Candidates for mayor of Minneapolis detailed their visions for downtown at a private forum of business leaders this week, fielding questions on how they would make the district safer and more vibrant and populous.
The event was hosted by the Minneapolis Downtown Council at the New Century Theatre in City Center, and featured Council Members Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels, former City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes, former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew and wind energy attorney Cam Winton.
Unlike in many other debates this year, they received different questions from moderator Lynn Casey of the PR firm Padilla Speer Beardsley for most of the session. One exception: the candidates were each asked for their views on Minneapolis taking over electric and natural gas service from Xcel and CenerPoint Energy. (We've already outlined those positions in coverage of an energy forum here).
Here’s a look at some of the other issues the candidates discussed at Tuesday's event:
On drug dealing that’s “24/7” in front of City Center, as people get on and off the bus, Cherryhomes said, “We cannot have it.” She added that the problem is serious enough that when she and her 16-year-old daughter went downtown recently the “things that were said to her made me feel very unsafe … and very clear that I don’t want her particularly coming down here by herself.”
Cherryhomes said she wants to increase the police presence downtown as well as bring more constructive activity to the street. That includes better using vacant spaces along Hennepin Avenue and allowing pop-up businesses, or temporary shops. Cherryhomes proposed bringing in more art galleries and keeping downtown clean. Creepy people, she said, “hang out where they are not challenged; they hang out where things look bad.”
Asked about the three-block urban park planned as part of Ryan Co.’s Downtown East development, Cherryhomes called it a “fabulous project” but said she has reservations about closing Park and Portland Avenues.
Samuels, who chairs the public safety committee, addressed a question on what he would do to increase officers on patrol if downtown saw a sudden uptick in crime. He didn't get into specifics, instead sharing his recent experience of going downtown at 3 a.m. with a police official and not believing what he saw. Samuels recalled “crazy late night spots” and criminals spilling onto the streets. After cracking down with tougher ordinances, crime improved.
“We are just going to draw the line,” he said. “We are going to say … it’s an ordered society, children are going to be able to walk down the street with their moms and be safe, and once we draw the line, everything follows. I’m going to be the mayor that draws that line and it will not be violated for more than a day.”
Questioned about his support for the Aquatennial and Holidazzle parade, Samuels said he’d want to integrate the experiences and traditions of immigrant communities – particularly Somali and Hmong residents - into the festivities.
Asked how he would address panhandling, public campouts, and loitering, Winton said he shared a commitment to a livable downtown and that police should have the resources to stop aggressive panhandlers. He said he’s been encouraged so far by Heading Home Hennepin, the region’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.
But he expressed hesitation at tough loitering ordinances.
“Very quickly a loitering ordinance can devolve into targeting – let’s call it what it is, young black men - for standing on the street and being young black men. I’m reluctant,” said Winton.
On a seemingly noncontroversial question about how he would bring more trees downtown, Winton dinged his opponents for not taking the city’s finances into enough consideration when discussing their plans.
“This is a Minnesota-style race where people actually like each other,” he said, before urging the audience to ask the candidates how they will pay for items they support in the Downtown Council’s 2025 plan when they’ve already expressed support for other costly programs. He referred to a new streetcar line that has won support from Hodges and Samuels on the City Council, as well as a proposal by Andrew to put solar panels on 150 buildings.
Such expenses “would not leave the money necessary for the tree planting initiative,” said Winton.
Questions moved on to urban planning issues, and Hodges was asked how she’d contribute as mayor to changing the “dead and ugly” entryways to downtown.
She said the city needs to ensure the new Vikings stadium works well and prove wrong the detractors who say stadiums don’t attract development. She’d like to open up and connect east downtown to surrounding neighborhoods spanning Cedar-Riverside, Elliot Park, and the university. While the highway ramps lining downtown are seen as barriers, rather than opportunities, Hodges said, the city has already worked with the state’s Department of Transportation to make those entrances work better.
As she has before, Hodges knocked corporate subsidies the city awarded in the 1990s when asked how she would attract more jobs downtown. She said they need to continue creating a city that people want to invest in, and focus not just on big development but also the small things for people who live downtown – a drycleaner, for instance, or a corner store for them to pick up milk at the end of the day. Hodges said she would ensure the city’s economic development staff includes people who specialize in retail development.
Andrew said Minneapolis must address shabbily maintained areas where unsavory people are congregating and get more cops on the ground, when asked about getting the perecption of the city's safety to match improving crime stats. He said that Hennepin County should be more involved with the city on the problem, fortifying efforts to work with social workers, youth intervention programs, and private security.
Asked about reaching the council's goal to double the downtown population by 2025, Andrew said he supports more compact development, the preservation of buildings, and integrating transit with shopping and recreational opportunities. He’d like to develop much more affordable housing to bring in a greater variety of people.