Voters in southeastern Minneapolis got a fleeting glimpse Saturday of the four candidates vying to represent them on the City Council at a forum just off Lake Street.
The Ward 12 council seat is being vacated by long-time incumbent Sandy Colvin Roy, who opted not to run for re-election after opponent Andrew Johnson blocked her from winning the DFL endorsement. The forum, sponsored by the Midtown Farmer's Market and My Broadsheet, featured Johnson, Ben Gisselman, Chris Lautenschlager and Charlie Casserly.
Saturday's forum was the first since April, when Colvin Roy was still running, and may be the last before Election Day.
Johnson has racked up the most high-profile endorsements, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, several council members and labor unions. Lautenschlager boasts the endorsement of the city's Green Party, the council's "minority" party represented currently by council member Cam Gordon. Colvin Roy has thrown her support behind Gisselman.
The forum touched on airplane noise, crime and protecting waterways. But candidates managed to differentiate themselves the most during opening statements and in response to a question about their position on a particular council vote.
Johnson is president of the Longfellow Community Council and until recently worked as a systems engineer at Target. He referred to himself as a "data guy" who has worked to improve East Lake Street, highlighting the Longfellow Market and Senora Grill that are moving into the neighborhood's once-blighted blocks. Johnson also noted that he has already begun reviewing unnecessary or outdated city ordinances, some of which are already being changed as a result. "I’ve consistently worked and gotten good results in the neighborhood," Johnson said. He added that he has been endorsed by all five DFL constituency caucuses.
Lautenschlager is a communications director at an art gallery and board member of the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association. He said he has worked to improve the association's communications by creating a website and starting their social media program. He noted his involvement in the Minneapolis Art in Public Places Program, citing the new public art at the 46th Street light rail station. "The reasons why I got into this race, to be blunt, [were that] I was upset about some of the decisions that the City Council had made over the past term," Lautenschlager said. That includes the stadium vote, the dissolution of the civilian review authority and the dissolution of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, he said.
Gisselman is an attorney who also runs a business which offers alcohol training to the service industry. He said he joined the race "because I am passionate about the idea of being able to give back to the community that’s given a lot to me." Gisselman said he frequently hears from residents that their essential city services -- public safety, quality streets, drinking water -- are below par, despite higher property taxes. "I tend to prioritize the core services," Gisselman said.
Casserly works in web design and event management. He stressed in his opening remarks -- and repeatedly throughout the forum -- that he grew up in the area. "I’m a locally grown candidate. That’s kind of my buzzword," Casserly said. He believes no other candidate in the race can match his record of service.
Candidates were later asked about a particular City Council vote that they support or disagree with and why.
Johnson highlighted the "claw back" of neighborhood funding through the now-dissolved Neighborhood Revitalization Program. He said the money had many positive impacts, such as lending homeowners money to improve their properties, funding environmental initiatives and boosting local art projects like the decorative wrapping of utility boxes. "The city council took that money that was already allocated and took it back," Johnson said. He added that he is the only council member who attends meetings for all three of the ward's neighborhoods.
Lautenschlager said that although Green Party candidates are "supposed to be in favor of every form of transportation known to man and woman," he opposes the funding method for a planned 3.2-mile Nicollet streetcar line. He is, however, "a fan of streetcars." The funding plan would redirect $60 million in property taxes from existing development projects to fund the project. "I think that money could have been used in areas of the city that need transportation in a much more serious and significant way," Lautenschlager said.
Gisselman said he agreed with the council's decision to postpone a vote that would have let voters authorize a city takeover of Xcel Energy's utility services -- often called "municipalization." "I think the initial research was clear and the public response was clear that this was an excessively expensive project that potentially could be something that the city couldn’t afford while also being able to afford to provide the [essential services]," Gisselman said.
Casserly also disagreed with the streetcar line, calling it a "boondoggle." "We don’t need it," Casserly said. "[The route] is currently served by buses." He noted that pipes are frequently bursting and causing flooding downtown. "For crying out loud those are basic city services that need to be met," Casserly said.
Pictured: Casserly, Lautenschlager, Gisselman and Johnson
Here is full video of the forum, courtesty of My Broadsheet: