EDITOR'S NOTE: Rebecca Donley dropped out of the race after this interview was completed.
We sat down with Rebecca Donley, candidate for City Council in Ward 11, to talk about her background, why she decided to run, where she stands on a couple major issues like rent stabilization, climate change policies, and transit investments. This is part of a series of interviews of people running for City Council – if you have any questions or feedback, use the “Add Context” box at the bottom of this piece.
Southwest Voices: What made you decide to run for office?
Rebecca Donley: This goes back to 2021 when the last City Council election happened. I paid a lot of attention to the conversations happening as a part of that. At the time, I was working for the Hale-Page-Diamond Lake Neighborhood Association. Something I was really excited about was collaborating with the other Ward 11 neighborhood groups to get a debate for all the folks running for Council.
Public education is so key, especially for these City Council races. A lot of folks have had to tune those out to focus on the big national races. But there’s so much going on in our city. As a domestic violence and sexual violence advocate, I’m always thinking about folks that are experiencing abuse. Those conversations never came up. I asked myself how we uplift those conversations, and that’s where the seeds of this were planted.
I thought maybe I had to learn about how to talk to my City Council member. I watched some of the meetings at that time on Zoom. I thought it was interesting to hear what was happening in our city, and I thought it would be great to have someone who had a lens around survivor justice in those conversations. What I was hearing in those meetings and in the debate was that there wasn’t anybody with that lens.
I’m not a politician. I don’t have folks in my life that have been politicians. I had to ask myself, was this a conversation I was invited to? For a long time, that really kept me on the sidelines when trying to figure out if I was a fit.
I tried to find someone that shared my values and was in that politician mode. But when it comes to movement work and organizing work, waiting is never the right answer. If you want to make change, sometimes you do have to be the one that makes your voice shake a little bit and step in and see what happens.
Back in January, I was ready to have these conversations. I had a conversation with a friend, and he said, ‘you know, somebody has to do it.’ But I’m not doing this just to do it. I bring a unique viewpoint, and one that has been missing from a lot of conversations. Rather than try to download my years of experience in the domestic violence sexual assault field to someone else that feels like they’re more in the realm of being a candidate, why not be a candidate that brings experience with domestic violence and sexual assault to the role?
SWV: What’s surprised you about the process so far?
RD: The real question is what hasn’t surprised me. Everything is really intriguing. I’ve gone through the experience of feeling ready and trying to figure out who to tell or how to get started. I’ve seen other candidates announce their candidacy, but I wasn’t sure whether it was making an announcement on Facebook or filing the paperwork or something else that really made it real.
For me, it was really filling out the DFL questionnaire as part of the endorsement process. That was the first step. It really surprised me how long it took to fill out that form. The questions were really good, but they really got me thinking about some of these issues and how I feel about them. I don’t have politicians in my life, so I didn’t have people recommending what to do first or where to start.
I’m kind of making it up as I go along. I actually have a background in improv, so that comes really naturally to me. But it felt really important to me to do it that way. I wanted to fill out the questionnaires myself. I don’t have a campaign manager that’s helping me out or going through this with me. I decided to do this by myself, and to sit with each question, and to respond to each question from the core of who I am as a person.
As a candidate, that’s how I want to show up as well. How I answer these questions is who you get at the end of the day
SWV: How would you approach housing policy in the city?
RD: I think there are some amazing groups that have already done great work around this in the city, like Inquilinos Unidos. They’re doing wonderful work on housing. ISAIAH has been uplifting these conversations in excellent ways. We’ve had this work group brought forward by the city that’s dedicated to research and study to figure this out.
When approaching this issue, I want to start with who is already doing the work. We have resources like [the Center for Regional and Urban Affairs] at the University of Minnesota. We have so many amazing groups. For me, when it comes to housing, I want to see what the experts are saying.
I also want to see what the renters are saying. What are the folks that are most impacted by the housing crisis saying they need? Who are the other folks working on this issue? Who are the housing advocates, or housing rights groups, and how do I get into coalition with those folks?
I have this lens of experience working with survivors. I also know what it’s like to have all of this experience and not be tapped when the questions come up that impact those populations.
I don’t want to be a candidate that has all the answers. I don’t have all of the answers. What I do want is to know who to reach out to, and who can hold me accountable when I’m addressing those issues. That’s how I would approach housing policy.
