What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

Mayor appoints lawyer to probe Al Flowers arrest

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 8, 2014 - 5:27 PM

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said Friday that lawyer Donald Lewis, who gave the maximum amount to her 2013 election, will lead what she described as an independent investigation into a police arrest involving activist Al Flowers 

Flowers supporters said they have confidence in Lewis, but criticized the scope of his appointment. Lewis was assigned to examine whether police department policy was vioalated in the late July arrest of Flowers. His attorney, Bobby Joe Champion, said Lewis should be assigned the entire criminal investigation.

“I’m not sure how you bifurcate these things unless you’re trying to get a desired outcome,” said Champion.  "Don Lewis has always been a person of integrity," he added.

Lewis withdrew from a 2001 appointment to head an investigation into City Hall corruption after that arrangement drew criticism because of his political support for then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

Council members questioned that appointment because of the appearance of impropriety rather than the issue of whether Lewis, an experienced investigator, was qualified.

According to campaign records, Lewis gave $500 in contributions to the Hodges campaign in 2013.  Lewis also gave $250 to mayoral candidate Jackie Cherryhomes. One lawyer in his current firm gave another $125 to Hodges, while another gave $500 to Mark Andrew.

In 2001, he held a fundraiser for Sayles Belton at his law firm, donated to her campaign and had her lawn sign at his south Minneapolis home.

There was no immediate reaction from the mayor's office on the question of whether he could be independent in a probe of the late July arrest of Flowers in an altercation at his home. Lewis deferred questions to the mayor.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kate Brickman said in response to questions about the scope of his duties that “Lewis is a private practice civil law attorney who has been asked to investigate whether the involved officers violated department policy regarding use of force in connection with the arrest.  The chief is considering next steps with respect to a criminal investigation and can provide an update on that probably sometime next week.”

"Mr. Lewis is the right person to conduct this investigaiton," Hodges said in announcing the appointment of Lewis.  "He is a respected leader in the community who I know will be thorough and fair."

Lewis is a Minneapolis lawyer who was dean of the Hamline University law school from 2008 to 2013, and worked as a federal prosecutor. He previously investigated allegations of academic fraud in the University of Minnesota men's basketball program and lead an independent investigation for St. Paul officials into the 2013 landslide at Lilydale Regional Park in which two children died.

(Photo: Attorney Donald Lewis)

Noor, Kahn go door to door to make their final pitch

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: August 7, 2014 - 3:47 PM

1:45 p.m., Wednesday. There’s a sign for Rep. Phyllis Kahn on the lawn on this quiet Seward street, but her political challenger pays it no mind.

“Hi there .. My name is Mohamud Noor,” he says, walking right up to the voter sitting outside.

“Yes, I recognize your face,” says the woman brightly.

Her name is Maggie Zoncki and she is torn. She likes Kahn, a 42-year veteran of the House. But a letter in support of Noor that ran in the Strib made her reconsider, even though it was on the same page as an editorial board endorsement of Kahn.

“She’s a really nice woman, and I love what she’s done, but I also believe in changing, and 42 years is a long time,” Zoncki says.

She tells Noor she’ll decide by Tuesday.

“The signs don’t vote, it’s the residents who are going be voting,” says Noor, after passing more than a half-dozen signs for Kahn. His campaign has not invested much in signs.

Noor hopes these face-to-face pitches pay off at the polls next Tuesday, when the DFL primary will take place. Already, the House race has garnered statewide attention and carved divisions among Democrats and Noor’s own Somali-American community.

For now, he and two campaign aides walk up and down residential streets off East Franklin hoping to catch someone, anyone, who is home. It is  part of their final push to convince voters to choose the unknown over the known.

Noor was appointed to the school board in January and heads the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. He announced his candidacy months after Kahn had aided Abdi Warsame’s successful bid to be elected the first Somali-American on the City Council.

People tell him to wait for his turn, says Noor, who would work to improve early childhood education and close the racial “opportunity gap” if elected.

“So why do we have elections? Why don’t we just wait for people until [it’s] their time?”


