Voting rights and immigration reform dominated discussion Sunday at a Latino-focused mayoral forum held in the basement of a South Minneapolis church.
It was the first multi-lingual forum of the campaign, sponsored by the Asamblea De Derechos Civiles. Candidates wore headphones to hear questions translated from Spanish to English. A team of translators then read their answers in Spanish to the crowd gathered at Incarnation Catholic Church -- a popular Latino meeting place.
All candidates pledged to help fight for federal immigration reform. Several were taken off-guard, however, when asked if they would support allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. Chicago and some cities in Maryland have legalized this.
The moderator asked for "yes" or "no" responses. Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels said, "Yes." Bob Fine said he did not think it was possible. Dan Cohen was confused by the question, but said, "I’d be happy to help you achieve the voting rights.” Mark Andrew said he opposed the voter ID amendment and supports drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, but thinks "we need to learn a little bit more about the implications of" the non-citizen voting change. Cam Winton said "No." "I think only citizens should be able to vote," he said, adding that he would like everyone in the room to have a pathway to citizenship.
During opening statements, Cohen held up a framed photo and explained that he has made many Hispanic friends over his 25 years in the thoroughbred horse business.
"I brought a picture of myself with one," Cohen said. "Here I am. I’m very small here. But very large here is the greatest jockey that ever rode at Canterbury, on my horse [inaudible]. And his name is Luis Quinones. Perhaps you have heard of him. He had the best record of any jockey in the history of Canterbury Park.”
Winton delivered his entire opening remarks in Spanish (hear them at 11:50 in the audio below).
Recounting his own immigration to the United States, Samuels stressed he is the only candidate who has worked as an undocumented worker. "Nobody else on this podium knows how it feels to be hiding to make a decent living, to provide service and be treated as a criminal."
Here is how each candidate answered the question: What have you done in recent years for Latino community?
Andrew said he entered the mayor's race as "the leading champion for communities of color." He said he supports more job training programs and programs focused on hiring more Latinos at the city and in public schools. He said he also supports federal immigration reform. In his opening remarks Andrew said as Hennepin County commissioner he helped fund programs to translate programs into many languages.
Cohen noted that one of his campaign staffers is Latina. "In addition, as part of my campaign initiative, I want to see an end to racial profiling by the police.” He also endorsed federal immigration reform.
Fine said a lot of his work on the Park Board has been for youth. "Some of the focus toward the Latino community has been to assure that there’s offerings for the community and to deal with issues they have, specifically what’s been happening at Powderhorn Park." He said he worked closely with Centro Cultural Chicano while on the civil rights commission.
Winton, clarifying that his experience is in business rather than government, said that his wind turbine company created many jobs with full benefits. Several of their employees were people of Latino heritage, he said.
Samuels said he has been involved in several initiatives to make Minneapolis "one of the most immigrant friendly cities in the United States." He would like to see universal ID cards. Samuels also cited his work helping eliminate "La Montagna" in North Minneapolis so children could play soccer.
Hodges noted that she has walked picket lines with CTUL, a workers rights group of mostly Latino immigrants who work at companies like Target. "It has cost me some support in this race, as you might imagine, but it was the right thing to do," Hodges said. She said she worked hard to defeat the voter ID amendment.