reich said he’s trying to be disciplined as far as looking ahead is concerned. “I don’t like to confuse my current work with the next year. I mean, just get the job done. Breathe deeply. It’s the holidays, a new year, and then figure it out and move on.”
Below: Minneapolis First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich, left, with John Vandermyde of the Edison Community and Sports Foundation, at the 2016 back-to-school barbecue event held at Edison High School. Reich with Caitlin Schouviller, People’s Choice winner at the 2017 Hotdish Revolution. (File photos by Margo Ashmore)