Sunday March 19, 2017
Minneapolis City Council member Alondra Cano, pictured in 2015
Residents of south
Minneapolis’ Ninth Ward can tick off the challenges for the diverse,
low-income area bisected by East Lake Street — nuisance crime, a lull in
real estate development, trepidation among Latino businesses after the
Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration.
concerns neighbors and business owners plan to air amid a City Council
race that’s already shaping up to be among the most-watched contests in a
busy city election year.
The incumbent, Alondra Cano, is an outspoken progressive with an activist’s instincts. Her challengers in the Ninth Ward, former Council Member Gary
Schiff and nonprofit founder Mohamed Farah, are running on platforms stressing the need for development and public safety.
see a need for a lot of new initiatives, we’ve all got our sleeves
rolled up,” said Julie Ingebretsen, an owner of Ingebretsen’s
Scandinavian Gifts on E. Lake Street. “Certainly public safety is a big
one for us.”
are April 4 and the election is in November. Whether one of the
challengers can pry the seat away from Cano will in part depend on
whether voters value her high-profile activism or buy her opponents’
narrative that she doesn’t pay close enough attention to the ward. Cano says
her office is already helping residents tackle crime. Her top
priorities, however, are removing industrial polluters from the ward, a
higher minimum wage and sick leave, and “business development through a
culturally relevant lens.” Her efforts to oppose the Dakota Access
pipeline and get the city to divest from Wells Fargo align her with the
sensibility of residents around Powderhorn Park, and in a 28 percent
Latino ward, having elected the first Latina council member is a point
“It is a diverse, radical,
LGBTQ, Latino ward,” Cano said. “Being bilingual, being bicultural,
that matters, being the daughter of undocumented immigrants, that
matters, being a mother matters. Being a wannabe artist matters.”
says the ward needs a nuts-and-bolts council member and touts himself as
a policy expert who knows how to pass laws and pull the levers of
He was the
one who sponsored the 2003 ordinance that prevents Minneapolis police
from asking about people’s immigration status, a law that is cherished at City Hall. His priorities in the Ninth Ward include turning back the heroin epidemic and building affordable housing.
nothing under construction right now, nothing breaking ground, and
nothing that’s been funded. It’s just not a priority, and not something
she’s working on,” Schiff said of Cano.
Farah presents himself
as a dealmaker who will bring in public and private investment, leaving
no storefront behind. He says 98 percent occupancy on Lake Street is
the goal, which will require “fighting for our piece of the pie at City
Hall,” developing real estate and insisting on safety and livability.
drive down Lake Street going east it gets worse and worse, and as you
drive west it gets better, and I’m running to change that,” Farah said.
first term, Cano has introduced just one ordinance, a revision to the
parking rules for grocery stores. And critics say she is sometimes
inattentive to the details of governing.
In November at a Cafe con Alondra event, she misstated
the size of the Minneapolis budget as $1.3 million (it’s $1.3 billion)
twice in one meeting. In February, a day after voting to approve a
program that offers down payment assistance for people to build new
homes in north Minneapolis, she e-mailed staff to express concerns about
the program, and said, “I will not be able to vote to support this
program in its current structure.”
doesn’t deny her mistakes — “I’m not perfect, and I’m not a robot,” she
said — but she also doesn’t agree that introducing ordinances is the
only way to represent her ward. With reliable progressive votes and
advocacy, she says, she has helped shift City Hall to the left.
been an extremely effective voice for workers, for the environmental
movement, for cooperative economics, for a new Minneapolis,” Cano said.
“I reflect the social movements of our time.”
also has critics. After serving three terms on the City Council, he ran
for mayor and lost. He was hired as executive director of the Council on
Crime and Justice in 2014, and then relieved of his duties a year
later. The organization closed after he was replaced, and a federal audit
highlighted $424,000 in “questioned costs,” finding that the
organization “spent grant funds on a variety of unallowable and
wasn’t named in the audit, said he wasn’t interviewed by investigators,
and said the grant program that came under scrutiny was frozen while he
was in charge. “When I was at this organization, no work happened on
this grant,” Schiff said.
He blames the board and his predecessor for the organization’s failure.
ran for mayor, he has also been a consultant for Minneapolis, and worked
to revive In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater as a board
has spent the past 10 years as executive director of Somali nonprofit
Ka Joog, can navigate the world of grant-writing. Just last month his
organization rejected a $500,000 counterextremism grant, citing Trump’s
“unofficial war on Muslim-Americans.”
He says Ninth Ward voters want fresh representation.
“They are ready to set a whole new direction,” Farah said. “Our ward is facing many challenges, and we’re not tackling them.”