Equity debate draws candidates for Minneapolis Park Board election

Citywide and southwest seats are drawing the most competition so far.

By  Star Tribune

A year before next year’s Minneapolis park commissioner elections, the field of citywide candidates is getting crowded.

And that’s before a push to recruit equity-focused candidates hits high gear.

 

STAR TRIBUNE, ELIZABETH FLORES


STAR TRIBUNE, ELIZABETH FLORES
Carol House pushed her grandson Isaiah Halsall on a swing at the newly remodeled East Phillips Park May 29, 2014

There are already two candidates challenging Commissioner Brad Bourn for his southwest Minneapolis seat. And a half-dozen candidates are possibilities for the three citywide seats on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which oversees more than 6,000 acres and a $101.2 million budget. It’s poised to spend a windfall of new money to fix neighborhood parks but bedeviled by charges of racism.

It’s a long way until next August’s filing deadline, but grass-roots activists are actively seeking candidates who want to address what they portray as inequities in park facilities and practices.

They’ve scheduled a campaign workshop for Nov. 17 that’s aimed at recruiting candidates who are working class, people of color or young people focused on racial justice. The session sponsored by the Parks and Power campaign is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. at Hope Community, 611 E. Franklin Av. One organizer, Jake Virden, said the goal is to find candidates willing to work for a platform of racial and economic justice.

The most competitive of six district races so far is in southwest Minneapolis, where Bourn seeks a third term. The King Field neighborhood resident, a staff director for the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, calls himself a “minority caucus” on the board where his proposals to address festering issues raised by minority advocates often go unseconded. He scored a partial victory when the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska was added to signs at Lake Calhoun after prolonged debate. His campaign fund had more than $5,700 at the end of 2015.

Michael Derus, who grew up doorknocking the North Side for his county commissioner father but now lives in Fulton, is seeking the DFL and labor endorsement for Bourn’s seat. He’s a small business lender for banks and said he wants his young sons to have the same park opportunities he enjoyed.

He said of Bourn: “Right now, it’s very difficult for him to move his agenda, whatever it is, forward. His approach may be doing more harm than good.”

Also running is Hershel Ousley, a Linden Hills resident and veteran coach and referee. The insurance claims administrator said Bourn has been ineffective and alienated other commissioners. “You can’t get work done if you can’t get the board behind you,” Ousley said. He said he’d like to represent feedback he’s received from parents and park staff on local park needs.

Fulton resident Josh Neiman, who challenged Bourn in 2013, said he hasn’t decided whether he’s running.

Meanwhile, three other district incumbents — Steffanie Musich in the Nokomis area, Jon Olson on the North Side and Liz Wielinski on the East Side — say they plan to run again. No opponents have surfaced so far in their districts, although Olson’s North Side seat is two-thirds minority.

Board President Anita Tabb said she’s likely to step down from her west-central seat after two terms that began after activism with the watchdog group Minneapolis Park Watch. If Tabb doesn’t run, former commissioner and board President Tom Nordyke of Cedar-Isles-Dean is strongly considering a run. Incumbent Scott Vreeland said he’s not made up his mind in a district south of downtown.

Citywide races

The races for three at-large seats on the board are uncertain. Longtime Commissioner Annie Young, who has chronic progressive lung disease, said she’s more likely not to run for a seventh term.

“It gets kind of boring after a while,” she said. “You can only sit through so many meetings.”

Commissioner John Erwin, a prodigious fundraiser, said he hasn’t decided whether to run, citing competing demands of his work as a University of Minnesota professor and fruit production consultant.

The earliest and most vigorous at-large candidacy so far has been that of Longfellow resident Russ Henry. The owner of an organic landscaping business said he’s raised about $1,300 to date and but hasn’t decided which political endorsement to seek.

He said his chief issue will be environmental sustainability in park operations, including transitioning away from pesticide use, and seeking equity in park services and use among residents of color.

Other candidates who say they are likely to run for at-large seats are longtime coaches Mike Tate of Webber-Camden, a packaging company sales rep, and Bob Fine, a lawyer and former park commissioner.

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