A diverse field of political newcomers is seeking to unseat longtime Minneapolis City Council members Cam Gordon and Kevin Reich in the city's eastern wards.
Reich, who is seeking his fourth term representing the First Ward in northeast Minneapolis, is the only DFL incumbent without the Minneapolis DFL endorsement in races they indicated a preference this year, losing it to challenger Elliott Payne. In the Second Ward, Gordon, who is running for his fifth term, faces four challengers, including Yusra Arab and Robin Wonsley Worlobah, both of whom outraised him by more than five times, according to the most recent campaign finance forms.
"People are probably more involved and engaged, I think, with this election," said Gordon, who ran unopposed in 2017.
As the only Green Party member on the council, Gordon said he's often further left ideologically of his colleagues, but this year he faces opponents whom he views as both further left and right on issues, and critical of his 15-year tenure.
"It feels a little bit like I'm the moderate in the race, which is unusual," said Gordon, 65, a former Montessori teacher and child-care program operator who lives in the Seward neighborhood. "I actually think that it might benefit the city and the people of the Second Ward to have some stability and consistency, especially somebody who shares their progressive values and knows how to get things done at City Hall."
The Second Ward — which includes the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College and parts of the Riverside, Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods — has had both homeless encampments and luxury apartments pop up. Gordon supports rent control, and he's one of the council members drafting an ordinance, like the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), that would allow tenants the option to buy rental properties that come up for sale. He said it could save duplexes and triplexes near the U from developers.
Gordon also supports replacing the Police Department with a new public safety agency — one of three amendments on the ballot through Nov. 2.
The Minneapolis DFL didn't endorse in the race, though about 57% of delegates voted for Arab while 18% backed Tom Anderson.
Anderson, 33, a former social studies teacher in Longfellow, vows to build coalitions with state and federal leaders and reach voters who don't agree with him.
"People see how toxic Minneapolis politics has become," he said. "I think they're ready for some new voices who want to collaborate."
To bolster affordable housing, Anderson wants the city to invest more in first-time home buyer assistance. He opposes the policing measure, as does Arab, 34, a mental health practitioner who lives in the East Como neighborhood.
Arab, who grew up in public housing, agrees with Gordon on TOPA but also wants the city to expand incentives for developers to build affordable units and invest in public housing. As an immigrant, she said she would deepen outreach to communities of color; she has a separate campaign appealing just to East African voters. She spent four years as a City Council aide and has raised the most money of any candidate in the race.
"We're not better off today than we were 16 years ago when he took office," she said.
Worlobah, 30, a Democratic Socialist and labor organizer in Seward, also said she can better represent the ward as a millennial, renter and a Black woman. After supporting a Green Party candidate for years, voters may back a Democratic Socialist, she added. While Worlobah agrees with Gordon on all three charter amendment positions, she criticized him for being slow to support rent control and TOPA, issues organizers have pushed for years, she said.
"It's not just to vote the right way on key issues but what are you doing to really proactively lead on these issues, and do that in partnership with the groups on the ground," Worlobah said. "Under this current leadership that we have, we see support for great things but no momentum really builds on the ground or inside City Hall to really drive these things forward."
Guy Gaskin, 45, a Republican, the fifth candidate in the race, didn't respond to an interview request.
In the First Ward, Reich was locked in a tight race for re-election in 2017. This year, Payne got the Minneapolis DFL endorsement with 78% of the votes to Reich's 21%.
"You have to earn every vote but when you have that DFL endorsement on your side, at least in Minneapolis, it just makes your job so much easier to win the trust of voters," said Payne, 39, a self-employed consultant in the Audubon Park neighborhood.
Reich, 54, a former neighborhood activist who lives in the Windom Park neighborhood, opposes the policing measure.
He didn't attend the Powderhorn Park rally where nine colleagues pledged to "begin the process of ending" the Police Department, which Reich called "more performance art than policymaking." He added that he's approved funding and policies that work to reform police and prevent violence.
Payne backs the policing measure and was disappointed by Reich's response after George Floyd was killed by police.
"He had no public message whatsoever around how we should be approaching public safety," said Payne, who would be the first Black man to hold the ward seat if elected. "He just didn't show up for our community."
Payne is also critical of the city's affordable housing policies, saying they've fallen short in adding density and housing.
Reich counters that the city has tripled its investment in affordable housing in his tenure and he's focused on adding and saving industrial areas, with half of the city's production spaces in the ward. He also wants to preserve and expand the arts district and revitalize the Mississippi River.
"I do think this is a consequential election for the direction of the city of Minneapolis," Reich said. "I think there's a great consensus of what people want. ... How [we get there] is the big difference point."
The race has two more candidates, Calvin Carpenter, 41, a Veterans Party candidate, and Thomas Wortman, a DFLer.
All 13 City Council spots are up for re-election this year. The positions, which have salaries of more than $100,000, are two-year terms that will be on the ballot in 2023 before returning to four-year terms.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141