Candidates for the Robbinsdale City Council Ward II election met July 16 to differentiate themselves and discuss their priorities before the Aug. 11 primary. In the primary, the pool of five candidates will be reduced to two for the Nov. 3 general election. The hosting organization of the July 16 forum, the League of Women Voters, intends to offer another forum before the November election.
All five city council candidates Rachel Benson, V. John Ella, Jason Greenberg, Isaac Jahraus and Sheila Webb, were at the forum. The forum was moderated by Kathleen Pederson, president of the local League of Women Voters chapter.
The forum was conducted differently than usual. Candidates were given 4 minutes to speak freely. Due to the number of candidates and according to COVID-19 guidelines by the CDC, an audience question portion of the meeting was removed from the schedule. The League of Women Voters said it is planning to host a live audience in future forums, depending on the state of the pandemic.
Though issues were raised in an organic fashion, there were still some commonalities in the candidates’ speeches.
COVID-19 and infrastructure, commerce
Many of the candidates said they see an economic downturn on the horizon for the city, residents and businesses. Candidates that spoke on the matter were Ella, Benson and Jahraus.
Benson warned that the city should prepare for a sharp decrease in tax revenue and that she hoped to help the city strike a balance between safety and financial stability.
Jahraus said he would be interested in a discussion around a citywide mask mandate (though Gov. Tim Walz has since ordered a statewide mask mandate effective July 25). Jahraus also said his experience in the nonprofit industry could leverage greater resources into the community.
Ella said the city would likely experience a downturn in revenue and he would be waiving his compensation as a council member if elected. However, in light of the pandemic’s effects on the economy, he didn’t believe changes to the city’s current assessment policy were necessary, saying “the council doesn’t assess lightly” and it was important to update city infrastructure. Jahraus echoed his support for strong city infrastructure.
Candidates who voiced support for the construction of the Bottineau LRT Blue Line Extension were Jahraus, Greenberg and Ella. Greenberg criticized the current blocks to getting the light rail approved for construction, and said the line is an important component to making Robbinsdale a “walkable city.”
Greenberg also mentioned his priorities to clean up the parks and lakes, including those outside of Crystal Lake and to preserve the downtown water tower, which is scheduled for decommissioning and removal as a new water treatment facility is built. Ella said he was committed to cleaning up Crystal Lake. Webb said she would be supportive of housing projects, as she had a career in the field.
Policing and inclusion
Greenberg touted the police department’s intention to “provide mental health resources to our community,” but admitted that there was “much to be done” to make the department equitable.
Jahraus said he was committed to “refocusing the community conversation on equity, diversity and inclusion.” In terms of policing, he recommended the creation of a police review board.
Ella said he had been aided by the department several times and was thankful for those responses, but had personally witnessed “exuberant” bordering on “aggressive” strategies from the department. His platform includes minimizing “warrior training” and a greater focus on de-escalation.
Benson said it should be the work of the city to “come up with a policing system that makes sense for the entire community,” a goal that would require a partnership with BIPOC in the community.
Webb didn’t speak directly to issues in policing but spoke mostly on her commitment to equality in all areas of life. She said inequalities were the result of needs not being met, like the Black Lives Matter movement, and that those barriers could only be eliminated if those receiving inequitable treatment felt welcome to the table.
“Inclusion will increase community engagement,” she said, adding that her experience in housing placement and mental and chemical health would inform her efforts.
Other inclusion-related topics that were mentioned: accessible playgrounds (Greenberg), formal council action against conversion therapy (Benson), continued inclusion-related initiatives and educational workshops (Jahraus), and racist language in property titles (Benson) and a welcome program for new residents (Greenberg).
View the forum in its entirety at ccxmedia.org.