We heard from people that felt like the last council wasn’t able to find ways to work together often enough. Is that going to be a priority of yours, and if so, how do you plan to work with people that have different political views that you do?
Aisha Chughtai: I ran on being an organizer and being a labor organizer, and this new Council is the most diverse Council that’s ever existed. We have a majority of women serving on the City Council right now. A majority of us are also new. Seven members of the 13 in this body are first-time Council Members. Working with other people is about building relationships. It's about putting in the day-to-day work of relationship maintenance. It's about learning what people care about, and it's about helping one another be more and more accountable to our communities.
I frequently think about the results of the election and how mixed they were, but one thing that the voters of Minneapolis told us was that they really want us to move on protecting renters and moving on rent control or rent stabilization policy. That passed in nearly every single Ward in the city, and that tells us that we have a lot of common ground.
I'm really looking forward to leaning into the relationship-building aspects of this job and getting to know my new colleagues. That’s work that the city is interested in doing. We hear this from staff that we're meeting. They just want people who care about relationship-building, and people who care about seeing the staff’s work. Of all of the new Council Members that I’ve met, and returning Council Members that I’ve met, the biggest thing that has come up is, “I want to build with you, I want to be in relationship with you.” We're going to disagree on things, and that's okay. But let’s not let things get really petty or personal. I've met with nearly every single conservative Council Member, and I reached out to everyone myself, because it matters to build relationships with everyone.
A part of serving on a body of such few people is that there are things we’re going to disagree on, but there are things that we can agree to, and finding what those points of agreement are so we can make progress for Minneapolis residents is our job, and that’s something I take really really seriously.
You’re a renter. How do you think that helps you do this job?
AC: The majority of Minneapolis residents are renters. 80% of Ward 10 residents are renters. We have never been represented by a renter before. We are one of the densest renter Wards in the city, and ensuring that people who rent in our city are able to stay here, are able to live with dignity, and are able to be woven into our community is really, really important.
As we grow as a city, more and more of us are going to be renters. It's just true. Having the voice of someone who actually understands what that experience is like today and understands how severe the problem of price gouging is within the cost of rent matters a lot. We often hear from Council Members, “oh, you know, I used to rent when I was in my 20s, and then I stopped doing that, and when I was renting, I paid $800 for my 2 bedroom apartment.” That’s not real! That’s not even real in the exurbs anymore.
Making sure that people are able to afford to live here matters a lot for how we are growing as a city, and it matters a lot for having the best and brightest people in our state and around the country choosing Minneapolis as a place to live. Growing our economy and bouncing back from the pandemic, all of those things are tied to our access to housing. I’m really excited to bring the actual day-to-day experiences of people who rent in the city to the forefront and into decision-making spaces.
What do you think the relationship between the City Council and businesses in the city should look like?
AC: I said this all the time in the campaign, but every time I hear about businesses big or small and their relationship to the city we hear a lot about the ownership side of it. If there’s anything this pandemic taught us, it’s that we are nothing without the workers that make our economy run.
When we talk about small businesses, when we talk about recovery for Lake Street, East Lake, and when we talk about corridors being the engines of our economy we know them to be, it has to center workers – making sure that they’re safe, that they’re paid a living wage, that they have schedules that they can rely on, that they’re protected in their workplaces.
Ward 10 is home to Eat Street and to the LynLake corridor. What I heard from knocking doors in those areas was that most of the service workers that make those corridors run actually live in our communities too. They’re renters in our communities. Caring for them is actually about caring for Minneapolis. When our workers are cared for, when they’re paid a living wage and have dignity and respect in their workplace, businesses are better able to thrive and last, and the rest of our community is better served by them.
We got a question about improving the lives of individual members of the city vs. improving the city as a whole. Is that something that you feel like there is a natural tension around, and if so, how do you plan to navigate that?
AC: I really think that when we focus on solving a problem, we say ok, this terrible thing has happened, what do we do about it? Housing insecurity, homelessness, whatever it may be. The way we move through it is to look at who the person is who has been harmed by this issue. Who is the person that’s struggling the most?
How do we lift the floor for them? When the floor is lifted for them, there’s a ripple effect on everyone else. We talk about this in the labor world all of the time. When we focus on raising wages for the most underpaid workers in a sector, most often black and brown women, then our economies improve as a result, worker retention improves as a result, people are better connected to their community and their economy and there’s this ripple effect in how safe people feel, how connected people feel, all of those things. Solving systemic problems is always about figuring out how to raise the floor for people who are the most severely hurting.
I understand that that isn’t everyone’s theory of change, but I would like the opportunity to show in the next couple of years that that’s a way that we can raise the floor for everyone.
If you could snap your fingers and make one change to our public safety system in the city, what would it be?
AC: Have you heard of community control of the police? I think that we have, and we’ve always had, not just under this Mayor or this Chief, for as long as the Minneapolis Police Department has existed, we’ve had a deep power struggle around accountability. I believe that accountability is a two-way street. We can’t hold someone accountable who doesn’t want to enter into that type of relationship with us. In order for us to have a public safety system that serves our community, we have to make it accountable to people.
