Ward 1 candidates Jillia Pessenda, left, Council Member Kevin Reich, center, and Zachary Wefel, right
Instructions to candidates:
NOC is a black led community based organization with a powerful and growing multicultural base. We value the leadership, courage and sacrifice of our elected officials. We’re honored to present our 2017 questionnaire for the Minneapolis City Council.
Please answer with 150 words or less for each question. The answers to this questionnaire will be made available on our website.
Minneapolis is well known for having some of the worst racial disparities in the country. One path towards addressing that gap is to raise wages. Do you support raising the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15 dollars per hour as a way to bridge the racial and economic divide? Should any workers be exempted from a wage increase?
Jillia Pessenda: I grew up in a working class family. I know the difference a livable wage can make in the lives of families in the First Ward and across the City of Minneapolis firsthand. I know that it can make an even bigger difference in the lives of Black, Brown, and Native families who have been systemically marginalized. A $15 minimum wage would help to shift our discriminatory status quo towards something more equitable and more sustainable for working families, and that is why I wholeheartedly support one fair $15 minimum wage for all workers, without exceptions. I have worked as a server, I have worked as a farmer, I have had a small business and lived in Northeast for years; I know what it means to work hard and that work should be compensated fairly. It makes for stronger families, stronger communities and thriving small businesses with a more stable workforce.
Kevin Reich: Yes, I support raising the minimum wage. We are working to provide a data-based rationale for an increase and an implementation plan that the broader public will understand and support. I think we did some good consensus building for the sick and safe policy we approved recently.
Zachary Wefel: I support raising the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15 an hour with no tip penalty as a first step to bridging the racial and economic divide. I do not support exempting any workers from a wage increase. The city’s independent, robust study of the issue strongly supports increasing the minimum wage, as do the experiences of other cities throughout the country that have increased their minimum wages.
The Minnesota Restaurant Association is pushing for a tip penalty, which would set a lower minimum wage for tipped workers and require them to count their tips toward their base wage. Studies have shown that tip penalties hit women hardest and lead to higher rates of poverty and sexual harassment in the workplace. Passing a tip penalty in Minneapolis would also open the door to a subminimum wage for tipped workers statewide. Will you make sure that a $15 minimum wage increase includes tipped workers without a tip penalty?
Pessenda: I am fully committed to one fair $15 minimum wage for all workers with no tip penalty and will fight as a progressive champion on the City Council so no workers are left out; tipped workers should not face a subminimum wage. I believe in research and evidence-based policy making and I believe in doing what’s right by everyday working families. In this case it’s clear that one fair $15 minimum for all workers is the best choice for a sustainable, stable economy. I believe we need to work with our small businesses and support the phase-in and adjustment it will take to get to one fair $15 minimum wage and I have no doubts that we can do it successfully. The evidence indicates that one fair $15 minimum wage is the best choice and with the rising cost of health care, rent, student loan burdens and rising housing costs (among other increases in the cost of living) our working families certainly need it.
Reich: I am seriously concerned about the legislative implications of creating a local policy that could undermine legislation that's been in place since 1984. Also, I don't support policies that are unenforceable and I have seen no demonstrated capacity to enforce a tiered system and all the complications it could bring.
Wefel: I do not support a tip penalty and will make sure that the minimum wage increase does not exempt or penalize tipped workers.
In 2015, Minneapolis considered a policy to address the unstable work hours experienced by many hourly workers. Low wage workers in particular are often given little or no advance notice of their work schedule; others are required to work erratic weekly hours. Do you support the creation of a policy to help stabilize the work schedules of low wage workers in Minneapolis? What would your fair hours policy look like?
