Minneapolis DFL delegates endorsed Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Jono Cowgill and two new candidates running unopposed on Thursday: Billy Menz and Eric Moran. All three named reducing conflict and renewing a sense of collaboration among commissioners as top goals.
"Over the past few years, the political nature of the board has prevented them from really, truly working together," said Menz, who was endorsed for District 1 with more than 89% of delegates. "We can have a mutual respect for each other and understand where each other is coming from, but we can work toward some common ground to make sure that we get some things done. And that's something that I hope to bring to the Park Board. I don't have any enemies."
Menz is an Edison High School English Language Learners teacher who lives in the Windom Park neighborhood of northeast Minneapolis. As a multisport coach, he said he wants to build out park programming to meet a broad spectrum of youth needs, including health, community involvement and high school graduation.
He aims to create more education programs around the Mississippi River, which he believes is underutilized for recreation compared with the city's lakes. He also views the small park police department as an opportunity to reimagine public safety, advocating disarming officers and putting them on bikes.
"Building relationships with the community is extremely important in maintaining that public safety element within the parks," he said. "Getting to know the young people that are there is really important."
IT worker Moran of the Victory neighborhood was endorsed by 78% of delegates in District 2. He sits on the board of the transportation and land use publication streets.mn, and volunteered to clean up after the civil unrest in north Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd last spring.
"[The Park Board] succeeded with some of the things around unhoused individuals. They've taken a good approach to dealing with encampments," Moran said. At the same time, he believes there's too much "bickering" between commissioners. "If elected, I would like to see a lot more partnerships working with other individuals on the Park Board to help bridge those [divides]."
Moran said he aims to improve North Side access to parkland and improve the parks' digital and web capabilities. He describes himself as a queer Latino, potentially the Park Board's first if elected. He is also an Eagle Scout.
Cowgill, the current Park Board president and a Stevens Square resident elected in 2017, won endorsement in District 4 with 65% of delegates.
"After the last couple of years as the leader of the Park Board, this vote of confidence by most of my neighbors is very humbling and only means that there's more to do," he said.
"When we get spread thin, we're not able to deliver. … I look forward to really being laser-focused on some of these key initiatives: climate change, our investment in young people, our interagency investments, and really working on making those things shine."
Cowgill's challenger is Elizabeth Shaffer, who led the Save the Seven Pools park restoration project in Lowry Hill.
She is one of the most outspoken candidates against the Park Board's approach to encampments last summer, writing on her website, "Last year our parks were a risk, not a refuge. Let's support the safety of everyone — the unhoused, MPRB staff, youth, and families — by working to keep encampments out of city parks."
None of the other district or at-large candidates received the 60% of votes threshold for endorsement.
Susan Du • 612-673-4028