Animals, rides, beer, food, international shops, Minnesota wines and a robot

Even though I’m not a hardcore state fair-tripper, my visit on opening day was fun, filled with curiosities ranging from a life-like singing and dancing robot to a 1,186-pound pumpkin. My companion and I first passed by a group of ducks nesting in a pond in the shadow of a bronze moose and wildflowers – an odd juxtaposition between real and unreal in the well-planned DNR section. Nearby, sunfish swam in a man-made pool. “The first fish you ever caught was probably a sunfish,” a DNR guide told the mid-sized crowd that circled the pond. Just beyond, I caught a glimpse of a big fish that wasn’t in water; it was a found-art sculpture, nicknamed Urgie the Sturgeon. Continue Reading

Minneapolis politicians and activists at odds over ‘neighborhood revitalization’

While some politicians tout a piece of recent legislation as one way to continue Minneapolis’ Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) beyond its original 2009 end date, critics see flaws in its vague terminology, and question how dollars will be doled out in practice. NRP, which was set up in 1989 to last for 20 years, has paved the way for all kinds of neighborhood improvements, including everything from the creation of affordable housing to the installation of street lighting, reflecting a community’s needs and wants. Community activists boast that neighborhood organizations have been able to stretch funds, by acquiring grants and forming unique partnerships — something they say they couldn’t have done without NRP. In addition to the fact that the program is coming to a close, the $400 million the city had pledged to the initiative is now looking more like $297.2 million, a shortcoming that city officials blame on 2001 state tax law changes. (NRP is sustained through tax increments that are collected from downtown redevelopment projects.)
The proposal that passed as part of the tax omnibus bill allows for the creation of a tax base that is similar to the one that NRP draws from now to support “neighborhood revitalization” for at least a decade (in Minneapolis). Continue Reading

Local activists protest Iowa immigration raid, help organize relief effort

Late Friday afternoon, a crowd assembled on a vibrant street corner in Minneapolis to protest the recent immigration raid of the Agriprocessor, Inc., meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa — which they say has earned little play in Minnesota media outlets even though Monday’s historic roundup of nearly 400 undocumented workers surpassed all others across the country. To heighten public awareness of the Postville events, a mere three-hour drive from the Twin Cities, activists including a number of Latino community members demonstrated on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue, an area that many Latinos call home. They pounded on drums and carried signs, chanting, “Stop the raids, stop the racism!” in English and Spanish; cars honked as they passed by. One of the rally’s organizers, Erika Zurawski, who represented a coalition of immigrant supporters, characterized the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in Iowa, which had been in the works for months, as “an attack against immigrants and workers” that seemed to take aim at Guatemalans. Continue Reading

Headwaters Foundation moves to support 15 immigrant workers fired from D’Amico

The Headwaters Foundation for Justice, a local organization that fights for social justice causes, recently announced it would boycott a venue catered by D’Amico & Partners to show support for the 15 Latino workers who were let go from the metro-area restaurant chain on March 31. Its annual “Allies for Justice” dinner will be held Wednesday at the Minneapolis Hilton instead of the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Center, where D’Amico has an exclusive contract. D’Amico fired the 15 workers after receiving no-match letters for those employees from the Social Security Administration. (No-matches go out when a Social Security number can’t be verified.) A growing list of activists, including some politicians, allege that the company’s actions were unlawful and discriminatory. They want D’Amico to come to a fair agreement with the former employees, many of whom had worked there for over a decade. Continue Reading

Cops and immigration enforcement

Jorge Emilio Esquivel-Munoz, 31, who is from Mexico but has lived in Minneapolis over the past four years, probably didn’t imagine that hanging out with a friend who was drunkenly fooling around with a toy BB gun would trigger his arrest and deportation. But last Sunday, April 20, that’s exactly what happened, according to his girlfriend, a 24-year-old Latina who says her name is Judy. Esquivel-Munoz, who doesn’t speak English, was wrongly identified as the owner of the toy pistol, says Judy, who wasn’t present at the scene. (“Toy” is no excuse under the law; it’s illegal to have a replica gun in Minneapolis.) Currently, Esquivel-Munoz is located at an Elk River facility, awaiting deportation. Judy said she’s been told that he will be dropped off somewhere around the Texas border in about a week. Continue Reading

Review of St. Paul contracting procedures, inclusiveness

Audit/performance review of St. Paul contracting procedures regarding inclusion of minorities, females and others sets stage for changes
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who stressed “equal access for everyone” as a part of his campaign platform in 2005, says a recently released audit and performance review of the city’s contracting practices that center on inclusiveness, or rather, the lack thereof, signals change. The Continue Reading

U of M poised for long-term North Minneapolis partnership

Amid lingering doubts, ‘U’ officials and supporters advance a new ‘urban agenda’
Ora Hoakes, who has lived in North Minneapolis for over 30 years, is a passionate advocate of a University of Minnesota plan to renew the blighted corner of Penn and Plymouth Avenues on Minneapolis’ North Side, which is just a couple blocks from her home. A community activist, Hoakes believes the multi-million-dollar project, dubbed the University-Northside Partnership (UNP), will respond to urgent needs in this area of the city while also helping to stabilize it. “Every resource that the university has at its disposal, we can utilize to strengthen our community,” said Hoakes. The university is a major force behind the initiative, but many other community stakeholders are also part of the collaboration to address Northside residents’ concerns related to business, employment, health, poverty and other issues. Many Northside residents are optimistic about the partnership, but some lingering suspicions remain about the university’s motivation for becoming more fully engaged with the North Side. Continue Reading

Preserving Prospect Park

Residents will vote on whether to pursue historic district designation
Prospect Park’s walkable, small-town feel harkens back to the late 1800s when it was a “commuter suburb” near the old streetcar line, with stately homes, elaborate landscaping, and curving paths that meander in and around gentle slopes. Its rich history, earmarked by outstanding architecture and significant landmarks, testifies to the city’s coming-of-age, providing a valuable link to the past, some community stakeholders attest. In light of development that seems to encroach on the neighborhood from all sides, however — such as projects that may come with the planned Central Corridor Light Rail Line — some worry Prospect Park might one day lose its remoteness and charm. One way they hope to safeguard it is to designate the area as an historic district through the National Register of Historic Places, which recognizes properties that are tied to special moments in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture. If awarded, Prospect Park would become the state’s largest historic district. Continue Reading