Minneapolis council candidate forum airs Northeast’s gripes


The Northeast corner of Minneapolis is brimming with resentments and possibilities, to hear candidates for an open city council seat there tell it. A week from Election Day, a crowd of 75 packed a room at Northeast Library for a Ward One candidate forum. They were treated to a smorgasbord of back-to-basics rhetoric, with a side of chips on the shoulder.

The candidates’ table was crowded as well, with DFL endorsee Kevin Reich and DFLer Susan Howitz Hanna at one end and conservative Tom Alessi and independent Mark Fox at the other.

Noticeably absent was another DFLer: Larry Ranallo. Last time, Reich was the missing one, at a group interview with the Star Tribune editorial board. Reich told MnIndy he had a conflict and joined candidates from another ward the next day for their interview with the Strib board.

That may have hurt Reich though, for on Monday the newspaper endorsed Hanna instead, snubbing the candidate who has been seen as a frontrunner since he won DFL backing last spring.

The endorsement seemed to have given a boost to Hanna, whose self-assurance had a new swagger Tuesday not seen, for example, in her DFL endorsement speech that’s captured on YouTube (and is still her main presence online).

The candidates spent much of the forum seconding each other’s opinions, leaving Hanna and Reich to trade the evening’s sharpest jabs.

The council job “is not to be complainer-in-chief,” Reich said, on behalf of a ward, that – insert air quotes, aimed especially at Hanna – “never gets its share.”

“The job is to lead,” he said.

Hanna shot back that she doesn’t consider herself a complainer. “We have been overlooked” she insisted, in a ward that’s “not second-rate.” Earlier, she repeated a pledge to be “very selfish,” making sure that the ward gets “not only everything we deserve, but extra.”

“I don’t overanalyze or overthink,” Hanna said, a dig at Reich’s penchant for wonkishness.

Reich didn’t disappoint on that score: the somewhat obtuse phrase “project direction” constituted two of the first words out of his mouth.

But then, directing projects is both his job at the Holland neighborhood association and his calling card as a candidate who could coordinate progress for the ward at City Hall.

Hanna knows it, and bristled at one question from the audience about candidates’ direct experience with providing senior housing – one of the main points on Reich’s resume. The question “seems a little skewed to one person if you ask me,” she grumbled. Reich offered to “unskew the question,” answering in broad terms.

Alessi and Fox are more skeptical of the status quo and the way the city’s “system” operates, beyond basic services of fire, police and streets.

Fox proposes an up-ending of responsibility for development and other governmental activities that start downtown and move to neighborhoods. “I trust you more than I trust City Hall,” he said, referencing the audience and the ward’s “25,000 other people.”

Fox envisions a Minneapolis in which even currently disengaged citizens steer the city and volunteers pick up the inevitable slack when impending budget crises bring deep cuts to services.

Alessi sees a city, and particularly a Central Avenue NE, revived by businesses that stay and expand thanks to lower taxes, fees and regulation. “I’m the anti-tax guy,” he said by way of introduction.

After the forum, the missing Ranallo could be found at the bar he owns, Moose’s on Monroe. There, he told MnIndy that despite missing the event, he remained “avid” about his campaign.

Ranallo showed off a new piece of literature ready for mailing that highlighted his recent endorsement by the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. It shows a gloved hand reaching through broken glass to turn a door handle and asks, “What if you called 911 and nobody showed up?” above bullet points about proposed cuts in the ranks of cops and firefighters.

Effective – and a little ironic, considering the League of Women Voters called a candidate forum and he didn’t show up. He did have an excuse: a personal obligation intervened, he told the Minnesota Independent. (Dan Haugen, who has audio of the event, reports that Ranallo’s mother was hospitalized.)

Standing in a bar room festooned with his campaign signs, Ranallo used a phrase heard from other candidates as well – that all Northeast lacks is a lake – and vowed to bring back the vibrant community he recalls from his youth, when Central Avenue was “popping.”