Pessenda: Women, people of color, and Indigenous people are routinely harmed and exploited by unprotected hourly wage, shift based work. Any policies addressing these issues must prioritize the acknowledgement of the inequities faced by these constituencies as a means to alleviate some of our worst in the nation racial disparities and work toward gender equity. These work policies affect a variety of sectors from food service to janitorial services to sporting events staffing. For hardworking families, fair scheduling practices are critical to being able to predict income and subsequently the ability to pay bills on time, schedule childcare, and other life necessities like doctor’s appointments. I know there are many small businesses who treat their employees with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, there are other businesses of varying sizes that do not adhere to the same level of respect for their employees. I will stand with workers, community organizations, employers and small businesses especially, to address this issue.
Reich: I have concerns about a one-size-fits-all fair hours policy, but I could support exploring establishing legislation similar in scope to San Francisco’s Predictable Scheduling & Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees Ordinance.Wefel: I do support a fair scheduling ordinance to affirm the agency of workers and ensure that they can control their own lives. I would require that we begin with a seven to 14 day notice, anti-retaliation protections and enforcement for workers exercising their rights under the ordinance, and compensation for cancellation of shifts.
Banks like Wells Fargo and US Bank, which have a major presence in the city of Minneapolis and downtown lobby groups, have a well documented history of redlining communities of color. Baltimore, Memphis and Los Angeles have sued Wells Fargo, and won hundreds of millions in damages, in response to their racist foreclosure policies. How can and should the city of Minneapolis hold big banks accountable for their lending practices? What city regulations can be created to produce a more equitable lending environment and prevent the theft of generational wealth in communities of color?
Pessenda: The city has several mechanisms to hold the Big Banks accountable. My work with NOC and Occupy Homes MN to pass the Homeowner Bill of Rights on the state level raised several opportunities to make change on the city level as well. Banks that leave vacant homes in our neighborhoods create blight and run down property values. This is especially true in communities of color. I would like to see the city hold banks accountable for paying fines on mismanaged vacant homes. We can also encourage banks to work with first time home buyers within low income communities as well as invest in community land trust models, that keep land and wealth in the community as well as help stop gentrification. Big Banks have targeted Black and Latino families in Minneapolis with fraudulent loans. We need to ensure that banks are held accountable for poor loan quality.Reich: I believe banks and financial institutions should be held accountable for poor lending practices and I strongly support exploring ways in which the City can do increased business with credit unions and community banks as I have a rock-solid belief in the positive power of the cooperative business model for community.
Wefel: Minneapolis should establish a bank of the city of Minneapolis modeled after the proposed bank of Santa Fe and the existing bank of North Dakota. By completely divesting from private banks Minneapolis can stop indirectly supporting investments in fossil fuel industries, can save money by accessing funds at the federal funds rate, and can provide loans and support programs to community banks and credit unions that lend to underserved communities.
Access to Democracy
Minnesota has some of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation. Yet voter participation in neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color is among the lowest in Minneapolis. How would you leverage your position on the city council to ensure that more people are given voting access in Minneapolis? What are some specific voter engagement strategies can you initiate as a city councilperson?
Pessenda: Our unjust system of mass incarceration acts as a system of mass disenfranchisement for Native communities, Black communities, Brown communities and communities of color. Over 47,000 Minnesotans are denied the right to vote by their criminal records. Because policing and incarceration disproportionately targets communities of color, these are the communities that are most harmed by the negative impact of disenfranchisement. As a city council person, I will work in grassroots coalition with the people most impacted by disenfranchisement to write and pass municipal and local ordinances that would decrease encounters with police and law enforcement in communities as well as holding and supporting expungement clinics. Additionally, I believe people don’t engage with politics and politicians because there is a lack of transparency and communication. I support more transparency and communication, and helping people understand how the policies we are working on affect their lives. I would initiate more town halls, more Facebook live events, more strategic use of social media and more engagement in people’s neighborhoods along accessible public transportation routes.
Reich: I believe our recent Early Vote Centers demonstrated the intense need for and positive response to better access to the means of voting. I support expanding this option significantly, as well as ramping up our voter engagement initiatives by partnering with outside organizations that have already built relationships and networks in these under-represented communities. Youth involvement programs could also be utilized to raise awareness and voter education.
