The Ward 7 forum, held at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis on Sept. 28, was moderated by the League of Women Voters and included questions submitted by the audience, Citizens for a Loring Park Community and the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (the latter of two co-sponsored the forum). Ward 7 encompasses Bryn Mawr, Cedar Isles-Dean, Downtown West, East Isles, Kenwood, Linden Hills, Loring Park, Lowry Hill, Stevens Square, Loring Heights and West Maka Ska.
Long-time Ward 7 Councilmember Lisa Goodman is not running for reelection so candidates Katie Cashman, Scott Graham, and Ken Foxworth are running for an empty seat. The candidates sat on a large stage in front of an audience of about 100 people.
Candidates answered questions about the future of downtown, homelessness, Hennepin Avenue reconstruction, and public safety. The full forum can be viewed here.
In opening statements, Graham and Foxworth both established themselves as candidates focused on public safety.
“What’s going on with violent crime in our city is not acceptable. We need a police force and a criminal justice system that can bring safety back to our streets,” Graham said.
After a story about being mistaken for Uncle Phil from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Foxworth said, “I’m here for one issue and one issue that I've been seeing for these couple years and now and it's safety, safety, and safety.”
Cashman also mentioned public safety in her opening statement but framed it around the need for “fresh creative ideas and solutions” to the issue. Cashman said she was running because women leaders in Ward 7 encouraged her to run.
The three candidates answered differently on a question about creating policies that acknowledge the changing demographics downtown.
“Public safety underpins a lot of things we need to do,” Graham said, before shifting into a proposal to “infuse arts and culture” into the downtown policies. Graham cited Mayor Jacob Frey’s “cultural districts” as an example of something Graham supports.
Foxworth said people fear going downtown. “We are not really divided, we are just not connected,” Foxworth said. “We have to be in a position of changing the policies.” Foxworth did not elaborate on what the policy changes should be.
Cashman focused her answer on the growing residential population downtown, saying they feel “neglected and left out” of revitalization efforts.
“I believe that in our downtown revitalization efforts we need human-centered, people-centered programs,” Cashman said. Cashman brought up the need to focus on downtown residents multiple times during the forum.
In a later question, the candidates talked about whether commercial buildings downtown could be converted to housing.
Cashman said the commercial buildings would be well-suited for single-resident occupancy, a type of affordable housing where people share kitchens and bathrooms but have their own living quarters. Cashman said she’d want to see these building conversions use union labor and clean energy.
Graham explained that the buildings downtown would be difficult to convert into residential buildings because the windows don’t open, the plumbing isn’t lined up for apartments, and there isn’t much parking. He said that converting the buildings to hotels would be a more likely scenario, especially near the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Foxworth answered the question by talking about getting homeless people permanent housing and making sure zoning codes and policies make sense for downtown.
All three candidates believed the City had to do something differently with its policies for the homeless population.
“It’s inhumane to allow people to live in encampments when they are surrounded by heavy drug use and human trafficking,” Graham said. He said the City should continue to work with its partner organizations such as Avivio, Simpson, and Common Bond, which also have wrap-around services including substance abuse and harm reduction.
“Minneapolis is failing on this issue, 100 percent,” Cashman said. “This is an issue that Minneapolis cannot solve alone.” Cashman said homelessness would be her number one priority and said the City needs to work more closely with Hennepin County.
Foxworth said that moving people at encampments into shelters is not the best solution. “You can’t bunch all of them up thinking that they [are] going to live, like, jolly,” Foxworth said. “That’s not going to happen.”
The candidates’ answers on the Hennepin Avenue reconstruction perhaps varied the most out of any question of the evening.
Graham expressed concern about the loss of parking on Hennepin and the potential impact to small businesses.
“I am really concerned about what’s going to happen on Hennepin Avenue,” Graham said. “The inclusion of a bike lane on Hennepin Avenue and the exclusion of parking because of the bike lane is a real problem. Businesses along Hennepin Avenue are simply going to go away and I think that’s really sad.” [Editor’s note: the bike lanes are on the sidewalk and the bus lanes share space with the parking lanes. Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed the 24/7 bus lanes to allow for more vehicle parking]
In contrast, Cashman said she was committed to keeping Hennepin Ave. accessible during construction and said she would be open to adding improvements to include more green space and electric vehicle infrastructure. She said she wanted to be a “listening ear” during the construction and clearly communicate about closures.
Foxworth redirected the question by talking about the lack of safety on the streets, expressing concern that people will take the newly planted trees on Hennepin and throw them away.
The Ward 7 candidates will have another forum on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church. The forum will be livestreamed and recorded for later viewing. More information can be found on the League of Women Voters website.