Community control of the police is this idea that came out of the Black Panther Party and has existed in lots of cities over the last several decades, but it’s this idea that decisions around policing should be closely related to each neighborhood. I live in Whittier, you live in The Wedge, our safety problems are different from one another, and your and my safety problems are different from someone who lives in Near North, or someone that lives in Linden Hills. That’s ok! But when we address our very diverse and different needs from a systemic place, we have to make sure we have it be as accountable to people as possible.
Community control of the police, a civilian-police accountability commission, these are systemic solutions to that type of problem. It is changing who is in charge of the police, it is making it more democratized, it is making it more transparent to the community. It is making it so that people who are in charge of decision-making are more reflective of the community and have the day-to-day experiences of people who live here so our safety system can better serve our residents and we have a better way of approaching discipline, training, budget, and how those resources are allocated in a way that we haven’t been able to address as a city in the current structure we’re in for the last 150 years.
Hennepin and Lyndale both run through your Ward. What do you think should be done to redesign both of them (knowing that the Lyndale process will be run by Hennepin County, who owns that stretch of road)?
AC: You know, we hear a lot about safety in Ward 10, and in Minneapolis broadly, and something that I’ve always seen missing from the conversation is the way that we design our streets. When people are able to drive 50 MPH in a residential corridor or a heavy walkable corridor, the amount of things we hear about car accidents happening, street racing happening, street design is a big part of that.
I know that that sounds a little silly at face value, you know, “street design is a part of contributing to safety”, but it is! In redesigning Lyndale, we’ve seen plans from the county around what’s called a 4-3 conversion. Right now, on Lyndale, we’ve got two lanes of traffic that go in either direction. We’ve got a lane of parking. Then we’ve got our sidewalks, then our small businesses and apartments on either side. Switching that so there’s a lane of traffic that can go in either direction, naturally slowing down traffic, then adding a turn lane in the center. Right now, taking a left turn on Lyndale is a disaster. It makes drivers in the left lane do things that rational people shouldn’t do. It’s a disaster, and it doesn’t just suck for cars, it also sucks for pedestrians, for patrons of businesses, for people that live on the side streets. What this would do is to keep that lane of parking on either side of Lyndale, adding some space there so that you can open your door when you park. When you open your door and go to Common Roots, Nightingale, whatever it might be, you can safely get out of your car and get back into it, having a lane of traffic in either direction and a lane to make turning easier. That’s really exciting. We need more stuff like that.
On Hennepin, we were supposed to see a street design from the city before the end of the year. There have been a lot of efforts to delay that process until we have a new Council, and until we get a bit more clarity about who ultimately approves those designs. We have in our city a structure for how we approve plans for the future. That was a part of what the last couple of Councils have worked on. A part of that was that we, as a city, are making sure we’re meeting our climate goals. We care that pedestrians and people who rely on public transit or bike or get around in different ways are prioritized in our street design. Making sure that there’s a protected bike lane and a protected bus lane, I care about that a lot. We know that access to public transit is massive in our communities. 30% of Black households in Minneapolis do not own a car. Working class people rely on the bus to get to work and to access social services. Making sure we have a protected bus lane and we have sidewalk space so that people who patronize our businesses on Hennepin can do so safely.
We hear that conversation around us all the time, that we have to revitalize businesses, we have to revitalize our corridors, a part of doing that is making sure people don’t fear getting hit by a car when they’re sitting outside for lunch. It’s that type of common-sense solution of ensuring that whether you’re at Hennepin because you came in from out-of-town to go to a restaurant, or patronize our small businesses, whether you’re a worker that’s trying to get to your job on time, whether you are one of the 15,000 people that lives along the Hennepin corridor and want to walk to the grocery store, whether you’re biking to the lakes, whatever that might look like, that you are able to do that safely. Part of that is making sure that our street reflects that, making sure that we have protected bus and bike transit and that our sidewalks are expanded so that people can actually access them all year round.
What’s your message to the people that voted for you?
AC: Thank you so much for doing that, I hope that I will continue to earn your trust.
What’s your message to the people that didn’t vote for you?
AC: Thank you so much for participating in this election, I hope that I will be able to earn your trust.
What’s something about you as a person that you wish more people knew?
I really care about the things that I do. I try to find a reason to laugh every day.
I really care about my family. I’m an older sister. I love my family, and I really love my siblings. I find ways to show up for them.
I like taking a lot of walks, which is how I’ve met so many people since the election. Everyone who reaches out to me, I have to convince them as it’s getting colder to take a walk with me. I’ll run into people all the time who voted for me, didn’t vote for me, know me, don’t know me, it’s just a good way of meeting people. I try to walk around my neighborhood, which I love, and run into random stuff all over the place.
And I drink a lot of coffee!