The board of Mercado Central is demanding that Republican candidate for governor Scott Jensen remove images of the Latino marketplace from his campaign ads.
The campaign did not have permission to film a political ad inside the Minneapolis cultural mall, its board of directors said in a letter Wednesday to Jensen's campaign.
"It is troubling that a political campaign would blithely appropriate and exploit Mercado Central's iconic image without the minimum courtesy of consulting with the leadership or tenants of our cultural mall," the board wrote, asking Jensen's campaign to respond by Friday with confirmation that they had followed the board's request.
Attorneys for the Jensen campaign and Mercado Central are in touch and are working on "a mutually acceptable agreement," said Jensen spokesman Joel Hanson. He said he is hopeful they will be able to reach an agreement by Mercado Central's deadline and declined to comment further on the ads.
Located on E. Lake Street, Mercado Central's interior and exterior murals are protected by copyright law, and third-party use is not allowed, the board wrote in its letter. Mercado Central does not endorse any political candidate or party, it added.
"We trust that they will respond respectfully and take the action requested in the letter," said Miluska Novota, a pro-bono lawyer representing Mercado Central's board. "We want to keep this as respectful and nonpartisan as possible."
Jensen's campaign posted two campaign videos, in English and Spanish, on YouTube last week, with Mercado Central as the backdrop for part of the ads. The campaign announced Monday the ads would be airing on Telemundo and were aimed at bolstering support among Latino voters for the GOP candidate facing DFL Gov. Tim Walz in November. A third ad from earlier in September also briefly shows the marketplace.
"Today, we expand our reach to the Hispanic Community," Jensen's campaign said in its Monday announcement. "It is so critical to reach new voters and bring them into the big tent of our campaign, our movement. For too long, Tim Walz has taken for granted ALL Minnesotans."
Jensen's videos come as Republicans across the country are trying to expand their outreach among voters of color ahead of the midterm elections. Former President Donald Trump plans to give the keynote address at an upcoming Hispanic Leadership Conference, the Trump-aligned group America First Works announced Wednesday.
"The Republican Party has to do better," Jensen stressed to an almost entirely white crowd in Hermantown at a recent campaign event. "And when we do better with the women, and the millennials and Gen Zs, and the minorities, we see a path. We see a path to doing something we haven't done in a long, long time."
The latest Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota poll found Walz leading Jensen by 48 percentage points among nonwhite voters in the state.
Jensen's 30-second campaign videos feature a woman identified only as Alondra, a lifelong Democrat who said she is planning to vote for Jensen. Alondra and Jensen walk through Mercado Central in the video.
"Democrat Gov. Tim Walz abandoned us and left our community burning during the riots. After this, Tim Walz didn't even bother showing up. But Dr. Scott Jensen has shown up, listened to us. Our community is important to him and that's why I'm voting for him this November," she says in the video.
After discussing with tenants and the board as well as extensive research, Novota said Alondra is not a tenant or business person affiliated with Mercado Central.
"We do not even know her last name because it's not featured in the ad," said Novota. "She says that her name is Alondra, so we trust that is her name."
When political candidates do visit Mercardo Central, Novota said visits are scheduled in advance with permission for specific purposes to benefit immigrants or invest in Lake Street.
"Totally nonpartisan, totally focused on the progress of Lake Street and the Latino community," she said.
If the Jensen campaign does not comply with the board's requests, "we will cross that problem when we see it," Novota said.
Unidos MN, an organization focused on immigration issues, is one of the tenants in Mercado Central. While scrolling on social media, Unidos MN Executive Director Emilia Gonzalez Avalos came across the campaign video and said she felt "disgusted." She added that as a young Latina, she probably fit the ad's target audience.
"[Jensen's] not coming in as a consumer. A consumer can come in and do their thing. Everybody's welcome," said Gonzalez Avalos. "The right way to come with a political platform is to actually listen from people, and to ask for consent on the places you are trying to move your issues on."