“I want to change the culture of leadership,” says Johnny Howard who is competing in the race for the Saint Paul city council against incumbent council member Melvin Carter in Ward One. “Too often, there is a pretense of neighborhood involvement that disguises top-down leadership.”
Howard argues that neighbors are poorly or even uninformed when it comes to meetings that are actually being held to receive input from them. “These meetings are ill-attended but decisions are made anyway,” he said. Howard wants to change this by making certain that organizations operating in the community are being held accountable and that they have “genuinely effective communication and decision-making strategies.” Instead of having “top-down programs that neighbors don’t embrace as their own,” Howard wants to ensure an honest involvement of residents is the process of decision making.
In St. Paul’s First Ward, four candidates are running for city council. Looking toward the November general election, TC Daily Planet intern Jonas Rosenberger asked Green Party-endorsed Johnny Howard and incumbent Melvin W. Carter III for interviews. Melvin W. Carter III responded in an email, published here. Other Ward 1 candidates are Anthony Fernandez and James Maceiver. Ward 1 includes the Frogtown (Thomas-Dale) and Summit University neighborhoods in St. Paul, and a part of Union Park. Ramsey County has a website with complete list of candidates in 2011 elections, and a precinct finder to identify your precinct and ward.
Howard notes that there are “many issues facing Ward One.” Making sure the light rail works for the residents is among them, but Howard sees the issue of the many abandoned houses as a result of the mortgage crisis in the Ward as “more immediate. The reoccupation of these houses, next to creating new jobs and more green spaces, is one of his main goals. Howard believes that one must “understand the linkage” among the problems. He says that crime is linked to jobs, while jobs are linked to education and housing.
Howard has a history in leading neighborhood initiatives such as founding the Thomas Dale Block Club at the “height of the crack epidemic in Frogtown.” It was a grassroots organization that brought residents together to “fight back against drug dealers and users, prostitutes and neglectful landlords.” There were “hundreds of neighbors” involved and the groups also ran a job training and work programs that “employed dozens of residents.”
Another achievement of his is the rebuilding of the Frogtown football program that he then ran as a volunteer for 19 years. “It taught 160 kids a year not only about football, but about the importance of self-discipline, self-respect and respect for others. … I am not about talking the talk and then disappearing. I have proven that I am able to define an authentic neighborhood agenda and then do what it takes to get results for Ward One residents.” For his work in the community he has been honored with numerous awards, such as the St. Paul Companies Leadership Award, the Urban League Man of the Year Award, and the William H. Spurgeon Award.
Howard describes housing, the development of the light rail and public safety as the three biggest issues in Ward One. “If neighbors act as eyes and ears on the street and are willing to get involved with each other and with police, we will get a leg up on resurgent crime.”
Howard has been living in Ward One since 1987 and together with his wife Diane he has raised two children. He is retired from working with the Ford Motor Company and says he “would approach the council position as a full-time job”, since that is what it realistically is “if you intend to do it right”, Howard says.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.