Pictured: Ian Alexander, Brett Buckner, Blong Yang and Kale Severson.
Four candidates vying to replace longtime Council Member Don Samuels met Tuesday evening to share their views on bolstering one of the city’s most struggling wards.
Ian Alexander, Kale Severson, Brett Buckner and Blong Yang generally agreed that it was key to attract more jobs and development to the North Side, and vowed to advocate for minority hiring goals.
Here’s a look at what they said about some of the most pressing issues in the fifth ward:
In response to a question about how they would encourage healthy eating choices and remove the barrier to high-quality, fresh food in north Minneapolis:
Alexander noted that on a recent trip to Byerly’s in the suburbs, the most expensive peas he could find were $1.50, while at Wally’s corner store on the North Side they were $2 – and expired. He said companies like Trader Joe’s don’t move in due to a lack of density and trust in the market, but the next council member must push for that development.
Buckner suggested that the abundance of vacant lots in north Minneapolis could be set aside to produce more fresh food, and cited the garden at Zion Baptist Church as an example to follow. He said the community could set aside 50 to 100 lots where people could grow fresh food for local restaurants.
Severson said the answer is education -- teaching people how to eat healthy food and grow their own. The North Side is in a “food desert,” he said, noting that fried chicken and fried fish are the main choices on West Broadway. The city should encourage more new businesses there, he said.
Yang said there are Hmong stores with lots of fresh produce that many people have not visited. He said the community could work together to market better food, and also use vacant lots as community gardens for the area to grow its own food.
In response to a question about how they would address the disproportionately high concentration of sex offenders living on the North Side:
Yang noted that while Minnesota law does not allow the highest-risk sex offenders (known as Level Three sex offenders) to concentrate in one area after they are released from prison into the general community, it does not define concentration. He suggested creating a well-regulated group home to ensure we know where the offenders are “at all times for the safety of our children.” [That would likely require changes in state law, which permits Level Three sex offenders to live on their own.]
Alexander recalled walking his dog on the North Side, near Samuels’ home, and seeing a man exposing himself and masturbating near children waiting for a school bus. He questioned whether such behavior would be acceptable in any other neighborhood. The city, county, and state aren’t working together, he said, and we need to bring many people into the room to take action on sex offenders.
Buckner said that if we keep accepting this and do not raise our voices, this concentration of sex offenders will continue to happen. He encouraged telling others across the metro area that we must “share the pain as well as the promise.”
Severson pointed out that Yang and Alexander are attorneys, and they should have taken the lead to sue the state over the concentration of sex offenders in north Minneapolis. “Shame on you guys, you are attorneys -- take the initiative,” he said.
In response to a question about how they would attract more young professionals of color to north Minneapolis:
Alexander said that young professionals don’t move here because of perceptions that crime is high and there is nowhere to shop. He said that until the area has “concentric circles of development,” whether along the river, at Penn and West Broadway Avenues, or Glenwood Avenue, nothing will happen.
Buckner said investment must start coming into the area. People need to believe in the area, he said, and we must teach people that north Minneapolis is a place to come to. With increased density, amenities, and connectedness with the rest of the region, it can be the “star of the north,” he said, adding that he could get seven votes on the 13-member City Council to achieve his agenda.
Severson challenged Buckner on whether he could really get seven votes on the council, noting that the council is up for election this year. He said the area needs better schools and more accountable police.
Yang said north Minneapolis’ reputation is “completely undeserved,” but called for the area to improve. It needs police who serve with more compassion, he said, and there must be more simple amenities here – people should be able to get gas at one in the morning and a donut at one in the afternoon.