Raeisha Williams and Jeremiah Ellison at Ward 5 City Council Candidate Forum, February 16, 2017. You can watch full video of the forum here.
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: Raeisha Williams and Blong Yang declined to participate in our endorsement process.
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?
Jeremiah Ellison: Yes, we should raise the wage. We know from examples around the country, like Seattle, that raising the minimum wage to fifteen works for workers and and their families. We also know from the city’s own peer reviewed study that few negative outcomes assumed to follow a $15 minimum wage increase would come to fruition in Minneapolis. There should be no tip penalty.
And we should go beyond 15. A minimum wage is still a minimum wage. We need to acknowledge that wages alone don’t necessarily bridge racial divides. Here in Minneapolis, we know that the average white family in Minneapolis makes $62,000 a year while the average black family makes $19,500. It’ll take more investment than just a minimum wage increase to address that.
Fair Access to Hours
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?
Ellison: This is a time for innovation - no other city has put together a fair scheduling ordinance. So, yes I support a fair scheduling ordinance. I believe people should have time and control over their lives and not be completely at the hands of the employer.
My fair scheduling ordinance would look like: a minimum of 7 to 14 days notice for scheduling changes, compensation for shifts that are cut last minute, and no retaliation if against workers who can’t work certain shifts.
But ultimately that’s a policy that I want to be led by the very people most affected by unfair scheduling practices. Many organizations, NOC included, fought to put a policy together already, that was led by the people most impacted by unfair scheduling. I plan to continue to be in conversation with the workers on the ground.
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?
Ellison: Minneapolis should divest from large banks, whose interests are often directly opposed to the interests of Minneapolis residents. A municipal bank deserves serious consideration, especially to support working-class people in the city.
In 2013, the City of Minneapolis passed a responsible banking ordinance. The ordinance is meant to “require financial institutions that provide banking services to the City to publicly disclose an expanded set of information about their lending practices...”
We also know according to recent research by the U of M that significant discrimination exists in home mortgages and small business lending in the Twin Cities area. And recovering from the crisis will require major financial institutions to look at their efforts to serve communities of color.
In addition to exploring the possibilities of a municipal bank or credit union we should simultaneously be utilizing the responsible banking ordinance to ensure greater accountability for all banks in Minneapolis.
Access to Democracy
Minnesota has some of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation. Yet voter participation in Wards 4 and 5 is amongst 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?
Ellison: I believe the bulk of this will fall us, the candidates. It is both a part of our winning strategy, and in line with our values, to increase the voter turnout in North Minneapolis. There’s the traditional campaign nuts and bolts -- I plan to make sure that my team and I are making the necessary calls and knocking on doors to engage the voters in our district. My past experience, as both a field organizer and a regional organizing director give me the confidence that my team and I know the steps to achieve this goal.
We’re going to generate excitement. Here are some of the ideas guiding us: I’m going to make sure that my platform is robust, that is not just a platform that works for me, but one that works for my community, that is essentially authored by my community. I am going to make sure that I am accessible.
We’re going to hold political education forums, where community members can come and learn and teach us about the issues we’ll be tackling at City Hall, and we’re going to create informational tools that are fun, engaging, and substantive.
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 in North Minneapolis 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?
Ellison: Yes I do. What becomes complicated is how we make it a reality, and I’m committed to figuring it out. This is an intergovernmental issue.
Many problems in North Minneapolis, don’t start in North Minneapolis. We know that Northsiders are cost burdened. We’re cost burdened with the price of rent, with cost of unjust fines and arrests, with child care, and public transportation. We know that childcare funding is a shared responsibility, between city, county and the state.
We absolutely need to alleviate cost, especially with regard to childcare, and where my hands are tied as a policy maker, I will be a relentless advocate.
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 in North Minneapolis 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?
Ellison: As expensive development comes through North Minneapolis, it is essential that we build affordable housing, and pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance. But not only that, but that we partner with local land trusts who can keep homeownership accessible to the community, and that we ultimately put people in their own homes that they can receive full equity on. That’s a wealth building model that can sustain the community, and prevent large infrastructure projects disrupting working class stability.
I would work hard to develop and champion a subsidized or free fare option for low income residents.
During the Trump administration the Northside immigrant community 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.
Ellison: I will stand with our immigrant and refugee communities. I am against the Countering Violent Extremism for the reasons outlined above, and against policies that will attempt to use local law enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants.
I will promote program and strategies, and collaborate with community organizations, and churches aiming to protect immigrants and refugees -- tracking what other cities across the country are doing, and immigrants rights groups, groups rooted in community.
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 Northern Metals and the HERC?
Ellison: I do support the closing of all local polluters, including HERC and Northern Metals. After years, and environmental damage inflicted, Northern Metals is finally on a 30 month track towards closing. But there is still much work to be done on HERC.
HERC is not only a monster of a garbage burner, but it’s also an intergovernmental, policy nightmare. The fastest track towards shutting down the HERC is a Zero Waste strategy. The path to zero waste is hard, but we’re already beginning the work. Restricting things like styrofoam containers, and offering compost are a great start. There is still a lot of incentives and education required to get these steps fully actualized. I would collaborate with environmental justice groups and other community groups directly addressing these issues to solidify a solution.
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? 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?
Ellison: During the first days of the protest, I think many people were holding hope that Minneapolis would respond differently to a police killing like this. The crowd started relatively small on day one, then down to 4 people camping in the precinct doorway on day three. And that’s when the police chose to get violent.
I learned that police were as hubris as I thought they were. They mistook our hope — that things would be different — for apathy. But later that third day, they had several thousand people outside their door.
We all want someone we can call when our safety is under threat, but we need to drastically reexamine what actually works in keeping us safe. Because I want to do what works.
Diversion programs work and keep kids from entering the pipeline to prison. Public health approaches to youth violence work in reducing that violence. Mental health specialists work.
I think we need to do it all and more, and I think we need to use police budgets to fund these projects.
Super Bowl LII is coming to Minneapolis in 2018. How will you ensure that the multi billion dollar event will benefit the residents of North Minneapolis?
Ellison: I used to work as a counselor at Avenues for Homeless Youth, and I know that many homeless youth, especially over North, are youth of color, are queer youth of color. I would be focused on making sure our most vulnerable populations are protected from any additional threats of trafficking or exploitation that may arise during the Super Bowl, but also use it as a way to start and maintain some hard conversations regarding trafficking in Minnesota, period.
During the MLB all star game, so-called “clean zones” which were actually “no free speech zones,” were allowed by the city. And the ACLU actually sued the city over this clear violation of the law, so the cost of this didn’t even end up on MLB, we as a city paid that price. So we’ve gotta protect people's’ basic rights.
We also need any jobs that are coming through because of the Super Bowl to have equitable hiring practices. We need to ask questions much earlier, where large events like the Super Bowl are one strand in a much broader vision for economic development on the Northside.
Watch full video of the Ward 5 City Council candidate forum.