This profile is part of our “Seat at the Table” series highlighting seven new LGBTQIA candidates and candidates of color running in the 2017 Minneapolis City Council election. Catch the kick off of our series here, and check back every week for another installment of the series.
The morning after the 2016 presidential elections, Samantha Pree-Stinson, a resident of Northeast Minneapolis was confronted by a truck of all male passengers spewing racial slurs directly at her. Soon after, she observed the same men spit and yell at another woman. Earlier that day, Pree-Stinson recalls having shared with her family a hope: that despite the outcome of the elections, the hatred brewing throughout the past year would not seep further into their world. Yet, after this incident, she questioned if that was possible.
“Is this going to be our daily lives for me, and potentially my children, my friends and my neighbors?” she said. “[Do] we have to take the high road and go through this every day? I don’t want to take the high road, I like the road that I’m on.”
Just weeks after this incident, Pree-Stinson announced that she would run as the only candidate of color and veteran for the open seat in Ward 3 for Minneapolis City Council. On March 9, she released a video statement describing another attack when a racist letter was left at her home. While concerned for the safety and security of her family, she is resolute in moving forward with the campaign. Faced with what Pree-Stinson deems are new stakes since the 2016 election, she stands firm in the conviction that she can represent and lead this part of the city.
“What I’m trying to do is build the community back up,” she explained, “people shouldn’t be living in fear where they’re scared to come out [of their homes]… These are real fears, and we should be able to stop that.”
Pree-Stinton takes pride in Ward 3 being “a vibrant and diverse cross section of the city,” she said. Made up neighborhoods that cover an eclectic swath of the city including Downtown, Northeast Arts District, St. Anthony Falls and the University of Minnesota, Ward 3 is home to families, students, homeowners, renters, artists and elders. According to Minnesota Compass data, more than 42 percent of Ward 3 residents have income under $35,000 annually. More than 32 percent of the ward’s residents are indigenous or people of color, and more than 17 percent of the ward’s residents are foreign born.
When we sat down for coffee early one abnormally warm February morning at Mojo Café, near both of our homes, Pree-Stinson immediately gave me a hug and radiated a smile so infectious it was as if we were old friends catching up. She makes you feel like you are the only person in the room.
She candidly describes herself first and foremost as an intersectional woman. “I am half-Black, half-Mexican, equal parts. I am female, a veteran and – previous to coming here – I worked in a male-dominated field.” Pree-Stinson believes her identities play a vital role in celebrating the many cultures and experiences of the people who make up the ward.
“[Diversity is] how we learn,” she said. “It’s how we grow; it’s our strength whether we know it or not.”
Before devoting her life to the campaign, Pree-Stinson worked at the medical device company Medtronic, where she drove diversity and inclusion metrics for women of color in the field. When describing the day she was hired for the job, tears came to her eyes.
“I remember how proud I was in that moment,” she said.
Medtronic, while having separate goals to increase leadership of women or people and color in the company, failed to have metrics for women of color. Pree-Stinson worked to fix this oversight and served as the chair of both the global and local women’s network at Medtronic advocating for the advancement of women, especially women of color, in the field. She sees this experience as being an essential asset to City Council as she works to increase representation in City Hall to be more reflective of the constituents that make up the ward: that means seeing more people of color and indigenous leaders in office.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Pree-Stinson stated as she emphasized the need to have officials with myriad lived-experiences in office. In the 2013 City Council elections, Minneapolis elected the first Hmong City Council Member Blong Yang, the first Somali City Council Member Abdi Warsame, and the first Mexican City Council Member Alondra Cano. To Pree-Stinson, this shift toward greater representation in City Hall is only the beginning. She believes the politics in City Hall have become removed from the people. To her, the root issue remains the lack of relatability to constituents.
“[Communities] don’t necessarily feel like they have a stake in what is happening around them,” she said. “People are not being engaged and when you don’t feel engaged you don’t feel like you’re a part of your community.”
Holistic approach to affordable housing
Many residents of Ward 3 know Samantha as a mother of three and active community member. She coaches soccer, attends community meetings and volunteers at her children’s school. While her enthusiasm for the neighborhood is contagious, Pree-Stinson is not hesitant to share the struggles she has faced. As a renter, she has a history with neglectful landlords, rising rents and decaying infrastructure – situations which she believes “could have landed [my family] homeless.” Pree-Stinson sees her repeated challenges while renting as part of a more systemic issue.
“It’s not just me. People have actually gone through this and experienced it,” she said. “They can’t afford to live in a three-bedroom high-rise that costs $3,000 a month.” As property values in the neighborhoods rise rental prices do too, with resources diverted away from working class and communities of color. Incomes are also systematically staying stagnant.
These disparities are not new. Minnesota has one of the largest racial poverty gaps in the United States. What’s more, banks in Minneapolis and St. Paul are nearly four times more likely to give subprime loans to high-income Black residents than low-income white residents.
“Cities all over the United States have seen a steady decrease in the number of affordable housing units built,” Pree-Stinson remarks in her campaign proposal, “You can google the [Minneapolis] map from the 1930’s and see how we are still combatting that map and working towards integrating our city. I am tired of seeing my community leave to the suburbs because they cannot afford to live where they work.”
Teija Madhusoodanan a medical student currently living near the University of Minnesota, considers the lack of affordable housing in the Dinkytown neighborhood as an issue. “[Developers] are getting rid of that affordable housing, destroying the businesses and the community has to relocate somewhere. I don’t know where they will go. It’s just changing the demographic of the whole area.”
