Al Flowers considers himself currently in second place
Al Flowers, longtime community activist and the only challenger thus far in the Minneapolis race for mayor against incumbent R.T. Rybak, is the first to admit that he is not a traditional candidate for mayor.
“I may not be the perfect candidate,” Flowers says, “but I’m the right candidate to get the word out on what’s happening in Minneapolis and taking care of the citizens.”
Henrietta Faulconer, a Minneapolis Northside resident for over 40 years, doesn’t have a problem with this nontraditional candidate. Faulconer, who has memories of Minneapolis during the Plymouth riots in the late 1960s, helped to create The Way community center as a community gathering place.
Eight years ago, she says, “Al Flowers came out at a point in time when no one was saying anything. Everybody was getting their little piece of the pie and was very happy about it.
“I compare him to Barack Obama in so many ways on the local stage. Barack got out there and raised his voice to open up our eyes to see and mobilize people… Al draws people from all walks of life, and I’m one of them.”
Danielle Cameron, also a North Minneapolis Flowers supporter, says that she just recently got involved in the community and is still learning what the community needs. Of her experience so far, she says “The community needs to be okay with diversified cultures… I think he [Flowers] is 110 percent on board with that.”
“I live in a predominantly Black community,” Cameron adds, “and I am a White woman. Just the fact that he came to me and asked me to help support his campaign, I was actually quite flattered by it.”
Flowers draws the conclusion that he is “the right candidate” after his eight years of community activism in Minneapolis, which he says was initiated by a conversation between him and his mother while he was very young. His mother, Pastor Mary Spratt, also a longtime active member of the community, taught him, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to be the smartest guy in the world.”
Though he holds no advanced educational degrees, Flowers says that he doesn’t believe that those who do are any smarter than he is. “Most of them that have the doctorate and have been a part of city hall are using the doctorate…to cover up what they’re doing.”
Many Minneapolis residents, Flowers explains, are not involved in key decisions that affect them because they don’t understand the inner workings of the City.
“God gave me the gift to understand what you’re doing without having that kind of degree,” Flowers says. “I know when I see $20 million right here that’s supposed to go to…people below the median income, and then they don’t get half of it — or a fourth of it.
“[Some Minneapolis residents] may not understand, because they don’t have the documents. They don’t have the time, because they’re trying to feed their family.”
On the Empowerment Zone
Flowers says that MSR readers should consider him a viable mayoral candidate because, much like the Spokesman itself, he speaks for people who are less likely to have access to power. He credits his works on the Empowerment Zone as his best example of understanding and speaking out on the important issues in the community.
Decisions made regarding the Empowerment Zone, he says, caused the mismanagement of $29 million that should have been used to the advantage of Minneapolis citizens. “The Empowerment Zone was supposed to create jobs…, [but] it didn’t benefit the people that it should have benefited.”
On July 8, Flowers says he attended an Empowerment Zone meeting where he was most upset by salary and benefits totaling $200,000 for Maria Conley, the senior resource coordinator for the Empowerment Zone. He cites granting a forgivable $300,000 loan to Broadway Pizza as an example of mismanaged EZ funds.
On the Rybak administration
Of the city’s seven-plus years under the Rybak administration, Flower says the mayor has displayed “zero commitment toward people of color, and I think it will continue if he continues to be the mayor.” He substantiates this belief by actions taken regard the Empowerment Zone, not effectively addressing brutality directed toward LGBT citizens and others in the community, and allowing policing that is “not racially sensitive.”
He also criticizes Rybak’s job-creation record: “This mayor has created no jobs in his eight years…before the economy fell.”
However, Flowers says that Rybak’s most blatant disregard for his constituents is entertaining the idea of moving part of the Minneapolis Civil Rights
Department to the State Department of Human Rights, saying, “That’s one thing that shouldn’t be on the table, like the police and the fire departments.”
It’s the structure of the Civil Rights Department that Flowers believes makes it less than effective. “We need to take it out of the hands of the City. There is no firewall in the Civil Rights Department. The civil rights director has to report to the mayor, and the mayor has said in deposition that if [there’s] a case big enough, he will get involved.”
In a decision that has a negative effect on the citizens, Flowers says it’s hard to believe that a City attorney can protect the citizens he is charged to protect when he also works for the mayor.
On mortgage foreclosures
Flowers considers mortgage foreclosures to be the most severe problems currently facing the City, but he feels stimulus funds will provide needed relief. Nevertheless, he has little confidence that the City will get the message and resources to those who need it most.
In the past, when resources were available, Flowers says that by the time community members were aware of them, it was too late to make proper use of them. “The problem is, if you don’t watch for it [the stimulus funds], you’ll never see it.”
Flowers believes his job is to be watchful. He is currently working closely with community organizations like the Urban League, Turning Point and ELAM transitional housing on a proposal to buy housing for rental units.
In the past, Flowers says the City played the waiting game with an influx of resources. “It’s hard for them to move this money, because [Obama] won’t let you sit on it for three years… You’ve got to spend it in 18 months. That’s the best advantage for all communities.”
On community support
Flowers’ critics in the community believe that he can’t be both activist and politician. To this Flowers responds, “I have to keep being an activist… I don’t ever want to be on the side of the corporate and the government that can’t speak to these communities below the median income. I’ll never do that; it’s just not me.”
Minneapolis, Flowers believes, has enough resources to take care of all of its citizens, but only if leaders make citizens their highest priority. If given the chance to be mayor, Flowers says he will show his commitment by replacing the current chief of police and eliminating Mike Christenson, director of Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED), because “he has been developing and has corporate in mind, and not community.”
How much support is he expecting from the Democratic Party? Flowers says that he didn’t announce that he was coming to the Democratic caucus, but he spoke and received the support of some delegates. He also says that it was the first time in Minneapolis history when there was no time to ask the mayor questions.
The lack of diversity at the Democratic caucus scared him, Flowers says. “We are Democrats. That’s how we vote; that’s how we’ve been; that’s what my mom was. When I went into the caucus and I only [saw], like, 20-something minorities at the Democratic caucus… Everybody’s always talking about the Republican Convention; that’s how the Democratic caucus of Minneapolis looks.”
Although he feels that Rybak’s title, finances, and other resources allow him to attract more media attention, to counteract this advantage, Flowers says, “I have to use every avenue just to let people know that you do have an option besides Mayor Rybak.”
He is confident that in pockets all around the city, people are aware that he is running for office. Constituents like Faulconer confirm his confidence. “I’m 69 years old,” Faulconer says. “Al Flowers got me out of my comfortable house and got me back out in the street.”
“Right now I consider myself in second place,” Flowers says. “That’s enough for me to say that I’m the most viable candidate that has entered so far in this race.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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