At least two incumbents appeared on the verge of losing their spots on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, according to early voting results that will go through additional rounds of tabulation on Wednesday.
All nine seats of the board were up for election, with 23 candidates vying for the spots after the Park Board faced public backlash for homeless encampments that spread in parks amid last summer's civil unrest and the pandemic.
The board, made up of three at-large commissioners and six district commissioners, develops policies and enacts ordinances for the park system, which has more than 100 parks, 49 recreation centers, its own police force and a $128.7 million annual budget, the bulk of which is funded by property taxes.
The race for the three at-large seats were too close to call as incumbents Meg Forney and Londel French and five candidates — Katherine Kelly, Mary McKelvey, Tom Olsen, Charles Rucker and Alicia D. Smith — sought the seats.
The city called one winner in unofficial results: Billy Menz, an Edison High School English language learners teacher, who ran unopposed for District 1, which includes Nicollet Island and northeast Minneapolis.
Becka Thompson, a mathematics professor, had a wide lead in the District 2 race against Eric Moran, an IT worker who was one of three Park Board candidates the Minneapolis DFL endorsed, and Mike Shelton, executive director of the Heritage Youth Sports Foundation. District 2 spans north Minneapolis, the North Loop and parts of Theodore Wirth Park.
Becky Alper, a transportation planner, likely unseated incumbent AK Hassan, who also faced challenger Mohamoud Hassan for District 3, which encompasses Powderhorn Park and West River Parkway to Bohemian Flats Park.
Elizabeth Shaffer, a former teacher and president of the Friends of Thomas Lowry Park, likely unseated Jono Cowgill, the Park Board president who was also DFL endorsed. He was elected in 2017 for District 4, which includes Loring Park, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and part of Bde Maka Ska.
Shaffer, one of the most outspoken candidates against the Park Board's response to encampments, was top fundraiser of any Park Board candidate. She said she held two Zoom fundraisers and sent out an e-mail to friends and family, but money kept pouring in, allowing her to mail more than 50,000 fliers.
"I think that was a response that people were ready for change," she said. "I feel voters are ready for leaders who are authentically engaged in the community."
Incumbent Steffanie Musich appeared to hold onto her seat in District 5, which has Lake Hiawatha, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Park and Diamond Lake, after facing two challengers, Justin Cermak and Charles Rodgers. She was elected in 2014 and also voted against allowing homeless encampments in parks. But she doesn't think the election results were about one issue, but rather show that voters want a collaborative Park Board.
"I'm hopeful the board that takes office in 2022 is willing to listen to people with different opinions," she said. "The last four years have been incredibly painful."
The District 6 race was too close to call, with candidates Cathy Abene, Bob Fine, Risa Hustad and Barb Schlaefer vying for the district seat.
Voters also cast ballots for two people to the Board of Estimate & Taxation, (BET) but the race was too close to call and additional rounds of counting take place Wednesday. Four candidates — Steve Brandt, Kevin Nikiforakis, Samantha Pree-Stinson and Pine Salica — ran for the board.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141