Channing James, also a medical student at the University of Minnesota, affirmed this view. “I see people on the other side [of developers] who try to fight, but the decisions have already been made so they’re fighting against something that has already been decided and it’s hard to stop it at that point.” Instead, she believes conversations should start “from the ground up” with “community input.” Ultimately, Madhusoodanan thinks developers and new residents are “unaware of the assets that the people that are already living there actually contribute; they don’t realize what is already there.”
Pree-Stinson emphasized the need to work with both renters and developers to solve these issues. She said that raising resident’s income and tackling gentrification are inexplicably linked and places her plans for a new minimum wage ordinance under her plans for affordable housing. In her view, in order to make $15 minimum wage across the city possible, City Hall also needs to look at uplifting small businesses so that they can afford to pay their employees. And enabling greater housing density will strengthen customer bases for businesses.
Pree-Stinson positions the ward within the ecosystem of the city. She realizes that each ward operates as part of a continuum of greater issues that are systemic across the city.
“Essentially, what happens in one part of the city is going to impact another part of the city,” she explained, “so we have to start to operate as a city that’s a matrix organization, where there are no solid lines, they’re all dotted.” In order for this type of work to be accomplished, City Council members need to work together to build a more comprehensive city planning. She hopes to bring a more holistic approach to tackling these issues on a citywide level.
Legacy of service
Pree-Stinson sees the theme of her campaign as one of service. Her time in Afghanistan provides a poignant backdrop to frame the resilience she brings to a campaign platform. Serving as a medic, Pree-Stinson tries to counter what she describes as common misperceptions of military service by sharing the significance of breaking bread and sharing culture with families and children. Pree-Stinson believes this campaign brings her “back to her roots” of service.
April Barnhart, a friend of Pree-Stinson and Ward 3 resident, sees the candidate’s experience serving in the military as an asset to the campaign. “You don’t expect to see a young woman of color and mother of three as a veteran,” she pointed out, “She’s breaking that stigma because she has been through that system. She knows where these faults are. I can see how she would have the most dedication to fix it.”
Within her first 90 days in office, Pree-Stinson intends to work with the Minneapolis Police Department to introduce more non-lethal conflict resolution, cultural training and yearly implicit bias training. In an 11-point plan, her most detailed of proposals so far, Pree-Stinson maps out how to orchestrate greater accountability and community engagement in a ward where constituents continue to voice concerns about the relationship between police and the community. Like any service oriented position, Pree-Stinson argues that the police need the resources and tools to do their jobs.
“Training has to be more robust and frequent,” she said.
She believes her perspective, having served in the military, can help diffuse the polarized issue. “[Being a police officer] is a service job and you have to make some of the toughest decisions.” Pree-Stinson admits having been accused in conversations with constituents that she’s against the police. Yet, she sees her viewpoint on reform as more nuanced.
“My husband has been discriminated against waiting to get our kids from the bus stops and the neighbors not knowing who he is, calling the cops and saying he’s suspicious standing on the corner,” she said. “Trust me, I’m affected by it. But I also know that creating a divide is not helpful.” Instead, Pree-Stinson wants to emphasize tough conversations on a community level that move beyond an “us versus them” dichotomy.
Accountability, visibility and transparency
On Feb. 18, candidates seeking the Green Party endorsement held an open forum at Peace Coffee in South Minneapolis. The Ward 3 seat is open, as one-term incumbent Jacob Frey is stepping down to run for mayor – making for stiff competition in the Ward 3 race. After finding that she had to make too many value compromises for the DFL endorsement, Pree-Stinson turned to the Green Party. Pree-Stinson shared her frustration about voter suppression and the disenfranchisement that disempowers people in our neighborhoods. She pointed to the difficulty working class people of Ward 3 have in making it to caucuses and conventions – a critical piece to her road to endorsement.
“If you look at our ward, a lot of people work on Saturdays, if they don’t work on Saturdays, they try to spend time with their family and you want them to give up a day. So you see how the system is not representative of who the ward really is,” she said.
While Pree-Stinson still has yet to fine tune her policy recommendations, characteristic of candidates this early on in the running, her proposals are characterized by a commitment to accountability, visibility and transparency.
On Feb. 25, Pree-Stinson won the Green Party endorsement. However, she also emphasized her responsibility to assume a nonpartisan role that prioritizes the needs of constituents.
“I am going to be representing Trump supporters,” she noted. “I will be representing people who may not have a political identity. I will be representing Democrats, Greens, Independents and everything in between. Even though I have my own viewpoints around certain things, ultimately I’m focused on the city and our people as a whole.”
When I met Pree-Stinson’s brother, Ryan R.B. Williams, he declared that his sister is ready for the campaign.
“She really wants to help the city,” he remarked, “and she stands up for what she believes in.” Pree-Stinson describes representing her community as her “dream job.”
“If we truly want to be an inclusive city that acts with the best interest of all residents in mind, we need to think outside of the box,” Pree-Stinson said. She went on to point out that we need to consider the broad spectrum of issues and make continual improvements that represent who we are as a ward. That also means not “sweeping things under the rug,” as she put it, or avoiding conversations that are uncomfortable. To Pree-Stinson, moving forward also means setting ambitious goals that can be completed within her time in City Council.
“I’m actually going to get the work done, “she declared, “and I want the community to hold me accountable to make sure I do.”