Dan Cohen said today he is running for mayor, and will use the campaign to promote a downtown casino, end conflicts of interest on the city’s planning commission, and take a stand against the “newspaper monopoly” in Minneapolis.
The former alderman from the 1960s is currently a member of the city’s planning and charter commissions. He said he would run as an independent, days after the DFL convention ended with no endorsement of any of the six candidates competing for the party's backing.
“I stand for more jobs, not more taxes,” Cohen said in a statement.
He said a casino would be a “huge job engine” for city residents, and criticized Mystic Lake Casino for fighting efforts to allow one. Cohen said bringing casino gambling downtown would pay off the “$350 million hole in the bucket of stadium debt” left after pull tab revenues significantly lagged what the state had projected.
Cohen also vowed to prohibit planning commissioners from having their private business dealt with by the planning commission, regardless of whether they disclose it and leave the room while the matter is considered.
Additionally, he criticized the Star Tribune for having a conflict of interest in having real estate dealings tied to the Vikings stadium, and called for greater transparency about the company’s business interests.
"I stand for change," Cohen said.
Inspired by the recent bone marrow transplant of school board member Hussein Samatar to fight his Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, the Minneapolis district is holding a bone marrow donor registration drive Wednesday.
The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at district headquarters, 1250 Broadway Av. Donors must be age 18 to 60 and must meet certain health requirements set by the National Donor Marrow Program The district said that walk-ins are welcome.
Samatar announced that he was diagnosed with CLC last December, and has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy that sometimes left his voice weakened but not silenced at board meetings. He has been absent during his post-transplant hospital stay.
According to the district, potential donors fill out a health information form and provide a cheek swab sample that is used to add the volunteer to the registry. If matched in the future, a volunteer commits to donating to a patient in need. If the doinor is the best match after further testing, the volunteer commits 30 to 40 hours over a four- to six-week period to attend appointments and donate. The patient’s doctor will request either a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation or marrow donation.
Samatar was elected in 2010 and is the first Somali-born immigrant to hold public office in Minnesota, and likely the nation. He is also the founder and executive director of the African Development Center, which specializes in helping immigrants launch small businesses.
One of the longest-serving members of the current City Council, Sandy Colvin Roy, said Monday night that she would not continue seeking re-election.
The announcement is among the most surprising developments of the 2013 city election cycle. Colvin Roy, who was elected to the council in 1997, has held the office longer than any of her colleagues except council president Barb Johnson -- elected in the same year.
The DFL did not endorse in Colvin Roy's southeastern ward, largely due to the aggressive campaign of neighborhood organizer Andrew Johnson. Johnson attributed the non-endorsement to Colvin Roy's support of the Vikings stadium without a referendum. He is still pursuing the seat along with Green Party candidate Chris Lautenschlager.
Colvin Roy, who chairs the city's transportation committee, was the crucial swing vote who secured passage of the Vikings stadium bill -- a deal that divided the normally unified body. After initially saying it should be put to a vote, she later supported the proposal after the city attorney said a referendum was not required under the charter.
Her decision means the 2014 council is guarranteed to feature even more new faces, following an election year marked by anti-incumbent sentiment. Three seats are already open because their representatives are running for mayor, and the DFL has endorsed challengers over incumbents in three other races.
In a letter to supporters posted on Facebook, Colvin Roy said stepping aside was in the best interest of her family and the ward.
"Each of the four elections I have been engaged in has been hotly contested," Colvin Roy wrote. "I have won them all and the campaign this year is no different. I could run and win."
She said she would look forward to gardening, being home for dinner and walking around in public without being stopped about city issues.
"Most of all, I look forward to not having my motives and intent attacked whenever I make a decision," Colvin Roy wrote.
As chair of the transportation committee, Colvin Roy is the council's point-person on public works issues, including road repavement, garbage pickup, transit projects, traffic congestion and sewer improvements.
Responding to the news Monday night, Johnson praised Colvin Roy's accomplishments in a note to supporters.
"I am happy to have had the chance to work with her and know that she has done many good things for all of us over her tenure, from working on the light rail and environmental issues, to addressing airport noise and rolling out single-sort recycling," wrote Johnson, who is president of the Longfellow Community Council.
Colvin Roy will serve out the rest of her term, which expires at the end of the year.
It was a day of countermoves Monday in the dispute over the Minneapolis school district's shift of Minnesota School of Science charter out of the district's Cityview building in north Minneapolis.