Wefel: Minneapolis needs to establish voter registration and engagement as a priority in delivery of services. We can establish a “No Wrong Door” policy that makes any engagement with city services a portal to registration and voting information. When people engage with 311, or the Minneapolis Parking App, or attend a neighborhood meeting we should provide them with an option to register and receive reminders regarding voting opportunities. In addition, we need to eliminate the caucuses in their current form, which benefit candidates with older and less time constrained supporters. Finally, we need to continue the traditional work of door knocking, phone banking, and voter registration drives, but engage with all voters year round instead of just at elections.
Nationally, the cost of childcare is exceeding college tuition, and we are seeing the impacts on the local level. The ability to access high quality, affordable childcare is increasingly slim. The MN Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP, has a waitlist of 7,000 kids, and new corporate-run centers are charging twice as much as independent centers. Do you support using City resources to fund childcare services for low income residents?
Pessenda: Investing in high quality early childhood education programs and services that begin from birth - and continue until school age are the most effective way to help all of our communities. Investments in high quality early childhood development offer some the highest return on investments of public dollars of almost any other expenditure of public funds. Professor James Heckman from U of Chicago, and Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics and Director Center for the Economics of Human Development has proven that for every $1 spent a return to society of $7 - $12 high quality early childhood education, by many measures that is a very solid return on investment. I fully support City resources to fund high quality early childhood development programs and services for low income residents.
Reich: I believe that the cost of childcare is accelerating beyond the ability of many to pay, which impacts our workforce and economy overall, so I am definitely in favor of exploring what options the City may have to offset these costs. We may have to develop resources for this particular sector similar to efforts targeted at small merchants and affordable housing funding.
Wefel: I support assisting low income residents with childcare services in theory, but I do not see Minneapolis having the resources to do so, and can’t commit to supporting such a program without seeing cost estimates and identifying funding mechanisms. I believe Minneapolis can take the lead in coordinating state and federal programs to find solutions to high cost childcare, which add to high cost housing to make individuals investing in their own families cost-prohibitive. In the short term I think it would be more successful for Minneapolis to fund scholarships for individuals to receive training to operate as childcare providers and small business start up assistance and funding. This will increase the number of child care providers, which should lower costs, at the same time as we create new jobs and independent, locally owned businesses.
Transportation and Development
Public transportation in Minneapolis is unaffordable for many low income residents. Poor and working families pay a disproportionate percentage of their monthly income for public transportation. Meanwhile, billion dollar light rail lines are being developed and low-income residents are at risk of displacement and gentrification. How would you ensure that any new light rail development will ensure sustainable housing and job creation for local residents? Would you support subsidized or free fare options for low income riders on bus and light rail?
Pessenda: We need to work with all stakeholders to ensure transportation is available, accessible, and equitable. Transportation has been proven to be a vital path towards equitable access to work and civic society, and it is connected to our commitment to fighting global climate change. I’ve heard stories of rides to work that are 1.5 hours or longer one-way; this is an untenable way to live and a burden that no one should have to bear. I would support subsidized options for low income riders on the bus and light rail as a way to fight some of our worst in the nation racial disparities.
Reich: I am a strong supporter of increasing transit access to connect people with jobs, which is why I worked with Metro Transit to improve the East-West bus connections across North and Northeast Minneapolis. I support subsidized fares for low income riders and I fully support prioritizing the co-location of affordable housing with transit development.
As Chair of TPW and representative for the city at the Met Council’s Transportation Advisory Board I've advocated for the positions you mention above. When working as the city's lead on SWLRT, access to transit, whether bike, bus or pedestrian, connecting to this system was job one and we leveraged significant gains and connections for communities that would have been left out otherwise. I can thank NOC, Sierra Club and others for leaning their collective shoulders into this.
Wefel: I support subsidized and free fare options for low income riders on bus and light rail, in addition to supporting pricing parking as a source of revenue that will have greatest incidence on higher income households. We need to ensure that we build housing near these important amenities, and zoning will determine whether or not that is possible.
