This interview is part of our City Council interview series. Read our previous interviews with Lisa Bender, LInea Palmisano, Aisha Chughtai, and Emily Koski.
What do you think the story of this election was?
Lisa Goodman: That people are very, very passionate about the city that they love, and they have more in common then they have that is different, they just have different ways of getting there. Our job is to figure out what a majority of people were saying and offer a path forward.
How do you think this Council will be materially different than the last one?
LG: It's going to be different because seven new people are coming in. I’ve seen that in the past, where a large number of new people come in and think that they understand how the city works and then they find out there's so much information, it's like drinking out of a fire hose, and they need to sit back and kind of get a sense of understanding what a 1.6 billion dollar government operation does.
Campaigning doesn't mean you're an expert on the city or what it does, so there's a learning curve that's going to come with that. That makes this group fundamentally different. Then you add on to it a two year term, and that’s almost an unknown. I’ve never had a two year term. That's a very short period of time to get a lot done and then run another election. I’m a bit fearful that some people will be in election mode the entire time.
Are you worried about the "strong mayor” system making it more difficult for individual Council members like yourself to be responsive to their constituents?
LG: No. [long pause]
I think that’s a total red herring. Almost every other municipal government operates in a similar structure, and they have all figured out how to interact best and serve their constituents.
To be fair, I’ve been doing that for a long time. It is my number one priority and I do it well. So I'm confident that I will be able to do the same level of constituent service that I have in the past. It might be harder for new people who don't even know how to do the constituent service to understand the new system. Or maybe they don't value it as much as I do. A system change doesn't mean you can't answer your phone or return an email and that’s what people want. They want to be heard by their elected officials and there’s too little of that in government these days.
If you could only tackle one issue this term, what would it be?
LG: Getting the government structure up and running and doing it in a way that makes the Mayor's office and the City Council members feel good and positive about it, because it’s an issue that will outlast us all. It’s setting up a system for many, many years to come. I’m hopeful that this system will result in less infighting among the Council members and staff and the Mayor’s office, and hopefully more collaboration.
I see it as such an important issue because it’s a massive system change – it’s not more important than the other things, but it’s top-of-mind to me as a pressing issue right now.
You’re the longest-serving member of the city council. What would you say to someone that wanted to impose term limits on the Council?
LG: We have term limits. It's called an election.
I don't think we need to self-inflict a term limit, because we have a term limit in less than 24 months. That's what it is all about. The voters enacted their own level of term limits on five council members this year. I don't really think that you need more than an election to get a sense of what the public thinks.
How do I think being a longtime Council member helps my constituents? I think more than anything else, there needs to be a bit of institutional memory, as well as stability. It's also important to understand that as a person, I have changed a lot over 24 years. Every day I learn something that affects my point of view, and I have been able to internalize what I have learned from others and shift my point of view. You have to be able to do that as an elected official in order to be effective. It does give my constituents a sense of stability that they know their phone calls are going to be returned and their emails are going to be answered. They know that their Council member both understands how the city works, but also is enthusiastic about change.
If you could snap your fingers and make one change to our public safety system in the city, what would it be?
LG: That police officers would believe that respect of the community is the most important thing in policing.
What are your thoughts on the latest round of the Hennepin Avenue redesign, and are there changes you would make?
LG: I think just the design is not in tune with the current reality. I think that it creates a win-lose between small businesses and advocates. I think that it is rigid and entrenched in politics, and ultimately I think it will be the demise of businesses on Hennepin Avenue if we don’t do something to change it.
What would I do to change it? I would have the bike lane on Bryant. We already have significant bike infrastructure on Bryant, which would free up 11 feet on either side of the street to allow for better pedestrian access, curbside usage, and yes, include parking.
I support transit lanes on Hennepin. A big percentage of the people using the avenue take transit. I am not yet convinced that it's an either-or, and that you have to have transit-dedicated lanes 24/7. I prefer that we start with transit during rush hour and see how it goes, then use those curbside uses for other things. But if a bike lane is a priority on Bryant, then you probably could have a dedicated transit lane and some levels of usage.
I think you could go in many different directions. I think the all-or-nothing approach in this current design is what has made so many people have a lack of respect for Public Works and think that their voices haven’t been heard.
What is special about Ward 7?
LG: There are so many things, picking one is hard. Ultimately, what's special to me about the ward is the fact it’s very economically diverse. In terms of land uses, it's also diverse. You have some of the most expensive property and the least expensive property in the city. You have some of the most expensive housing and the least expensive housing. You have the extreme of small businesses, big businesses, tourism, visitors, residents.
In terms of who your constituents are, the ward itself is very, very diverse. It might not be as racially diverse as some, but as it pertains to the different kinds of things that happen and the people and businesses that are located in the ward, it's quite diverse. Primarily because you have that mix of downtown, the area surrounding downtown, Bryn Mawr, and the lakes area.
What’s your message to the people that voted for you?
LG: I will live up to your very high expectations.
What’s your message to the people that didn’t vote for you?
LG: You won't be disappointed in the work that I do to represent your point of view.
What’s something about you as a person that you wish more people knew?
LG: I am a huge musical theater buff. It extends from high school musical theater to Broadway. I find a lot of meaning and happiness in the screenplays and narratives and music and lyrics of musicals. It’s really a calming factor for me, and it's also the kind of distraction that's needed from a very high intensity job.
I'm a really big animal person, everyone knows that, right?