Mayoral candidates debate North Side issues

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  • October 9, 2013 - 4:02 PM

Candidates at a mayoral campaign forum about north Minneapolis issues Tuesday night fielded some broad questions, such as how they would end racism.

But after teens playing basketball at Folwell Park walked into the gymnasium halfway through, contenders heard a simple query from a young man who stepped up to the mic: How would they fix the lights that were out at the park's own outdoor basketball court?

Cam Winton said the city must take care of the basics, such as lighting, before spending money “on the bells and whistles.” Bob Fine, a park commissioner, said he’d talk to the staff about fixing the lights. Council Member Don Samuels, as he often does, used the opportunity to pound his campaign theme of improving education and did not directly address the question, going on to talk about the struggles of living on the North Side and concluding, “I’m inside, I’m feeling it, and it’s unacceptable.”

Making sufficient investments in the North Side dominated the event of 10 mayoral contenders, and  members of the audience pressed them on how they would boost the struggling area with jobs, transit, and better education.

There were some tense moments, such as when Dan Cohen said that the Hennepin County trash incinerator has not caused health problems in a single person. “Whoa,” some in the audience called out, while others whispered, “What did he say?”

He was one of the few candidates who said he supported a plan to have the incinerator, known as the HERC, increase its capacity from 80 to 100 percent. Critics contend that the facility releases toxic pollutants that disproportionately harm North Siders.

“Do I support sending fumes of poison across north Minneapolis? No,” said Council Member Betsy Hodges, to applause.

Mark Andrew championed the incinerator as a Hennepin County commissioner in the 1980s and said Tuesday night that there was enough concern in the community about the burner that he supported environmental studies on the issue and would base any future support on the science.

Leslie Davis, an activist who fought the incinerator in the 80s, held a sign outside the park building saying, “Anyone but Andrew.” Moderator Reg Chapman, a reporter for WCCO, had to issue a warning against making personal attacks after Winton criticized Andrew for flip-flopping on the incinerator, urging the audience to vote for Andrew at their own peril.

One questioner asked what the candidates would do to make West Broadway Avenue as “economically viable” as Lake Street in south Minneapolis.

Andrew and Hodges called for a streetcar down West Broadway to encourage development, while Cohen said he would encourage more businesses to build there. Doug Mann said he’d like to offer incentives for businesses to locate in that area. Stephanie Woodruff suggested encouraging more small businesses and investing in the city’s upper riverfront. Winton, meanwhile, suggested transforming the “really old-fashioned process” of obtaining city approvals to start a business, and said he would streamline the regulations.

Candidates also spoke in favor of rooting out cops who practice racism and brutality, with Andrew and Cherryhomes saying there needed to be subpoena power to investigate complaints.

Photo credit: Jackie Cherryhomes campaign Twitter feed

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