Minneapolis is quickly becoming unaffordable for working people. In the last few years there have been rapid rent increases and the provision of affordable housing does not meet the need. How do you plan to make sure Minneapolis retains and grows affordable housing as the region is changing?
Pessenda: Housing is a human right, and we don’t want to see anyone being pushed out. We need to aggressively and intensively bring all stakeholders to the table to come up with viable, creative solutions that place the needs of low-income people at the center. Protecting and increasing affordable housing, and creating solutions for mixed income neighborhoods are imperative. Current neighborhood residents should play a critical role in helping shape the future of the community. I will:
Invest in community land trusts and other cooperative models to ensure long-term affordable housing
Develop a Mixed Income Housing policy that ensures affordable units are included in new developments
Promote policies that remove barriers to obtaining rental housing by helping residents mitigate eviction records and repair their credit history
Work to leverage public, private, and philanthropic resources to help maintain existing subsidized and naturally occurring affordable housing units
- Support tenant protections including requiring just cause for evictions, and explore giving the right of first refusal to residents when rental buildings are sold
Reich: I have worked hard to encourage and support affordable housing in the city and Ward 1, first as a community organizer and now as a council member, by cleaning up parcels, building community buy-in, securing gap financing, proactively recruiting non-profit affordable housing developers committed to building homeless transitional units in their projects. I have also authored legislation making it easier to build new duplexes in the City. I support increased density and having a broad range of available housing overall as strategies for expanding the affordable housing market. Citywide we need more units and increased city resources to stimulate that is a fundamental item I'm working on and will continue to push for. Also policies that create greater flexibility to build and that eliminate discriminatory rental practices.
Wefel: I support rezoning so that higher density development can occur and we can build enough housing for everyone. Policies like inclusive zoning do not have a track record of reducing rents, but allowing enough construction to meet demand does. Denver has had two quarters of reductions in average rent because they’ve allowed new development at a rapid enough pace to meet demand. We need land use policies that help everyone, not just the handful of people who would win the lottery and receive affordable housing.
During the Trump administration our immigrant communities will be subjected to ever increasing levels of scrutiny. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), for example, is a government program designed to profile and surveille Black Muslim immigrants - specifically Somali Americans. How will you leverage your position in the council to reject or promote programs like CVE? Please provide specific strategies to resist or support a presidential order to use local law enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants.
Pessenda: We cannot allow our immigrant neighbors to be targeted by the Trump administration -- we must protect and defend our immigrant communities. Our Somali, Hmong, and Latino neighbors, among others, are integral parts of the Minneapolis community and economy. I reject programs like CVE and support the creation of specific ordinances detailing the ways in which the police should not violate the separation of city and federal immigration office duties. I also support creating disciplinary measures for officers who do not comply with this separation of powers. I will work to ensure any city data collected that could identify our undocumented immigrant neighbors be separated from federal ICE or other deportation forces and will work to support a legal defense fund and a county-wide sanctuary status.
Reich: I support our City’s existing regulations prohibiting city employees from investigating immigration status and I authored a resolution in opposition to a Federal registry based on race, religion, creed, sexual identity or country of origin. Bottom line: our community members regardless of status should feel safe and respected.
Wefel: I have already called for a systemic review of the City’s data practices to ensure that no data can be used for identifying undocumented individuals and conducting a review of our criminal ordinances to ensure that no minor crime can be used to aid a deportation action. In addition, we need to make financial resiliency a priority moving forward, so that our budget can never be used as leverage against us. More than that, however, is the need to train and recruit a police force that lives in Minneapolis, respects the communities it serves, and would refuse to support an order to deport undocumented immigrants.
We believe Minneapolis must play a leading role in finding environmental justice solutions for climate change. We believe that recycling our waste is not only better for the environment, it can also create community based jobs. What do you see as the path to creating a Zero Waste city in Minneapolis? How can this be done in a way that prioritizes environmental justice? Do you support closing the HERC? How should the city use the money from the Northern Metals settlement for reparations for North and Northeast Minneapolis?
