In the shadows of former state representatives Richard Jefferson, the Rev. Randolph Staten, Gregory Gray, Keith Ellison, and current Rep. Augustine Dominguez, Minnesota House District 58B has a legacy of strong leaders of color. Following the district convention in March, two DFL candidates and one Republican remain in the race to represent one of the most diverse districts in the state.
Next week: Bobbie Joe Champion discusses how he would address the district’s issues as its state legislator.
Regardless of the winner, the area, which is 50 percent Black and over 75 percent persons of color, will once again send leadership of color to the state capitol.
At this stage of the contest, DFL-endorsed candidate Bobbie Joe Champion and Republican Party candidate Yoman Brunson are challenging incumbent Augustine “Willie” Dominguez, who is completing his first term in the district. The incumbent surprised many delegates and DFL supporters when he decided to break his promise and stay in the race regardless of his failure to secure the party endorsement.
Dominguez has declined to respond to the MSR’s interview requests.
Champion, however, says Dominguez’s decision — documented in a letter distributed in early July that announced his disregard for his previous pledge — hinders the process in several ways:
• It reinforces in peoples’ minds that politicians don’t keep their word, cannot be trusted, and care only about themselves.
• It polarizes a diverse district. The perception that there is a division of support is unfortunate.
• It undermines the people who have spoken and dishonors the party to which he belongs.
“If the process is important to you, do what it takes to change it, not dishonor it when you said you wouldn’t,” Champion said. “That’s like saying the process is not good enough just because it didn’t work in your favor.”
Champion added he could have respected his opponent much more if he had not committed to the endorsement of any candidate initially: “We could have chosen not to endorse anyone, but we gave our word,” he said.
Next week, Champion will elaborate on his reasons for wanting to represent his district in the state legislature. This week, the MSR interviews his Republican challenger.
Government employee Yoman Brunson has moved in and out of Minnesota all of his life and decided to attend college locally. Brunson got early experience in the field as a legislative committee page and a government relations liaison. Considering Minnesota to be his home, he decided to get involved in the community by joining the board of the Harrison Neighborhood Association.
Brunson views North Minneapolis as an attractive location because of its accessibility to downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, and the overall camaraderie and sense of community he feels. He became involved in the community shortly after moving to North Minneapolis because he saw “great potential and untapped resources.”
Brunson’s campaign strategy is centered on uniting the community. “I see the challenges and difficulties in the community, but by working together, the community will rise up,” he said.
He believes in using some of the many assets of the Northside to leverage resources. “I’m trying to reach out so that any problems can be addressed directly using what’s out there.”
Compared to opponents Willie Dominguez and Bobbie Joe Champion, who have been lifelong residents of the district, Brunson is young and relatively new to the community. He says he’s making himself known by “getting out there.” He has a motto: “One neighborhood, one street, one neighbor at a time.”
He’s confident that he’s making the connection in the community. “I tell people, you don’t have to be 40 to 50 [years old] to be in the political process. I want to show people that change can be achieved,” he said.
Brunson believes that 58B’s foreclosure crisis can be addressed through “community organizations working with local residents.” The reality of the foreclosure crisis, he says, is that everyone is affected.
“I would work with the City to help rectify the problem. We need to connect people to programs and resources and get them back into ownership,” Brunson said. He believes that solutions to this issue would also affect the crime, image and perception of the community.
An economic development approach to public safety issues is gradually being explored in North Minneapolis along such business corridors as West Broadway and Lowry Avenues. As Brunson sees it, “The more opportunities there are, the less crime there will be. Solving the issues of economic development and public safety in district 58B work hand in hand and ultimately bring businesses into the area and increase pedestrian traffic among places of business.
“The Northside is an untapped resource. We have to get the word out. No one should have to travel outside of the district [to receive services], but spend those dollars right here in the neighborhood.
“I commend businesses that choose to open on the Northside…and the gamble will pay off. At the very least, it’s attracting people back into the neighborhood,” he said.
Brunson added, “Neighbors need to take interest in what’s going on.” For him, it’s about community involvement. “It goes far beyond police. We have to get neighbors and residents involved,” he said.
Recognizing that many schools have been closed in North Minneapolis, Brunson would like to address the retention rate in public education. He feels that part of his job as the next state representative in the district is to show positives.
“We’re always hearing about the negatives. Some people don’t know how well our schools can do. What about the North High School graduate who received a Gates Millennium Scholarship and a full ride to Concordia University?
“When people start believing in rumors, they believe that they can only do so much. [Eventually], they begin to think bad news is normal,” he said.
Another Northside issue that is increasingly becoming the “dinner table” conversation is gentrification. Brunson defines the term in several ways, including the replacement of Blacks with Whites, urban renewal, and a change of landscape. He assured us that the issue definitely has some immediacy in his networking circles.
“Right now we’re working on a community benefits agreement in the Bryn Mawr and Harrison neighborhoods with regards to the Bassett Creek Valley Development, which is contracted through Ryan Companies,” said Brunson. “This way, we can make sure certain benefits are in place, like affordable housing, maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood, and even ensuring that minorities are helping with the building development process. It needs to be a cyclical process so that everyone has the opportunity to be involved.”
Community involvement is essential to Brunson’s vision. He would like to make available “options for folks to be involved,” showcasing all organizations, the needs to be met, and the times available for participation. This way, community members “have the resources and actually know where to go to help or seek help,” said Brunson.
Brunson says the high concentration of African Americans is what makes [the Northside community] so special.
“I’m really excited to be part of this community.” He’s also excited about the political process: “There are people out there who are very enthusiastic about my campaign. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone. Once I do that, they will be excited, too!”
Lauretta Dawolo Towns welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.