Neighborhood livability, safety and affordable housing are top of mind for candidates competing to represent some of Minneapolis' most densely populated neighborhoods in November's City Council election.

Downtown Minneapolis, represented by council members in the Third Ward and Seventh Ward, is home to a fast-growing residential population, and a changing landscape in which pandemic-driven work shifts have cleared out office buildings and thinned crowds at skyway restaurants and retail spots. Now, with early voting underway, council hopefuls are campaigning with messaging about downtown's — and Minneapolis' — evolving future.

The departure of longtime Seventh Ward Council Member Lisa Goodman, who announced in January that she would not seek re-election after more than 25 years on the council, has prompted one of the most-watched races this election.

At a September candidate forum, the three candidates for the seat — Katie Cashman, Ken Foxworth and Scott Graham — discussed public safety issues that have plagued the downtown corridor and the need for additional amenities to make the area more livable: brightly lit streets, easier access to skyway businesses, safer public transit and more cultural events to bring people downtown.

Cashman, 30, is a Minneapolis native running with a focus on environmental preparedness, neighborhood revitalization and safety. The project manager at the Minnesota Center of Environmental Advocacy is endorsed by various advocacy groups, Women Winning and the political action committee Minneapolis for the Many, whose stated goal is to win a more progressive majority on the council.

Graham, 61, a real estate agentand business owner, said he is approaching public safety and affordable housing with an optimistic lens. The longtime DFL Senate district chair is endorsed by Goodman and All of Mpls, the political action committee supporting a number of relatively moderate council candidates who are generally supportive of Mayor Jacob Frey.

Foxworth, 65, said he's running a campaign based on "safety, safety and safety." The Delta Airlines employee is focused on public safety and creating more opportunities to support youth struggling with addiction or a lack of opportunity.

Cashman and Graham were the top two candidates in the ward's DFL convention but multiple ballots failed to produce enough votes for an endorsement.

All three candidates emphasized the importance of collaboration — with all the people elected to serve on council, and the mayor.

"People are hopeful for Minneapolis to get back on its feet and to have a collaborative leader who wants to work with the City Council and work with the mayor and bring more partners to the table to address the big challenges that we've been facing as a city in the last few years that are still persistent," Cashman said.

Three years after Minneapolis was rocked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer — and after the city was put under federal and state court orders to change policing practices — candidates said voters are looking for solutions on public safety, but also on issues like affordable housing and homelessness.

"Folks are really eager for these consent decrees from the Department of Human Rights and the Department of Justice to be implemented and for us to see changes in the labor force of the police, to the conditions of police and also being able to hire local, diverse police officers," Cashman said.

The culture of police needs to change so Minneapolis has a force that is respected by the community and respects the community, Graham said.

"The behavioral crisis response team and the violence de-escalation people we have on the street at night, the downtown council, the DID ambassadors and neighborhood walking groups — I think those all play a role. It's an ecosystem, and we have to be able to support all of those efforts at the same time," Graham said.

Foxworth said he has co-workers who also live in his downtown neighborhood because of easy access to public transit, but safety issues and drug use on the light rail stops them from using it to commute.

"From downtown all the way to Uptown all the way to the lakes — there is a concern," he said. "When you don't feel safe, you don't go places. ... It separates us when we need to come together."

Housing affordability and a lack of safe places to sleep for unhoused people is another major concern. Graham and Cashman share a belief that Minneapolis needs additional deeply affordable housing and wraparound services for people struggling with addiction.

"I think that pathway to increasing the supply of affordable housing is by working with the development community in town to try and find ways to integrate affordable housing units into the projects that they're developing," Graham said.

Graham has owned and managed several Minneapolis properties in the past. Last week, social media posts surfaced from a tenant who rented from Graham more than a decade ago and complained of management and livability issues.

A search of Minneapolis Regulatory Services records showed 209 resolved violations under Graham or his company's name. Asked about the complaint, Graham noted that the "vast majority" of the violations were from property inspections of units managed by his company discovered following applications for rental licenses.

Third Ward

In the Third Ward, Council Member Michael Rainville and challenger Marcus Mills are competing to represent neighborhoods spanning downtown and northeast Minneapolis, including the North Loop, St. Anthony East and West and Marcy-Holmes.

Rainville, 70, was born and raised in the Third Ward and is part of the moderate DFL coalition serving on the City Council. He is endorsed by the Minneapolis DFL and several labor unions. Rainville, who was first elected in 2021, said he's bullish on a city he sees as becoming "stronger" and "better" than before the transformation of the last several years.

He sees multiple solutions to livability concerns downtown, including continuing support for "violence interruptors" who seek out positive connections with youth to combat crime.

"Armed safety is not the answer to public safety," he said. "The police have their point or have their purpose, right. But there's other ways that are going to keep us safe and we're inching towards them."

Mills, 43, is an environmental strategist who said potential voters are eager to see more affordable housing, good union jobs and improvements to community safety. He is endorsed by the Fifth Congressional District Green Party and former Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon.

In addition to supporting violence prevention programs, Mills said he sees harm reduction centers and resources for those struggling with addiction as key in the community safety conversation.

"We need to help people through and help them find a pathway out … meeting them where they are, which is in addiction," Mills said.

Second Ward

Second Ward Council Member Robin Wonsley is unopposed in November's election. Wonsley, 32, is a Democratic Socialist whose district covers the University of Minnesota as well as neighborhoods along the Mississippi River including Prospect Park, Cedar Riverside and Seward. She has been among the most outspoken of the council's most progressive wing and has pushed for rent control and been highly critical of the city's Police Department. She made headlines this summer after publicly accusing Frey of political intimidation — which the mayor called "a lie." Wonsley has not offered additional details to back up her claims.