Dave Magnuson is grateful that a steady trickle of lunch customers keeps him busy slinging $2.45 hot dogs in downtown Minneapolis. In a once-bustling food court, his 30-year-old Walkin' Dog kiosk is now the last restaurant standing.
Not since 9/11 has downtown felt so eerie, Magnuson said, but this time around, a mutating coronavirus pandemic and the aftershocks of civil unrest have been much worse.
"Honestly I'm kind of glad I'm at the age where I cannot do this a whole lot longer if I choose not to," he said. "It's kind of terrifying."
Downtown Minneapolis is at a crossroads, with just 36% of office workers returning so far, many restaurants and shops struggling or shuttered, and questions of safety still looming amid a vastly transformed political climate that continues to be shaped by the police murder of George Floyd.
The two City Council members representing downtown — Lisa Goodman and Steve Fletcher — hold divergent views on the future of public safety, and both are facing opponents in the November election who are sharply critical of their responsiveness to constituents amid the crushing challenges of the past year and a half.
"The whole composition of the downtown economy has been affected dramatically by first COVID, and then civil unrest, and now COVID again," said Steve Cramer, chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, which tracks office and business capacity. "That is the overall preoccupation for most of us who are working in the downtown area, and for many of the companies down here as well."
A healthy downtown begets a healthy city, Cramer and others reason. In normal years the central business district's roughly 3% of land generates nearly 40% of city property tax, as well as local sales tax revenue.
For the Downtown Council, battling a perception of lawlessness is paramount to persuading the region's major employers to stay. Though crime in the First Precinct covering downtown actually went down overall in 2020, the number of gunshot victims has continued to climb, from 29 through August of last year to 47 through August of this year.
Goodman, who represents the southern half of Downtown West, has taken the business community's concerns to heart, Cramer says. But Fletcher, who represents the north, has been chary on police funding.
Among residents in Downtown West, disagreement between the two council members on one of the election's biggest issues mirrors its equally ambivalent residents, said Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association Chairwoman Pam McCrea.
"People are extremely divided right now," she said. "Even within my own condominium building, people are divided."
Overall, the neighborhood association has a high regard for the Police Department and Chief Medaria Arradondo, McCrea said. Though several members strongly disagree with Fletcher on public safety and interrogate him at neighborhood meetings, residents have appreciated him showing up and staying respectful, she said. Goodman has not accepted invitations to attend their meetings during the pandemic.
Goodman said she leaves Fletcher to cover downtown neighborhood association meetings while she tries to pick up the slack in parts of her ward with less representation.
She noted that the two frequently work together: Both supported high-rise window cleaners who went on strike recently over COVID safety and wages, for instance. Goodman voted for a Fletcher-sponsored ordinance requiring hotels to rehire first workers laid off due to COVID — a measure that some business owners deemed overregulation.
"Strong hotels rely on their employees," Goodman said. "Having a good, solid group of people who are working in these businesses makes downtown good."
Joining picketing downtown cleaners, Fletcher acknowledged there is an "ideological misalignment" between him and the downtown business establishment.
"I've been very intentional about trying to make sure that we're talking to people who don't feel represented by city government," he said.
Goodman, who has represented the Seventh Ward since 1998, notably did not take the stage when nine of her council colleagues pledged to "defund police" at a Powderhorn Park rally last summer shortly after Floyd's death.
During the past year, she has emphasized the pleas of downtown crime victims dealing with slower response times amid a backlog of assault and car theft investigations. She has urged colleagues to "stop using words like abolish and defund" and advocated replenishing Minneapolis' diminished police force because "a few extra feet on the street will make a difference to a whole number of people."
A DFL-endorsed candidate, Goodman has maintained comfortable double-digit leads over all would-be challengers in the past five elections.
This year, her challengers are Joanna Diaz, who handles safety and compliance for a trucking company, Nick Kor, senior manager of movement building at the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, and Teqen Zéa-Aida, a former art dealer and entrepreneur who ran against Goodman in 2017. Kor and Zéa-Aida are both running to Goodman's left, vowing to fight police abuse, renegotiate the police union's contract and build up nonpolice alternatives.
Diaz, who worked part time as a GrubHub delivery driver during COVID, is running to address crime and police understaffing. She said she and other residents of her Loring Park neighborhood wanted Goodman to be more communicative and approachable through last summer's riots and the crime surge since.
"Last year was very hard for everyone in Minneapolis just because of everything that transpired between the death of George Floyd and the riots and the looting and the businesses that were torched and everyone hurt," she said. "Lisa and some of the current City Council members are not listening."
Kor's crime-fighting theory is that investing in affordable housing, health care, education and jobs will prevent violence in degrees of requiring fewer police. Funds could be taken from the police budget to pay for social services, he said, because no city department should be exempt from performance-based budgetary review.
Kor said he plans to inject life into downtown in the form of street food, public art, a later bar close time and commercial rents that won't discourage immigrant business owners.
"We're always talking about the big businesses, the corporations. I think they'll be OK," Kor said. "They've got a lot of money."
Zéa-Aida disavows the movement to defund the police, which he believes has less support from people of color than the organizers of those campaigns purport. But he advocates better vetting of police recruits and said police should not have military-grade supplies and weapons. He wants to create "comfort and safety nodes" — teams of peace-minded police, clergy and mental health workers. Public safety is inextricably tied to saving downtown, he said.
"We walk through downtown, and it's a disaster. We can pretend that it's not as bad as it actually is, and we can pretend that the cost of cleaning up the mess isn't going to be shifted onto homeowners and renters in this town," Zéa-Aida said. "But the taxes will go up the way they always do when the financial generator of a city and our state collapses."
Fletcher signed on as one of the sponsors of the City Council's charter amendment to replace the Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety.
A first-term council member elected in 2017, he fell short of the DFL endorsement this year but has backing from progressive organizations including Take Action Minnesota and College Democrats of Minnesota.
Fletcher has grilled Arradondo over police budget requests, requesting the department show how more money and patrols will stem the tide of gun violence. That strategy, he said, "has not been working very well and has not been addressing carjackings, has not been addressing the rise in violent crime with any particular effectiveness."
Moorhead and Rainville are both endorsed by the DFL Senior Caucus and pro-police organization Operation Safety Now. Each has accused Fletcher of ignoring constituents who do not agree with his approach to policing.
Political newcomer Moorhead was a member of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association's public safety task force, which published a survey of 1,100 downtown residents earlier this year showing an overwhelming majority of respondents were concerned about crime and proposals to defund the police.
Moorhead says small business owners tell him their clients are more wary of downtown than ever and he believes restoring a sense of safety also will save service industry jobs. "When people are looking at what the total economic impact is to Minneapolis, people don't see those folks. They don't recognize the job losses," he said. "We can't just do it with small business, unfortunately. When one-third of Target moves out, that's such a huge hit."
He said he would retire early from General Mills if elected.
Rainville is newly retired from the local tourism agency Meet Minneapolis, boosting downtown's hospitality and entertainment sectors. As a member of his neighborhood association, he went out of his way to cultivate relationships with police, inviting them to accompany residents on walking cleanups of St. Anthony West.
"When you have [police] running from call to call and not having the time to communicate with people, it puts a stress on them," Rainville said. "If you want better results in any programming, you have to spend more money and thought on it." He is looking to county, state and federal sources for funding to build out Minneapolis' social services and mental health co-responder programs.
Hennessey, whose campaign filing shows she lives in the Seventh Ward, has 30 days before the Nov. 2 election to move to the Third. She did not respond to interview requests.
Susan Du • 612-673-4028