Lisa Bender is the current council member for Ward 10 and is running for re-election. She is the only candidate who has filed to run for Ward 10 City Council in 2017.
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?
Lisa Bender: I support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. I helped ensure we had a minimum wage study and the public engagement needed to write a policy and directed staff to bring us a policy later this year. Because our goal is to create a new “floor” for all workers, I generally do not support exemptions, though as we work out the details I am listening to all of the feedback we are still getting. My ward is home to hundreds of small businesses, many owned by constituents, so it is important to me that as we create new workplace regulations we also support locally owned businesses by including owners in these discussions and creating new support systems like our small business office.
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?
Bender: I do not support a tip penalty for our minimum wage policy, I support following the model of the State of Minnesota and including tipped workers in our minimum wage. Our minimum wage study showed that businesses will absorb the cost of wage increases over time primarily through price increases and that phased in over a number of years, the real cost difference in prices is minimal. Our state’s experience indicates that including tipped workers in a wage law does not dampen restaurant industry growth and that it does not lead to an end for tipping on top of the required minimum wage. I believe all workers deserve one fair minimum wage.
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?
Bender: I was an author of the work in 2015 to address unstable work hours and scheduling practices and was disappointed when 10 of my colleagues voted to stop this work before we even brought a formal proposal to the City Council. I do support continued work on this issue. I understand that fair scheduling is a critical part of giving workers the basic protections they need in today’s economy. I would support revisiting this discussion and taking a different approach to public engagement that worked more collaboratively with many of the business owners who have championed progressive business models. I think it is reasonable to require some notification for advanced scheduling, to prohibit unpaid on-call scheduling and to regulate practices like “clopening.” I have and will continue to work collaboratively with workers advocates to elevate the voice and perspective of workers in these policy discussions.
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?
Bender: I support the City building on our responsible banking ordinance and creating more accountability around lending practices. I also support us using a model like San Francisco’s Bank on SF, which is a partnership with banking institutions to provide services to residents who can’t get checking or savings accounts without support. I would support more regulations around check cashing and payday lenders, who are predatory in their practices along with providing a new option for people who need it. Finally, we are revisiting our multiple contracts with financial institutions for our payroll services (which is currently handled by Wells Fargo, an approximately $200,000 contract), our investments and our bond sales. All of these provide an opportunity to support credit unions or community banking institutions if they apply to do work for the city.
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?
Bender: I am so passionate about getting people involved in voting and democracy. I think in order to get people involved on election day, we need far better community engagement strategies that connect more people to local government in the years between elections. I have worked hard in my own ward to increase voter turnout and to support organizations citywide that are working to increase turnout. I think we can consider funding organizations to do voter registration and outreach and though it is not a city decision, I also support expansion of voting rights. I also think it’s important to invite people to get involved and was proud to work with NOC and other partners to host the city’s first “Workers Day at City Hall” earlier this year.
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?
Bender: I am open to the idea of the City providing funding for childcare. I am part of a discussion beginning about public funding for preschool in Minneapolis and St. Paul and there are many unanswered questions including how a program would be funded and who would provide care. I am very open to hearing more about this issue and solutions identified by the community.
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?
Bender: During my first term, I have advocated strongly for investments in transit in our city neighborhoods where we have high concentrations of people who are dependent on transit and where we have huge potential for new ridership. I think our region needs to do a better job of tying transportation investments to land use decisions like housing and affordable housing. We have some great regional leaders working on this and our own comprehensive plan is a good opportunity for us to make stronger commitments as a city. I do support subsidized fare options and I am working on a few things that should lead to better transit service for city riders over the coming years.
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?
Bender: This is a high priority for me in a ward where 80% of my constituents rent their homes. First, we have a very low rental vacancy rate in our city and need to remove regulations to prevent new market-rate housing. I have authored ordinances that eliminated parking requirements for small housing projects near transit, legalized Accessory Dwelling Units (granny flats) and legalized duplexes in areas zoned for duplexes and support more changes like these. Second, we need stronger protections for renters. I am working with staff to identify what we can do at a city level vs state law changes. Third, we are making progress at expanding our affordable housing investments and including preservation of existing affordable units but we need more creative programs that build community wealth. Finally, I support our continued efforts with the county to expand and improve our shelter system and support for people experiencing homelessness.
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.
Bender: I support our city’s existing separation ordinance which prohibits city staff from enforcing immigration orders or asking about immigration status and strongly support the work underway to strengthen our city’s protection of immigrant communities. I have been very supportive of work over the past several years to invest in opportunities in our Somali community including jobs training investments. I am also proud that our police departments efforts to diversify our force have allowed for the hiring of a number of Somali-speaking officers who are helping build connections and trust in the community -- I think these are the ways that we work together to support our youth and provide support and prevention from recruitment into organizations focused on violent extremism.
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?
Bender: Since I’ve been in office we implemented curbside organics pickup for all city-served homes in the City, a program I was happy to support (and a decision that was not unanimously supported in the city council). Along with our recycling program, these have made a dent in our city’s waste stream. I support efforts -- which again are facing internal pressure to stop this work -- of reforming our commercial and multi-family waste hauling system to get recycling and composting into more multi-family homes and businesses. This is the way we will reach a point to close the HERC without putting more polluting trucks on the road. I think the settlement from Northern Metals was very specific but support adding to that to invest in the impacted area in a number of ways. Our Green Zones program is one way to accomplish that.
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?
Bender: I saw first-hand the pain in our community after Jamar Clark was killed and understand that we have a long way to go to heal and that the responsibility for this is on the City. I think changes early on in the City’s response to the protests could have avoided some of the largest conflict points. I observed myself a large shift in the department’s response at the direction of Mayor Hodges and Chief Harteau during the occupation. I also know the community had a huge role in maintaining peaceful protest.
I have supported many changes in our police department:
Body-worn cameras on all officers
De-escalation and implicit bias training
Internal protocol changes by the Chief that focus on de-escalation and early intervention and which make it easier to discipline officers when needed
Investments in CSO classes which diversify our force
Upstream investments in health and violence prevention
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?
Bender: I am proud of the work we have done together in this area over the past several years and look forward to building on it next term. I believe that we need to invest in neighborhoods and in people and that a punitive model is ineffective and expensive. Some of the most promising things we are investing in are: mental health co-responders in our police department, domestic violence prevention and counseling, youth violence prevention including our hospital-based program which is small and needs more resources, our group violence prevention work just getting started and the mayor’s new community-based safety pilot program which is a first in the country. This work will be most successful with leadership from the community and we are lucky to have so many leaders stepping up to lead. I am ready to build on the work we’ve done in the future.
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?
Bender: So far, I have been very vocal in insisting that we have clear accounting for city resources going into this event and that the City not shoulder the cost of hosting this event. We need to engage the community more proactively to ensure that the most marginalized residents are benefitting from the event.
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?
Bender: I am very proud that the City of Minneapolis has made multiple clear statements in support of women and our LGBTQ community since the federal election in November. We have strengthened our protections for transgender community members and look forward to more recommendations from our new Transgender Equity Council. We will have to stay vigilant and be proactive in supporting women’s health. This is another area where progressive cities like Minneapolis are leading, and we are lucky to work with progressive leaders from around the country to stay firm in the face of increasing attacks from Trump and others at the national level.