by John Abraham-Watne
(Photo source: MN Legislature)
It’s 2017 and that means off-year municipal elections are heating up here in Minneapolis. After a stunning 2013, in which numerous new candidates were elected to the City Council and Ward 13 CM Betsy Hodges won election as Mayor, an unbelievable amount of change has happened in our fair city. From minimum wage protests to police shootings to stirring defenses of immigrant rights, Minneapolis residents and public officials have seen their share of outcry and engagement. This casts the 2017 elections in stark relief, which once more finds nearly every seat on the Council in a contested race. Readers may recall I spoke with the challenger in the Seventh Ward, Janne Flisrand, and lately I was also fortunate enough to interview Jacob Frey.
This time I was able to speak with another mayoral candidate, State Representative Raymond Dehn (59B).
Much of Dehn’s background life experience can be summed up by his campaign website, but it is true he has had to learn from his mistakes. Dehn has many years of advocacy and government experience, but I was interested to know why as a sitting legislator he wanted to get into the mayoral campaign. In a phone interview, Dehn said that he has been witnessing what’s been happening in Minneapolis and says the “leadership is not serving residents.” He also mentioned the protests at the Fourth Precinct after the Jamar Clark shooting and the fact that the officers who shot Clark received “no discipline.”
I wanted to get into the public safety debate first, so I asked Dehn about some of the topics listed under his “Accountable Policing” page, such as how to fund public safety without hiring more officers. Dehn stated that officers are already packing in a lot of overtime, which cuts into the amount of hiring money available in the budget. He also advocated more “localized policing” and other alternatives to traditional policing, such as training that holds them accountable. Regarding low-level offenses that he deems worthy of decriminalization, Dehn cited shoplifting restitution for business owners as a possibility. I also asked Dehn about his promise to ban the acquisition of military equipment to the police (a position at odds with the Trump administration). He stated unequivocally his continued support for this position, saying that just because the federal government offers this equipment does not mean the state needs it. Finally regarding the overall goal of civilian oversight for the police, Dehn said that current state law makes this tough. He said he would look into a longer penalty phase for troubled officers, but also spoke about some of the missteps with the city’s current body camera program. He also said some police officers who can’t do the job should just leave the force.
We then pivoted the conversation toward Housing, which is a huge concern of Dehn’s. I again asked him about some specific policy proposals on his Affordable Housing page, starting with linkage fees. Dehn said these fees go into effect in new buildings which go over a certain level of housing units. This along with a luxury tax on developers (which Dehn admitted would be a “hard sell”) could be used to shore up the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Dehn said the city needs to consider the need for housing out there versus those who are already doing well. Dehn also is calling for renter’s commissions to be formed to advocate for tenants’ rights, but he also could see landlords joining to create dialogue. I had to also ask about what is becoming a less-controversial topic these days: rent control. Dehn said this is important because many residents were “being gouged by new owners” of apartment buildings, who he said were raising rents up to 100%. Dehn said Minneapolis has to get rents under control now or risk in another ten to fifteen years having less than 10% People of Color (POC).
I then turned to a topic close to my reporter’s heart: the use of surveillance in this nation, especially against minority (i.e. Muslim) groups. Dehn is calling for an end to the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, stating that “the government is gathering information under false pretenses” and the information that has been gathered has been bad. Dehn said Minneapolis “doesn’t have to be complicit’ in this program and is also advocating for it to get out of the school system.
Finally I moved the conversation toward the Community Wealth section of the webpage, first asking about wage theft. Dehn said there are several ways employers can still do this, including not giving undocumented workers paychecks or forcing employees to delay clock-ins or make them work after they have clocked out. Dehn said the state rules for overtime need to be enforced, and to find out which business are not complying. I also asked him about what he would consider a “fair” scheduling ordinance. He recommends a two-week (14 day) scheduling period rather than thirty days, and advocated for employees who need power to be able to switch shifts. He also cited an example like snowplowing, in which there really is no schedule, as a job that could be excluded from such an ordinance. I also had to ask Dehn about his support for unions, which he said help guarantee “basic rights in the workplace” and can have a “big impact on people’s’ lives.” He also said business could (gasp!) benefit from a unionized workforce as it will work to ensure their employees actually like coming to work.
I couldn’t wrap up the conversation without asking a similar question I asked Frey: how does candidate Ray see the role of race in this campaign? While first saying he’s dedicated his public life to these issues, he also said categorically that “racism is rampant” in Minneapolis right now, and “whisper campaigns about downtown crime” are not helping. As a lifelong Northsider, Dehn said “issues of race affect my neighbors every day” and while he is a white male he has been fighting for these issues a long time.
Municipal elections for Mayor and City Council (and other city posts) are November 7th, so get out there and vote. There are obviously a bunch of other candidates running, including current Mayor (and my former Council Member back in the 13th Ward days) Betsy Hodges. Check out the MPLS DFL page for more endorsement information.
John Abraham-Watne is a published author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. He is the author of two novels published by North Star Press. John conducts freelance journalism on local government issues for the news/entertainment website MinnyApple. His work has also appeared in the Southwest Journal and the Hill & Lake Press.