Civil rights activist Nekima Levy-Pounds announced her candidacy for mayor of Minneapolis in front of the Fourth Precinct police station Tuesday, pledging to end racial disparities and improve police treatment of minorities.
“We have a chance to demonstrate what it means when we talk about equity,” Levy-Pounds said. “Not just in the way we speak about it but in our policies, our practices and how we distribute our resources throughout the city.”
Mayor Betsy Hodges, who was elected to a first term in 2013, is seeking re-election and will make an announcement later this year “because she has more work to do and isn’t done with it yet,” according to a statement from her campaign. Other candidates are expected to jump into the race. The election is in November 2017.
Levy-Pounds, 40, an attorney who stepped down in October as president of the Minneapolis NAACP and left her law professor position at the University of St. Thomas School of Law said she chose Tuesday to announce her candidacy to mark the anniversary of the police shooting death of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man. His November 2015 death sparked months of protests and an encampment at the precinct that lasted 18 days. Levy-Pounds played a prominent role in the demonstrations.
Levy-Pounds moved to north Minneapolis in September 2015 from Brooklyn Park, but said she has been involved in Minneapolis issues for several years. She was part of the group that successfully sought the repeal of lurking and spitting ordinances in 2015.
“I am running in order to bring a paradigm shift in the city of Minneapolis,” Levy-Pounds said. “Given the high rates of racial disparities that communities of color are experiencing, we can no longer afford business as usual.”
Her outspoken activism has sometimes led to conflict. In one incident that circulated widely on social media, her criticism of the Minneapolis Park Board led to a shouting match with Liz Wielinski, then-president of the board, who said Levy-Pounds was “a rude, interrupting adult.” Wielinski later apologized and stepped down from the leadership post.
Levy-Pounds had been a law professor at the University of St. Thomas for 13 years before resigning this year. She’s been a practicing attorney for 15 years and describes herself as “a preacher and activist” who preached at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis on racial and social justice issues and now attends Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis.
She said she is running as a member of the DFL Party but did not know whether she’d seek the party’s nomination. The DFL convention, where candidates seek endorsements, is in June.
Levy-Pounds was among the prominent early supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis and spoke out against Jamar Clark’s death, pushing for charges against the officers involved.
But Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge the officers involved in Clark’s death, saying the deadly force was justified. Police Chief Janeé Harteau also found that the officers’ actions were warranted.
The day after Clark was killed, Levy-Pounds was one of dozens of people arrested during a protest on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis. She received a stay of adjudication with eight hours of community service.
Levy-Pounds also was one of 11 people charged with organizing Black Lives Matter demonstrations at the Mall of America in December 2014. She was charged with eight misdemeanors, but in 2015, a Hennepin County district judge dismissed all of them.
She said, however, that she is not running as a protest, but as a candidate intent on winning.
If elected, Levy-Pounds said, one focus would be job creation, attracting businesses and corporations to move into the city, particularly to areas with high unemployment rates.
“I would work with community stakeholders to address the crisis in affordable housing for low-income and middle-income individuals,” she said. “Beyond that, we need an overhaul of our criminal justice system within the city of Minneapolis, from policing to charging decisions that are made.”
Some 30 supporters, including Minneapolis NAACP President-elect Jason Sole, stood behind her as she announced her candidacy. She received the endorsement of former Minneapolis City Council Member Brian Herron, now the minister at Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis.
He said the city had “failed miserably” in reducing disparities and praised Levy-Pounds. “I think this is a moment filled with hope and excitement,” he said.
Some observers and supporters said she has an enthusiastic base among activists, especially people of color and young liberals.
“I am so excited and there is no better choice,” said Raeisha Williams, a City Council candidate in the Fifth Ward. “Who better to bring the city of Minneapolis together in true unity for a hopeful future?”
But Larry Jacobs, political science professor at the University of Minnesota, said she is too divisive.
“Nekima will have strong support in some parts of the city,” he said. “She will have intense opposition elsewhere.”
Council Member Cam Gordon said it’s possible she could win because of ranked-choice voting. “She has a lot of name recognition,” he said.
Louis King, a former Minneapolis school board member, said Levy-Pounds can incite emotion, but wondered: “Can you bring people together and get things done and convince people to do that?”
Nathaniel Khaliq, past president of the St. Paul NAACP and a longtime friend of Levy-Pounds, offered praise. “She is a sharp young lady and has a lot of passion for social justice and for building a better community,” he said.
Staff writers Eric Roper and Steve Brandt contributed to this report.