SWV: Where do you stand on rent stabilization policy?
RD: From what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from renters, having stabilization allows people to stay in the houses that they have. I think that’s really important. I support rent stabilization, and I support working with renters rights organizations to make sure that we are keeping people housed. I want to make sure we have a housing market that’s fair, and safe, and sustainable.
I also want to make sure when we’re looking into things like the climate equity proposal, we’re bringing housing into that. I want to make sure we’re bringing climate change into those conversations. A lot of these issues are linked together.
SWV: What would an ideal rent stabilization policy look like to you?
RD: I want to be at the table with folks that are most impacted. I want to be hearing from them. I also want to be hearing from people about how to make the city more livable. I want to make sure what folks are earning matches with what we’re asking folks when it comes to rent.
We know that right now, across our country, we have an eviction crisis. People are getting evicted at rates that they were before the pandemic. That’s one of the hardest things that can happen in a city, because it puts pressure on a population of people that don’t have anything else to give. That would really play into how I would come to the table or vote on things.
When I think about how I’m going to be crafting policy, it’s always going to be in coalition with the people and organizations that are most impacted by the decisions that get made.
SWV: Looking at St. Paul’s journey on rent stabilization in the last year-and-a-half, how has that shaped your views on rent stabilization?
RD: I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at St. Paul and how they have been impacted. I know about the controversy around choosing a similar route to what our rent stability working group chose, but because of that there were concerns about moving forward on a similar type of path. That’s what I know about the St. Paul process.
I can’t really speak to some of the concerns or what created the issues. I do wonder who was brought to the table when they were figuring out these issues. Also, is there a political will to stand with the folks that are most impacted. Sometimes we see situations where rather than putting the might behind those that are most impacted, and going out on the limb to do something different, sometimes we see that the lack of support causes a measure to fail. It’s not because the measure wasn’t good, it’s because the political will wasn’t there.
I’m not sure if that’s what happened in St. Paul. The reason that impacts Minneapolis is that people are using that as a prediction tool and saying oh, if it didn’t work there, it can’t work here. I would just say that we should ask more questions about that. Let’s go talk to the experts at CURA to find out why it happened like it did.
SWV: What would you like to see the city do to address climate change?
RD: I would say the real question is what wouldn’t I like to see the city do to address climate change. So much!
While policy is really important, it’s a matter of putting the money where our values are. Folks say a budget is a moral document. The reason that got said is that if we say we want to do all of these things, but don’t put the money behind it, we’re not going to achieve our goals.
One thing that I’ve experienced and seen is that there aren’t many politicians out there that are really supporting people experiencing violence in their relationships. Most folks will say that’s something they support, but when it comes to actually fully funding those programs to actually make the changes to our outcomes, that’s a totally different story.
I think that’s the same thing with our Climate Equity plan. If we aren’t funding this at the levels we need, we won’t be able to accomplish what we really need to accomplish. I want the city to not just put down the words and make promises, I want to see the dollar amounts brought forward to become a sustainable and climate-focused city.
SWV: How do you feel about the Minneapolis Police Department?
RD: Overall, what I’ve seen with policing, especially in my experience supporting folks in crisis or who are in danger in their homes, is that when it comes to police a lot of times it is not the right answer.
For me, what I’m really excited about is that we’re talking to the folks that have faced the most harm from systemic or structural inequities. When it comes to police departments, they are often the ones enacting the systemic harms.
As far my feelings on MPD, there’s a lot of frustration with me that we’re trying to fix something that really seems unfixable. I wonder what it would take to really shift gears. Something I wrote about in my DFL questionnaire was thinking about how we’ve been willing to shift the technologies we use. We’ve done it a bunch in our lifetimes. We’ve shifted from fax machines to emails to our phones being the things we use for most of our messaging.
Why do we still stick with these structures in our government that have been shown not to work? I don’t understand why we’re willing to be so innovative in parts of our life and in others we stick with the same old system that has been shown to be inequitable. That’s the core of what I feel about MPD.
We’ve been hearing for decades from people that have been harmed by the structures that are in place. We had to wait for years and years and years until there was an exploding point. Then there was the report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice. I think sometimes folks don’t slow down and think about how shocking that is. We have a city department that’s being investigated at the city level and at the state level. We’re still pumping more and more money towards that department. That’s shocking, and it doesn’t make sense to me.
SWV: How would you work towards making the city a safer place?
RD: We need to talk to the people that are most impacted by the system we have in place. Living in Ward 11, we have a pretty quiet area. We really aren’t the most impacted community when it comes to these discussions.
I go back to my experience as a domestic violence advocate. When we’re talking about public safety, we’re thinking about safety out on the streets, and on the buses, and that’s all really important. But if people aren’t safe in their homes and don’t have a safe place to stay, if they’re worried about the threat of day-to-day violence, then we don’t have real safety.
We have to go down to the roots. What are we doing to address domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse – the other types of violence that happen in our homes.If we start at that core, and look at how violence moves from our closest relationships out to our larger relationships with our neighbors and friends, and larger out in our neighborhoods and in our communities, I would start by looking at what’s happening in the home.
Of course, this is a huge change from what we currently have. Concerns come up when we think about shifting resources from the police department to something that involves communities and neighbors and look at safety in a different way. Of course there’s going to be a shift there, but we have to have conversations about it so that we can heal the years and years of harm and wounds in our city.
We need to be honest and have real conversations about that before we shift. Is it going to be that one day we have a police department and the next day we don’t? Probably not. But that’s not how it went with technology. We didn’t go straight from fax machines to email. But if we don’t have the political will to imagine something different, we’re really never going to get there. It requires a commitment from our leaders, but also from community members to see what kinds of changes we’ll make.
When I was dealing with folks in some of these dangerous situations in their homes, they were often so isolated from their community. They didn’t feel like they had anyone they could talk to. I would often ask them if they had a neighbor they could go to or a family member, and they couldn’t think of one. That’s where some of those changes can start to take root.
We could shift from a place where we hear about something going on, and instead of calling the police, we go check in with our other neighbors and go check in on that situation to make sure everybody is ok. I think that’s totally possible when we start breaking that down into these smaller piece.
SWV: The legislature is going to be making a large investment in transportation in the city. How would you like to see the city prioritize that investment?
RD: I think it would be huge to have better access to bus lines. I think we need to be able to get around on the bus or train. I’ve had the chance to live in a couple different cities.
Having access to the Metro in Washington D.C., and being able to get around with having to rely on a car, was huge. At that time I was a single person, so I only had to worry about myself, but having reliable transportation that runs all day is huge for families, too. I know that can be very difficult when you have bus routes that aren’t always on time and you have to wait a long time between buses.
Being able to get to our jobs, school, daycare, and also reduce reliance on individual vehicles, is so important for having communities that are thriving and where people are able to have all of their needs met.
As the coordinator at Day One Services, part of my job was to make sure we had a fully-staffed, 24/7 crisis line. A lot of my staff relied on public transportation to get there. A lot of this was shift work, and some of the staff had to utilize Lyft or Uber because they didn’t have access to reliable transportation. That’s really unfortunate.
We have a lot of folks in our city that are shift workers and really keep our city going after hours. They should be able to get to their jobs reliably without having extra weights because their shifts are outside of normal operational hours. We need to make a city that’s accessible for folks that have all kinds of jobs, and I think transportation is a huge part of that.
SWV: What’s something about you as a person that you think most people don’t know or wouldn’t find out in the course of a campaign?
RD: I shared this already, but I do have a background in improv. I was a member of an improv theater group in Washington, D.C. call the Washington Improv Theater. I was not only a performer, but also a coach and teacher. That was something I really enjoyed.
What I loved about it was having an opportunity to create a moment on-stage that wasn’t just for the actors, but everyone in the audience got to experience this moment that would happen once and never again. It was an amazing opportunity.
I’ve loved being here in the Twin Cities. I’ve done some things with HUGE Improv. I love Jill Bernard, I think she’s amazing. I loved going to her drop-in improv sessions and be able to play with new folks I’d never met before. I was 10 years out of practice of doing regular practice, but it was just so fun. I really love HUGE Improv. I’m a big fan.
SWV: Any other issues you’d like the cover?
RD: Something that I’ve said a couple times that’s really core to me is uplifting the issues that survivors of abuse are facing. I want to find ways to bring their voices up. They are often not heard by politicians or elected officials. We have an opportunity to make a huge difference with how those folks access safety. I want to keep that central.
Keeping equity central is also really important to me. I always try to bring that forward in conversations I’m having and questions I’m asking. I want to make sure the votes we have at the city are centering the people that are most impacted.