The district set up shop near the school's playground in an effort to recruit MSS students to a new school in the Cityview building that it plans will operate significantly differently from a typical district school, and more like the school it is ousting.
That prompted close to three dozen MSS supporters -- from students to board members -- to mobilize a short distance away to protest that. But much of their message was drowned out by a district generator that powered five inflatable play areas, which the district employed along with snow cone and popcorn machines to entice families. So far, parents seem to be staying loyal to the threatened charter even if it lacks a site for next year. Several last week spoke glowingly of interviews of how the school motivated their students, and drew a contrast to their previous experiences with district schools.
The MSS message was that the district should back off, consent to it switching from the district to Pillsbury United Communities as an authorizer, and give the school a year to move in an orderly fashion. The district has cancelled the charter's lease for non-payment effective the end of this month, a situation triggered by the state's ban on rent aid being paid to the district as both authorizer of the school and landlord, and the district won't release the school to another authorizer. An authorizer is required by law to oversee the school.
"It's not money. It's about egos," said MSS board member Rosilyn Carroll. "It's about adults. Ir's definitely not about children. We are caught in adult games, and it's time we stop manipulating children of color."
The district is trying to send the message that it's not trying to lure students back to the old Cityview program, which didn't produce good academic results. Rather it wants to feature the reopened schol as the first of its "partnership" schools, a new model that needs teacher union signoff to implement as the district wants. It wants those schools to feature longer days and years, more flexibility, and financial incentives for teachers.
One key feature of that program would be to recruit some of the same teachers who have signed contracts with MSS for next school year. The district said it has made offers to five of those teachers, and a major attraction for them is to stay with their students, according to Associate Superintendent Sara Paul. SMM teachers must pay a penalty to opt out of their contracts if the school continues to exist next school year, she said. But with their average salary in the $33,000 to $35,000 range, they could quickly recoup the penalty with a district stating salary of at least $39,137. Teachers who want to switch to the district won't jeopardize their status with MSS, board chairman Murat Ergen said.
The two-year-old charter school has engenedered strong loyalties from the parents of many of its more than 300 students. "It's basically our children's future that they're playing around with," said Maile Vue, mother of a kindergartner and third grader. The school engenders excitement, she said, citing one daughter. "When she's sick, she'll say, 'Go to school mama and pick up my homework.'"
The City Council's former budget chair, Paul Ostrow, issued some harsh words this weekend about a plan to divert property taxes to a streetcar line, calling it "irresponsible" and "bizarre."
Ostrow, who retired from the Council in 2009, questioned the value of building a $200 million streetcar line along Nicollet and Central Aves. in an open letter to the council and mayor on Sunday. But he said there is "no reasonable justification" to redirect $5 million a year in property taxes from existing development projects to help fund it.
The Legislature gave the city authority this May to create a "value capture district" of five specific blocks containing some of the most high-profile development already underway in the city (see pictures below). More than 1,200 units are planned for those blocks. Two council panels may vote on that plan Tuesday, after a public hearing.
Ostrow said the plan "makes a mockery" of tax increment financing (TIF), which pays down bonds using the increased tax base generated by a project. TIF, he noted, is usually intended to capture revenues that would not be generated "but for" the public investment.
"It is not property tax increment but property tax diversion. The property tax growth is already going to happen without a streetcar line," Ostrow wrote. "You are making a choice right now for the 2018 City Council and City Councils for several decades on how these essential property tax resources will be used. Starting in 2018, the City will have five million dollars less for police officers, firefighters and street repair."
Peter Wagenius, mayor R.T. Rybak's policy aide, estimates that the value capture district could generate enough revenue to sustain a $60 million bond for the streetcar project. The city is seeking federal funds to help make up the gap.
When asked about the diversion of these property taxes in May, Wagenius said the goal is to spur even more development.
"What we hope to prove by the end of this project is that we will get an increase in value along the corridor beyond that which is projected on these six blocks," Wagenius said.
Ostrow, who is now an assistant Anoka County attorney, said the proposal “fails the most basic standards of good financial policy” and “would set a very dangerous precedent” by committing property tax growth to a “pet project.”
Regarding the project itself, Ostrow said he doubts the streetcar line will reach areas in need of investment or “be of any value” to residents most in need. "Using scarce property tax dollars to fund an amenity when basic needs are not being met is not progressive," he wrote.
Also questioning the plan is independent candidate for mayor Cam Winton, who discussed it at a press conference held on a moving bus several weeks ago.
Here is Ostrow's letter:
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