By Helen Duritsa
When DeVon Nolen asked her question on food justice at the October 8 mayoral candidate forum at Folwell Park, she expected them to answer. But the 10 candidates recited stock phrases from their print literature. She was disappointed and frustrated with them all.
“I asked a multi-layered, multi-textured question,” said Nolen, a community activist and lifelong resident of the North Side. “I asked about food justice. I asked about racial justice. There is a huge percentage of diabetes here, and we have over 1,800 plots of vacant land that can be used to grow food. We need policy to support urban agriculture for economic development. I asked what strategies the new mayor would use to keep them true to what they promise to us on the North Side.”
She didn’t receive a direct answer, but several candidates did say, in responding to her question, that whatever message they gave that evening, it would be the same message that they say where ever they go. James Elliot, a candidate who lives in North Minneapolis, mentioned that he is not in the system yet and sticks to what he says he will do.
Betsy Hodges said, “I have a shared vision, and what I say is the same thing wherever I go.”
Don Samuels said, “I live in the neighborhood. I see the potential for our humanity to be here in this neighborhood.”
Jackie Cherryhomes said, “My tenets are justice, equality and opportunity. I’ve lived here for 35 years.”
Reg Chapman of WCCO moderated the forum, which was sponsored by the Northside Organizations of Color and community allies. Twenty-two pre-written questions were submitted by the 10-member sponsoring coalition.
Instead of using these questions, Mr. Chapman went directly to the audience. A total of six of their questions were asked during the two-hour forum.
Roxanne O’Brien, a Bush Fellowship recipient, asked a question. Then she went outside and brought in some young men, “our future leaders,” to present their concerns to the panel. One young man, Abraham, asked how the new mayor would make Broadway like Lake Street to bring economic development to the North.
Candidate Mark Andrew noted, “I hear the frustration in your voice. I have a big vision for the city and that is for Northside and Southside.”
Stephanie Woodruff said transit improvements are needed, as well as the development of the Upper Harbor Terminal and the need to create living-wage jobs.
Terra Cole, the executive director for the Heritage Park Neighborhood Association, said after the meeting. “What role will the new mayor establish in breaking down barriers? How will the mayor have authentic engagement with our community? How will her/his leadership facilitate an atmosphere of change in the office and with the newly elected city council?”
She left with these and many more unanswered questions. “There is a saying in my church, that whatever is at the top flows down,” said Cole. “These candidates are not reaching out enough to certain city segments and to communities of color.
“We are asking the city to do its job,” Cole continued. “We want economic development and community engagement, not handouts. The job of the mayor includes following up on what we bring to her/him, and she/he assists us in bringing it to actualization.”
A list of the printed candidate forum questions and answers will be translated into Spanish, Hmong and Laotian, available through the Facebook page of Heritage Park Neighborhood Association.
Thanks to Helen Duritsa, an intern at the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and the TC Daily Planet for sharing this story with us.