Lennie Chism, a North Minneapolis entrepreneur, is running for Minneapolis City Council’s Fifth Ward seat in this November’s municipal election.
“The bottom reason why I am running for office,” Chism recently said in an MSR interview, “is that we have a community that at 10:30 [evening news] the same story is told: a community where violence and crime is the only story we hear [in the media]. We have to look at a better way of changing that story, and I think that I can be the voice to do that.”
Chism says he is painfully aware of the problems the North Side has faced in recent years, ranging from vacant lots to unemployment and transportation concerns. The area once was a vibrant, livable community, and he believes it can be that way again.
“There has been disinvestment in Ward 5 for a number of years,” he explains, adding that along with West Broadway, such main streets as Glenwood Avenue, Plymouth Avenue and Golden Valley Road were seen as key commercial corridors.
“We currently look down those streets and we see no activities of significance. We see very few new shops opening up,” says Chism.
He partly blames this on the North Side’s current image. “Entrepreneurism in North Minneapolis and in Ward 5 is not encouraged,” Chism says. It is widely believed that businesses that do exist in the area “are attracters of gangs, drugs and violence… They are not viewed as the bedrock of a developing community.”
On the issue of vacant lots, “The corner of Plymouth and Penn has been vacant for 35 years,” he cites as an example. “Two corners of Golden Valley and Penn have been vacant for over 15 to 20 years. You go down to the corner of Seventh and Emerson [and it is vacant].”
In his opinion, Chism points out, “We can’t even absorb the number of vacant lots and housing lots. They are tearing down houses that potentially should be turned into residential units for the lower income [people].”
Meanwhile, other areas of the city have grown and prospered, Chism says.
“Somebody had political will, and people say, ‘Let’s make something happen,’ and they did it.”
As a result, Chism says he feels that now is the time for him to step up and address these and other problems. “I have been doing things and trying to empower the community for a long time,” he says.
If elected in November, Chism says he would push for new businesses, especially small businesses, to get started on the North Side. “My first initiative is to bring back small businesses to North Minneapolis,” he pledges.
By improving the North Side, “our best and brightest” will be encouraged to stay in the area, notes Chism. “If you can’t offer the people who grew up in North Minneapolis an opportunity, they won’t stay in North Minneapolis after [graduating from high school]. Because at 18, where are they going to get a job? These are all questions that are directly reflective on the economic disparity that has occurred in Ward 5.”
Chism believes that tracking how money flows into and out of North Minneapolis is vital to improving the ward. “We have to make sure that those dollars are accounted for and used properly,” he explains. “We can’t have a dollar coming into North Minneapolis and being used by a company in Rogers or St. Paul that does not hire any of our people.”
He believes many Ward 5 residents also share this concern. “When I examined how we are using the [federal] stimulus money in Ward 5, we found out that the stimulus money was being used to pay companies outside of Ward 5. But that’s because it is very difficult to get companies in Ward 5 because of the already low entrepreneurship rate.”
Furthermore, Chism believes that Ward 5 residents must become “activists” in regard to proposed regional transit projects that will impact the North Side.
“Currently a lot of people leave North Minneapolis because they don’t want to catch three buses to go to a job out in the suburbs. If you don’t have to catch three buses, and just catch one to Edina or Eden Prairie because that is where the light rail is running through, now transportation is no longer an issue.”
The 13-member city council needs an advocate for the Fifth Ward to consistently lobby in its behalf, says Chism.
“The message hasn’t been conveyed that our area is just as important as the other 12 wards,” he says. “Why should our area continue to not get the funding and dollars it needs because the current storyteller is not able to convince a quorum of at least six other [council members] to vote for dollars and opportunities to come to Ward 5?
“I think I can be that voice, a voice of difference, and eventually bring home opportunities to North Minneapolis’ Ward 5,” concludes Chism. “I am asking for their votes, to be their voice and take their votes down to city hall.
“We need jobs, opportunities, and we need to address the economic plight to encourage a more social outcome.”
For more information on Lennie Chism’s campaign, visit his website, www.chismforcures.org., email him at email@example.com, or call him at 612-861-6662.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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