Council Member Andrew Johnson, right, with his wife Sara.
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.
Editor's note: Will Jaeger did not return our questionnaire.
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?
Andrew Johnson: Yes. When I was fourteen I got a job bagging groceries at Lunds. It was a formative experience that taught me social and workplace skills while boosting my confidence and independence. We need to be careful to ensure that we do not inadvertently deny the youth of Minneapolis similar opportunities while also ensuring that we do not create a loophole to exploit workers via their age.
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?
Johnson: Yes. If I give a server a tip, I expect that they will take home that much more at the end of their shift, rather than my tip saving the business owner money (which is what a tip credit/penalty would do). Introducing a tip credit/penalty would almost certainly result in state legislation as well that ultimately cuts wages for tipped workers, not just in Minneapolis, but across the state. I understand the anxiety of tipped restaurant workers who fear changes in service models, reduced hours, or other effects, but results from other cities show that if restaurants are given enough time to adjust to what averages around a 5% price increase, that won’t be the rule. I am committed to working with our small businesses to help find ways to ease this transition.
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?
Johnson: Given some unintended consequences that became apparent in the 2015 proposal, I think the idea needs more work, and language would need to be carefully crafted. Only one city has such a policy in effect and it covers only retailers of 500 or more employees. That could be a starting place while more substantial analysis is done to ensure that whatever additional coverage is pursued doesn’t create more problems than it solves.
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?
Johnson: I voted for and spoke in favor of the staff direction to explore divestment and alternative banking options, including whether or not it makes sense to form a municipal bank or fulfill the City’s banking needs through a credit union. I have my staff exploring options to help the “unbanked”, and they are currently reaching out to San Francisco to see how effective their Bank On program has been. I am very interested in ending the cycle of predatory payday lending. I also believe that blockchain technology could substantially disrupt and democratize banking altogether, and would like to explore ways for the City to support residents and businesses with being informed and prepared.
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?
Johnson: I have supported our Early Vote Centers, voted in favor of the ordinance requiring landlords to provide voter registration forms to new tenants, and have voted in favor of One Minneapolis funding for increasing engagement with underrepresented segments of Minneapolis. I look forward to continuing to be a leader on legislation that will further make democracy more accessible to all residents of our city. This year my campaign is prioritizing outreach to residents who typically do not vote in municipal elections in order to encourage their participation.
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?
Johnson: This is an interesting idea and I am open to exploring it. I have already pitched to the Mayor the idea of including funding in her budget for childcare services for City employees, and it seems like that would make for a good pilot or exercise in helping provide childcare services. If we are serious about ending racial disparities, this could potentially be a very effective way to do so.
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?
Johnson: Yes, I think subsidized or free fare options make sense. I have also been working on over 350 units of affordable housing in Ward 12 along the LRT line. I will continue to look for additional opportunities for affordable housing in my ward close to transit and I would like to further explore free fare options.
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?
I have been a champion for affordable housing and transit-oriented development in Ward 12. We have five new buildings in the works at just one LRT station, and over 350 units of affordable housing either under construction, recently opened, or in the pipeline (including housing for families transitioning out of homelessness!) I have supported policy changes to help with increasing density, from reduction/elimination of parking requirements to legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). I have also supported increased funding for the AHTF and NOAH, and am a big proponent of land trusts. I am open to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as a funding source and want to see form-based zoning code implemented as a way to get better results for the community and to make the process easier and more economical for developers. I will continue working with stakeholders to evaluate additional policies that might help, such as inclusionary zoning. I also believe we cannot forget about affordable commercial and industrial spaces, which enable a diverse range of entrepreneurs to create jobs, build local wealth, and lift up our communities.
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.
Johnson: I voted to pursue legal action against Trump’s unconstitutional executive orders. I voted in favor of exploring how we can strengthen our protections for undocumented residents. I have co-hosted community meetings in response to Trump. I will continue using my campaign infrastructure to train organizers, and will continue working across the state to do our part in taking back our Legislature, Congress, and maintaining the Governor’s Office in DFL hands. We will continue to fight and resist the Trump administration at every turn possible where they attempt to take us backwards. Beyond this though, I recognize the increasing role of cities in championing issues, which is why I was a lead author on the paid safe and sick leave ordinance (among others), because we cannot hold out for positive results at a State or Federal level. I also was the author of an ordinance enabling immigrant-owned businesses to temporarily extend their business hours, for example, during Ramadan.
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?
Johnson: I am not a fan of HERC and opposed capacity expansion, which helped lead to our organics recycling rollout; I would like to see operations phased-out altogether. I authored the ordinance banning “Styrofoam” containers, co-authored the Green Zones Resolution, authored the staff direction to develop a plan for eliminating fossil fuel vehicles from the City’s fleet, pushed for solar on City-owned buildings, authored the ban on additional PERC use, have been working on a construction and demolition waste diversion ordinance, helped get the LED streetlight rollout fast-tracked, opposed the East Phillips Water Yard, co-hosted a city-wide Zero Waste Forum, successfully sought lifting of restrictions on urban farming, and have worked on a number of other environmental issues. The environment, and Minneapolis becoming a Zero Waste city, will continue to be high priorities of mine if I am re-elected.
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?
Johnson: Before Jamar Clark was killed, I co-hosted a forum on the Northside in response to Ferguson and co-hosted an internal stakeholder’s meeting on increasing the diversity of our police force. I was a vocal supporter for rolling-out body cams, and have been pushing the idea of a Quality Assurance Team to proactively review body cam footage since 2014. I also served on the MPD’s OJP subcommittee on community engagement (the recommendations we developed will soon be rolled out). Then after Jamar was killed, I stood with the community and called for justice and an independent investigation. I disagreed with the response to kick peaceful protestors out of the precinct lobby, which greatly inflamed the situation. Since then I have co-authored a budget amendment to fast-track procedural justice and implicit bias training. I also have supported funding for programs like the mental health co-responder model, group violence prevention, and others.
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?
Johnson: Restorative Justice! This was the top priority I had Ilhan Omar (now Representative Omar) working on when she was my Senior Policy Aide. Together we worked with a coalition to find opportunities to expand the use of restorative justice and even hosted a city-wide summit with stakeholders and leadership from across a number of organizations. I have also supported funding community policing and our pilot of a mental health co-responder model.
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?
Johnson: My biggest priority with the Super Bowl is ensuring that taxpayers do not subsidize this event. Provided that’s the case, which I feel increasingly confident it will be (given the reimbursement agreement recently passed by the Council), I welcome this large event for both the boost to the local economy and the spotlight on our city. I am open to ideas on how the City can better help leverage big events for our most marginalized communities.
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?
Johnson: I authored the ordinance to allow gender-neutral bathrooms, co-founded the Transgender Issues Workgroup, co-sponsored the creation of the Trans* Equity Summit, and led the early effort to secure paid parental leave for nearly 4,000 city employees. As we face steps backwards from a Federal and State level, I will look for additional opportunities to lead, continue to work with our LGBTQ community and partners in women’s rights, and do whatever we can to counter these attacks on progress.