Just across the river, four hours later, Kahn stands on a sidewalk in Prospect Park answering questions from a news reporter from Fox 9 News.

Was Noor an opportunist?

She replies that he’s already run for various offices – school board, state Senate – and “I’ve only run for one thing in my life … I don’t give up things that I’ve done just to do something else.”

When the TV reporter tells her how interesting it’s been to watch her in the legislature, she says, “Just think how boring it would be if I wasn’t there! No 12 year old voting, no cousins marrying, no legalization of everything.”

After the reporter leaves, and she starts door-knocking, she addresses Noor’s contention that he is more in line with the changing demographics of the district.

“He’s Somali, and I’m not Somali, so he’s obviously more in touch … what I’m very proud of, of course, is the number of Somali supporters I have.” She guesses she has up to 30 percent of Somali support, while Noor contends that his support is 95 percent.

Kahn spies two college kids walking by.

“I’m Phyllis Kahn, the state legislator, and I’m running for reelection, and it’s a very contentious primary if you haven’t seen,” she tells them.

The kids haven’t seen. She gives them some campaign lit. One becomes interested after seeing her support for freezing tuition at the U.

Then, onto the condos nearby. She wraps on a door four times in quick succession.

“Hello?” a man’s voice calls from a screened upstairs balcony.

“Hello?” Kahn calls back.

She steps back to see who it is.

“Who’s at the door?” the man calls out, still a sight unseen.

“State Representative Phyllis Kahn.”

“Oh! Phyllis! You got our votes. I’m so happy.”

He races down.

Kahn gives him her spiel: “One of the problems is the voter turnout of this primary,  so if you can tell people to vote … “

Park Board keeps Phillips pool alive

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 6, 2014 - 6:48 PM

The proposed reopening of the pool at Phillips Community Center is alive for at least another half-year while the Minneapolis park system and a nonprofit group of swimming boosters seek additional money to pay for it.

A proposal setting new deadlines at the end of February for raising construction and operating money was approved by the Park Board Tuesday on a 7-2 vote.  The approval followed a failed proposal by Commissioner Anita Tabb to delay approval for two weeks while park staff would have come up with a proposal to improve swim lessons citywide. That drew only two votes.

So far a fundraising effort led earlier by nonprofit Minneapolis Swims has generated $2.2. But the most basic option of renovating the empty six-lane pool inside the center and adding an instructional pool is estimated to cost $2.8 million.

The approval followed a spirited debate that pitted advocates for equity in swimming opportunities, particularly those in high-poverty neighborhoods, against those who warned that a pool would pose a further operating drain on the Park Board's budget. "We can't even maintain what we have now," said Commissioner Annie Young, who nevertheless voted for the new proposal.

An upset State Rep. Karen Clark, who lives blocks from the pool, warned the board against delaying the pool to develop a broader swim plan, arguing that the city's legislative delegation would feel betrayed. 

(Phillips Community Center's pool has sat empty for the past several years.)

School board incumbent hires daughter as campaign manager

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: August 6, 2014 - 5:16 PM

Incumbent Minneapolis School Board Member Rebecca Gagnon has hired her out-of-state college age daughter to be her paid campaign manager.

New campaign finance records shows Gagnon’s campaign has already paid her daughter, Samantha, $1,120 and owes her another $3,000. Gagnon’s daughter is a sophomore at Loyola University.

Gagnon has raised $10,902 dollars so far.

Gagnon is the only candidate who reported paying a campaign manager, and said she did not hire a professional manager because her daughter has "quite a bit of experience working with campaigns."

"She worked 30 to 40 hours a week last year on a mayoral campaign," Gagnon said. "She is incredibly smart and incredibly credible. She organized [the campaign] for the DLF convention, and I got 81 percent of the vote."

Gagnon said her daughter is also very in-tune with the issues facing the district.

"Some of the candidates do not know what is happening in our schools," she said. "She was actively involved in the district and she's a great asset."

Gagnon said she had to hire a campaign manager because she can't put her school board duties aside while running a campaign. 

"The work never stops," she said.

Don Samuels ahead in raising money for school board race

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: August 6, 2014 - 4:33 PM


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters