Matt Birk recently came to W. Broadway in north Minneapolis, walking along a stretch that locals say has seen far too many shootings and drug deals in recent years.
"I've heard that a lot today — we've got a lot of people outside of the North Side saying what we need and the people in the North Side are like, 'No, we know what we need. We need the politicians and the people who don't live here to … really start listening to us,'" the GOP lieutenant governor candidate said into his mic for a "Matt on Main Street" video.
Some leaders in the areas hit hardest by violence — places like W. Broadway — say they wish candidates would visit more often in a campaign season where public safety dominates the debate. They want them to spend more time engaging people there instead of using crime as a flashpoint in ads that appeal to suburbanites.
The Rev. Tim Christopher of Berean Missionary Baptist Church has met with Birk, his running mate and gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen and Republican attorney general contender Jim Schultz, but said "the only time you ever see [Republicans] is election time."
He noted that many Black residents in north Minneapolis are upset over the Feeding Our Future fraud scandal, the failure to prosecute certain gun crimes, the state's handling of the 2020 riots and the rash of catalytic converter thefts. They're looking for an alternative, he believes, but Republicans haven't reached out enough.
"A lot of people are pretty upset at the Democrats and [Gov.] Tim Walz," Christopher said, "and if there was any year that the Republicans could have come into north Minneapolis and picked off votes, this was the year."
Some North Side leaders on violence prevention credit the Jensen-Birk campaign with showing at least a nominal interest in their community, even if they haven't had a consistent presence there. Few had heard from Schultz in the neighborhood, where Attorney General Keith Ellison enjoys deep ties and won points with crime prevention leaders by announcing his office would investigate violent hot spots Merwin Liquors and Winners Gas Station.
"Do you trust Keith Ellison to keep you and your family safe?" Schultz asks in one political ad. On Thursday, he tweeted, "We're leading in this race because Minnesotans know Keith Ellison has been MIA on public safety."
The Schultz and Jensen-Birk campaigns did not respond to questions about their outreach in high-crime neighborhoods.
Walz's campaign said he has attended Souls to the Polls events at churches in north Minneapolis, events at Mercado Central and Midtown Global Market in the Phillips neighborhood; he also met with union leaders in Cedar-Riverside.
Christopher and others on the North Side describe Ellison as responsive and active in the area. Ellison's campaign said he has held 43 events in north Minneapolis, knocked on doors and visited most of the area's houses of worship. Christopher sees much less ground to criticize Ellison than Walz, and he opposes Schultz's remarks that he would commute former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter's sentence in the killing of Daunte Wright. Nor does he trust that Schultz would have prosecuted Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin, as Ellison did, for murdering George Floyd.
"Schultz has never contacted me to have a sit-down or to find out what we might need if he's elected to help fight crime," said Harding Smith, a pastor who runs a crime prevention initiative for the city of Brooklyn Park and conducts outreach in north Minneapolis. "I hear from people every day in these commercials talking about what they're going to do but they are so distant with the community leaders, the people that are boots on the ground."
Shiloh Temple Bishop Richard Howell recalled that Republican gubernatorial candidates came through his North Side church in late 2021; since then, it's mainly been Democratic contenders, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's GOP challenger, Cicely Davis. Howell did sit down with Birk at Sammy's Avenue Eatery in north Minneapolis several months ago.
"Matt showed interest in the North Side and was wondering how the windfall of the state of Minnesota could benefit [the area] … when you bring economic wealth, chances are that violence obviously may decline as a result," Howell recalled.
On Wednesday, Howell and Smith joined other Black North Side leaders in a discussion of violence at Shiloh Temple, condemning Republican campaigns for playing politics with the issue of crime.
They credited Walz with helping secure funding for 21 Days of Peace, an initiative in which church volunteers fan out over crime hot spots to make streets safer. Among the group was activist Spike Moss, who accompanied Howell to the meeting with Birk. Moss voiced support for Ellison, noting how he had once accompanied him during a crime surge to have gang members in prison call their associates on the outside to settle tensions and reduce violence. Still, he said, "I'm willing to meet with any Republican leadership that really cares about crime and violence — come and meet with the people affected most by it."
North Minneapolis Rev. Jerry McAfee, who helps lead 21 Days of Peace, said in an interview that he met Schultz several weeks ago during a suburban campaign event where his friend was speaking. "They had it in Plymouth, Minn., about ... police in the African American community. Don't you find that interesting?"
On Lake Street, Abe Demaaj said that early in the campaign, Jensen visited the Abyssinia Center that Demaaj opened last year to serve Black and immigrant populations. The 2020 riots damaged Demaaj's family's furniture businesses farther down the corridor, and he worries that crime remains high on Lake Street. He criticized the Democratic response.
But he also said that Republicans did not provide money for rebuilding.
"It's kind of hard to choose which one to go to," said Demaaj, a political independent. At his community center, however, he's heard that most plan to vote GOP this election. "They feel like crime and safety are major things for them right now and they don't feel safe."
Outside the mosque down the street, frequent carjackings put those going to pray at risk, said Waris Mohamud, a mother and community volunteer.
Mohamud said she's seen few candidates since the last election, when the DFL took votes like hers for granted. She added that her vote will go to whichever party displays a commitment to serving their community.
"Republicans, I don't know why they don't want to come over here and contact us and show us what they want, really. We don't trust anymore the Democrats," Mohamud said. "Scott Jensen came here, we met actually, but he never came back."