Hennepin County District 3 special election primary - Get to know the candidates

This spring voters in Hennepin County District 3 will go to the polls and vote in a special election to fill the Hennepin County Commissioner position that was previously held by Gail Dorfman. Dorfman recently resigned to become the Executive Director of St. Stephens Human Services.

There are seven Hennepin County Commissioners who provide leadership to the County. Hennepin County encompasses all of Minneapolis and a majority of the western suburbs. It is the second largest unit of government in Minnesota, after the State of Minnesota, with a $1.7 billion budget.

The County provides a wide range of social services, is responsible for major transportation projects, like the recent reconstruction of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue, and managing the property tax system in Minneapolis. The County is also a major provider of health care through the Hennepin County Medical Center and its associated clinics. The Third District covers Southwest Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

There are four candidates running for the seat, which means there will be a primary on Tuesday, April 29th. The special election will be on Tuesday, May 13th. You can find out more about the election, including voter eligibility on Hennepin County’s website.

To help educate voters on the candidates’ positions LNA asked each candidate a series of questions. The following responses are the candidates’ responses.

Marion Greene - www.mariongreene.org

Why are you running for Hennepin County Commissioner?

No elected body has more immediate impact on opportunity gaps and the social safety net than the County Board. I am running because I want our whole region to thrive. To do that, we need to think about equity in every decision the county makes - are we improving lives?

How has your experience prepared you for this position?

A former DFL State Representative, I’ve worked peer-to-peer with the County Board. An activist, I’ve worked on teams to create positive change in our community. I grew up outside the US (mostly Pakistan), so have a broad world view. A wife and stepmom, I’ve wrestled with those things that make a family work.

If you are elected what will your top three priorities be?

1. Community engagement. Many consider the County an “invisible” layer of government - let’s change that.

2. Early childhood. Housing, health care, transit, and jobs work together so every child arrives at school-age ready to learn.

3. Health care. Let’s ensure health care for all - no more disparities, no exceptions.

What role do you see for neighborhood organizations in the County’s community engagement process?

Neighborhood organizations are a fundamental partner in the County’s community engagement process. There are about 30 neighborhoods in Hennepin County District 3 - I see engaging with them as a first step to opening the County's doors to people across the district, and inviting in engagement with policies and services.

What changes would you make to the County’s programs to make them more accessible to traditionally underrepresented communities?

The County (in a way similar to the City of Minneapolis) struggles to hire staff who demographically match the people it serves. I support diversifying hiring, and I support culturally relevant pop-up, street and mobile initiatives that reach people beyond those participating in established organizations and programs.

Ken Kelash - www.kenkelash.com

Why are you running for Hennepin County Commissioner?

In my four years as State Senator, I was very involved in the County’s issues of Housing, Transit Oriented Development and Economic Opportunities. My experience on the Senate Transportation, Economic Development and Environment and Natural Resources Committees dovetails with many of Hennepin County’s issues. I can bring this experience to the County Board.

How has your experience prepared you for this position?

With 15 years on the NRP policy board, I know the creative work of neighborhoods. My work in the Senate on issues like Lead Abatement, Criminal Background Checks, Aquatic Invasive Species and Workers’ Rights has given me a broad range of experience to bring to the County Board. I have the Experience that Matters for this job.

If elected what will your top three priorities be?

1. Use Hennepin County’s resources to mitigate whatever inconvenience is caused by the Met Council decision on SW LRT.

2. Make sure that all development around the County’s investment in transit includes housing for all level of income.

3. Make sure that HCMC continues to be the best trauma center in Minnesota and that their clinics continue to reach out into the communities that need medical services.

What role do you see for neighborhood organizations in the County’s community engagement process?

My experience on the NRP policy Board showed me that the Neighborhood Organizations are the very best way to bring people to public hearings. They keep their neighbors informed about both content and process. They will be very early contributors to any County projects while I am on the Board.

What changes would make to the County’s programs to make them more accessible to traditionally underrepresented communities?

More of the County’s Social Services and Medical Services should move from downtown into the communities. They could be located where there is easy access to transit. They should partner with the Cities, Schools, Parks and non-profit agencies so most of our citizens’ needs may be met at one location.

Anne Mavity - www.annemavity.org

Why are you running for Hennepin County Commissioner?

I am running for Hennepin County Commissioner because I believe that our county government can make a difference in improving people’s everyday lives, and I am eager to leverage more than 25 years of experience in community building, social justice and affordable housing to strengthen our community.

How has your experience prepared you for this position?

Throughout my life, I have dedicated my personal time and my professional career to helping empower people to have a voice in their own community. For three decades, I have been able to formulate and advance public policies that help communities keep government accountable and working on their behalf.

If you are elected what will your top three priorities be?

My work will be grounded in a commitment to reducing the racial and economic disparities that thread through our community. My priorities as your County Commissioner include:

1. Creating affordable housing and ending homelessness

2. Creating a regional transit system and expanding connectivity

3. Fostering environmental stewardship and sustainable, healthy communities.

What role do you see for neighborhood organizations in the County’s community engagement process?

As a former neighborhood organizer, I strongly value the role that neighborhoods can play in providing a vehicle for residents to participate in decisions that will impact their lives. Our public policies are improved when more perspectives and life experiences are factored into them. My collaborative leadership approach will be based in the community, and informed by residents.

What changes would you make to the County’s programs to make them more accessible to traditionally underrepresented communities?

I will expand efforts to make county services accessible, as well as make sure services are culturally appropriate. We need to build talent, wealth and assets in our own communities - and I will continue to be a strong advocate for investing in community-based leaders, community-based services and community-driven policies.

Ben Schweigert - www.benforhennepin.org

Why are you running for Hennepin County Commissioner?

I’m running to build a future that we will be proud of, one that is more sustainable, more fair, and more prosperous for more people. I want a county optimistic enough to take on its biggest challenges and strong enough to succeed, and I’m ready to lead in that effort.

How has your experience prepared you for this position?

I prosecute financial crimes for the County Attorney's Office. In this job and throughout my life, I've fought for people who need an advocate. I've worked in affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and economic justice. And because I work at the county, I've seen what works and what need improvement.

If you are elected what will your top three priorities be?

1. Transportation: better transit options, more walkable neighborhoods, and expanded bike infrastructure.

2. Fighting inequality and creating opportunity: a more engaged, holistic approach to our early childhood work, better support for students and their families, and living wages for all workers.

3. Housing: Continuing Commissioner Dorfman's work to end homelessness.

What role do you see for neighborhood organizations in the Countys community engagement process?

I'm active in my neighborhood association, and I know that community-based groups can ensure effective planning of county projects. Neighborhood associations also have a growing role as advocates for the broader interests of residents of all incomes and backgrounds, working with the county to deliver resources that create opportunity.

What changes would you make to the Countys programs to make them more accessible to traditionally underrepresented communities?

County services need to be easier to navigate. When community members contact the county seeking assistance, those initial conversations should aim to make available the range of ways the county can help. We also need to diversify the county's workforce: recruiting, retaining, and promoting employees who look like the county.

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