Pessenda: We can be a zero waste city and our shifting to one sort recycling as well as organics is a step in the right direction. I want to work with Eureka Recycling, which now holds the city’s recycling contract, as one entity in the city that has been paving the way for zero waste events for years now. We need to make sure that we are integrating a racial analysis and evaluating impact assessments in every policy so that we are not inadvertently targeting low-income communities that are mostly Black and Brown people. We should prioritize hiring and living wage jobs for people who live in the communities directly impacted. I do support closing the HERC and I think one avenue for using the money from the Northern Metals suit would be to cover medical costs associated with higher instances of asthma for children in communities most impacted.
Reich: As Chair of Transportation & Public Works, I was part of the leadership team that instituted One-Sort recycling and curbside organics collection. I favor instituting further innovations in our waste system that will allow for an overall reduction in the waste we generate. I am also a strong supporter of the Green Zones initiative which prioritizes environmental justice in areas of generational industrial pollution. I and my colleagues in North and Northeast Minneapolis, as well as at the State, fought hard for the Northern Metals settlement and that agreement lays out fairly thoroughly how those funds are to be expended. We fought hard not long ago to convert the Riverside Plant from coal and we can have similar results with transitioning HERC as we continue to increase our solid waste diversion, recycling and upcycling.
Wefel: I support the closure of Northern Metals and HERC. To move us to being a Zero Waste city we need to work the state and federal government to make manufacturers responsible for excess packaging, make composting programs available in multi-family housing structures, and restricting items like Styrofoam containers.
What lessons have you learned from the death of Jamar Clark and the related occupation of the 4th Precinct? What would you change about the city’s response to the occupation?
Pessenda: The City of Minneapolis Police Department needs more accountability and more transparency. We also need to support the people most impacted by racially discriminatory policing and police violence in building a Beyond Policing agenda that re-imagines community safety from the inside out, and under the leadership of the communities that have been most devastated by our current practices. I would have met with the community. I would have listened. I believe our officers need to be held accountable when they unjustifiably use force and needlessly take a life - lives that are all too often Brown, Black or Native. We need to work towards solutions that value the lives of our communities, specifically our Black, Brown, and Native communities. We need to center and be led by their voices. I witnessed firsthand how the police were allowed to use unnecessary force against protesters at the fourth precinct. As a human and as a council person I would stand on the side of those demanding justice for Jamar.
Reich: I agree with the Justice Department’s assessment that there were some key failures in communication and coordination in the response to the occupation. Moving forward, proactive and transparent communication that seeks to hear as much as it tries to say would be a good general starting point. A recognition early on that this was a grievable situation and allowing the community to say that on their own terms would have gone a long way to allowing us all to proceed with both an in-the-moment sincerity and a clear future resolve to improve.
Wefel: The key lessons from the death of Jamar Clark and the 4th precinct occupation are that the police in Minneapolis are not held responsible for their actions, do not de-escalate, and are not properly overseen by the Council and the Mayor. I would require that specific violations of the use of force policy be tied to specific sections of the disciplinary matrix, that restorative justice programs be established in every precinct, that we end contractual protections against investigations, and that we prohibit consensual searches in Minneapolis.
How can Minneapolis better support needs related to mental health, employment, and youth development outside of the current punitive law enforcement model? How would you work to develop new public safety models outside the policing system to prioritize these needs?
Pessenda: We need to strengthen and expand the co-responding models of community policing, especially around mental health calls. We need to invest in high quality early childhood development programs and services and recognize how these issues are directly related through a long term lens. Children who have access to high quality early childhood development programs and services are less likely to drop out of school, less likely to commit crimes, less likely to be unemployed, less likely to need public assistance programs in adulthood and more likely to be contributing members to our community. I would work to reallocate responsibilities that officers are not adequately trained to handle and establish policies that incentivize law enforcement to live in the communities that they serve because we know this decreases complaints. Police, like all people, need to be held accountable for when they make a mistake - and even more so because too often the cost of their mistakes are a loss of life.
