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Current and former council colleagues said Samuels can take credit for getting the Minneapolis public schools to build new headquarters along West Broadway, and for developing a supportive relationship with the Police Department. City Council President Barb Johnson added that he was the primary force in boosting the city’s rental licensing and enforcement, which greatly reduced the number of problem landlords.
For all of Samuels’ efforts, north Minneapolis remains riddled with crime and poverty, something critics point out.
“You can say not much has changed on the North Side,” said former City Council President Paul Ostrow, who is now managing Stephanie Woodruff’s mayoral campaign. “But the fundamental dynamics in that part of town are so challenging.”
On the North Side, Samuels is still vilified for saying “burn North High School down” in a magazine article in 2007, because so many male black students were failing to graduate.
The Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, said Samuels’ background simply sets him apart from many of the poorer African-Americans who have long called the North Side home but live on the outside of the political and economic establishment.
“Don’t confuse pigment and skin with mind-set and mentality,” McAfee said. “He just doesn’t understand African-Americans.”
Samuels has apologized for the North High remark, saying his point was that taxpayers shouldn’t continue to support a school that, by many standards, wasn’t educating kids.
As for the notion that he can’t relate to African-Americans, Samuels swats that away as part of a game he won’t play.
“Some say the first way to define yourself might be that you are black,” he said of himself. “For me, I define myself first as a human being.”
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646