The Fourth and Fifth Wards in Minneapolis cover the city’s North Side neighborhoods and share similar challenges. Safety, crime, policing, and racial and social justice are top concerns. As areas with higher unemployment and underemployment, business and job creation as well as affordable housing also make the priority list. And in both wards, incumbent DFL council members were denied endorsement amid a citywide wave of challengers who want new, more progressive voices on the council.
The Fourth Ward, the city’s northernmost district, has been well represented for the past two decades by incumbent council President Barb Johnson, who merits re-election. In her previous races, she received party support. The 68-year-old former nurse is seeking a fifth term to serve the area that includes Victory Memorial Parkway, Upper Harbor Terminal and the Folwell neighborhood.
Johnson’s longevity, and the fact that her mother, Alice Rainville, and cousin John Derus held the job before her, has been used against her during the campaign. But in our view, her experience, institutional memory and practical approach to city issues are great assets — especially on a council that could have a significant number of new members in January.
Johnson has been a strong council voice for improving public safety with more police officers and for crime prevention through job training and youth programs. During her tenure, she also has supported park and library projects, brought new construction to the ward and made it easier for small businesses to navigate city regulations. The lifelong Northsider has often used her powerful position to strike balanced compromises on budget and policy issues.
Our second choice is Phillipe Cunningham, 30, who took a leave from his job as a senior policy aide to Mayor Betsy Hodges to run for office. He has been a special education teacher, youth worker and advocate, and he says he knows how to build and lead collaborative efforts across city departments and other levels of government. His passion for service and youth advocacy are laudable. Still, he needs more seasoning and did not make a persuasive case to unseat Johnson.
Also running is Dana Hansen, a 29-year-old paralegal and Libertarian. She said that Johnson has done a “pretty good job’’ but that she believes in term limits. Hansen is not ready for council service.
The fourth candidate is Stephanie Gasca, who did not respond to the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s invitation to interview for endorsement or provide information about her campaign.
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In the other North Side district, incumbent Blong Yang was also denied DFL endorsement and is facing strong challenges from three candidates. Yang deserves re-election because of his practical approach to the issues and his track record of fiscal responsibility.
His ward includes the Jordan, Near North and Harrison areas. The ward was the site of the Fourth Precinct occupation in late 2015, when citizens camped out for three weeks to protest the police shooting of Jamar Clark.
During Yang’s first term, the 41-year-old attorney and former city civil rights investigator counts saving or adding more than 600 units of housing and increasing the numbers of first responders among his accomplishments. Yang also helped encourage $100 million in development at the intersection of Penn and Plymouth avenues. And he astutely raised important questions about the impact the $15 minimum wage will have on small businesses in his district.
One complaint heard about Yang is that he can be aloof and disengaged. If he wins a second term, he needs to improve his constituent service and demonstrate that he is working for every community within the ward.
Our second choice in this field is Cathy Spann, the 55-year-old director of the Jordan Area Community Council and 20-year resident of the North Side. She has an impressive resume of professional and volunteer experiences across numerous social service areas, including education, housing, public safety and youth initiatives.
The third option on our recommended list is small-business owner and marketing consultant Raeisha Williams, 35, a fourth-generation Minneapolis resident who shows political promise but lacks the broad experience of Yang and Spann.
Politics is in the family of the DFL-endorsed candidate, Jeremiah Ellison, 28. He is the son of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and Minneapolis school Board Member Kim Ellison. Jeremiah Ellison is passionate about building on the strengths of his hometown neighborhood, but his knowledge about specifics of city operations is lacking. Like Williams, he was active in the Fourth Precinct protest and says he is focused on racial equity.
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For additional information about the candidates, including links to their websites, news stories and an explanation of ranked-choice voting, go to the Star Tribune’s 2017 Minneapolis and St. Paul voters guide at http://strib.mn/2yJxgmk. To read all of our endorsements, go to http://startribune.com/2017endorsements.