Reich: I fully support the work we have already begun with increased funding of the Domestic Abuse Project and the Next Step Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program, as well as our creation of a Co-Responder program and funding for culturally relevant community-based intervention and street outreach strategies to help the transgender, American Indian, and young women and girl victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
Wefel: We need to separate the roles of policing the community and providing support for the community. In addition to reforms to ensure police are accountable for their actions (discussed above in response to the 4th Precinct question) we can establish a true community court, along the lines of that created in Red Hook, Brooklyn. By establishing a court that prioritizes respect for all parties, provides resources like GED programs and social services in the same building, and is based in the neighborhood that it serves, we will ensure people make amends for crimes in a way that further integrates them into their neighborhood rather than further alienates them. Finally, we need to ensure that we are funding enough mental health resources in our schools and match individuals with job opportunities and the ability to start their own businesses.
Super Bowl LII is coming to Minneapolis in 2018. How will you ensure that the multi- billion dollar event will benefit the most marginalized residents of Minneapolis, not just major corporations downtown?
Pessenda: We must ensure a living wage for Super Bowl workers to help ensure that low-income people can also reap benefits from the influx of money that will come with the Super Bowl. In San Francisco a class action lawsuit has been filed over wage theft from Super Bowl workplace practices; we must be proactive to ensure workers are paid fairly from the start. I also support the Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights in working to ensure that jobs and contracts related to the Superbowl are prioritized for women and minority-owned firms. Lastly, research shows that there is a increase in violence against sex workers and a spike in child sexual exploitation in cities where the Super Bowl occurs. We need a community wide effort to protect our youth, women, vulnerable LGBTQ communities and help protect adult sex workers from violence.
Reich: The City has resolved to and will be sending a bill for reimbursement for services related to the event including public safety services and work related to public works. Our policies that ensure that event facilities in Minneapolis are unionized and our goals for women and minority recruitment are met will also be in place.
Wefel: First, we need to ensure that fair scheduling and a higher minimum wage are in place for workers who will contribute to the event, no exceptions. Second, the Council needs to oversee all expenditures on a frequent basis, so no more city funds are diverted from supporting Minneapolis residents in favor of the NFL. Third, we need to review all contracts to direct as many to locally and minority owned businesses as possible, and provide assistance so small businesses aren’t excluded because of their size.
Gender and LGBTQ Justice
At the federal and state level, drastic cuts have been threatened to women’s health programs, protections for transgender community members have been rolled back, and the LGBTQ community is facing renewed attack. How would you as a city council member stand up against these attacks on women and the LGBTQ community?
Pessenda: As a woman and member of the LGBTQ community, this is an important and critical question for me. Law enforcement needs cultural competency and implicit bias training in order to serve LGBTQ communities as well as POC and Native communities. The highest homeless rates in our city are among LGBTQ young people. Yet many shelters do not allow transgender youth to stay in shelters that fit their gender. Gay men experiencing domestic violence are not permitted at most battered women shelters. We need to educate service providers who receive federal, state, county, and city resources. We can make incentives to city funds for service providers that undergo cultural competency and implicit bias training for working with LGBTQ and POC communities. I believe our Trans community is most at risk from this current federal administration, we need to work to increase protections for our Trans community including shifting to gender neutral bathrooms in public buildings.
Reich: City of Minneapolis leadership has been very clear in its support of women’s health and the LGBTQ community and I will firmly continue that support and take every opportunity to increase it. Today we took action to establish a Transgender Equity Council. I am proud of our work on his front and it is sad that there are signs of retreat on this issue all over the country.
Wefel: I have repeatedly raised the issue of financial resiliency in my campaign, because while Minneapolis has few options to force the state or federal government to support women and the LGBTQ community, Minneapolis can step up and fund these programs directly. Any cuts to health programs in Minneapolis should be counted by additional funding from the City of Minneapolis, and we should pass local ordinances protecting transgender community members whenever state or federal protections are weakened.