Incumbent Mayor Shep Harris and current Councilmember Steve Schmidgall shared their visions for a future Golden Valley Oct. 3 at a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
The first question of the evening was what separated the two candidates, as many times they vote the same way in city council meetings.
Both agreed that the two were similar, but Schmidgall believed he had a more “business-like” decorum in meetings.
“I feel like I differ from my opponent in my focus on what I consider to be the core business of city government,” said Schmidgall.
Harris warranted they had different leadership styles, and he felt like his style was to be “out and about,” showing up to city events. He believed in terms of policy, he differed from Schmidgall most when it came to issues of social justice. He said in the past, the two have not agreed on affordable housing, gun safety and protecting immigrants rights
“We’ve had some disagreements about what the role of the city is and what it shouldn’t be,” said Harris.
Harris highlighted the Blue Line Extension of light rail transit as the highest priority issue, and that he had traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for its completion, but BNSF Railway officials are refusing to budge on allowing it to be built along the rail line.
“Why? Because they have heartburn over the fact that we wouldn’t let them send Bakken oil trains down the Burlington Northern line about five, six years ago,” said Harris. He said the city was bypassing waiting for the state to get bus-rapid transit via Highway 55 from Minnetrista to downtown Minneapolis, and that enhancements could and should be made to increase access for Cornerstone Creek residents to bus stations.
Schmidgall said he has pushed for microtransit like scooters, Blue Line light rail construction and that bus-rapid transit was also a priority. He said he sat on a task force that recommended a future line run along Highway 55 instead of I-394 so there would be connections to Highway 169, the future light rail line, downtown Minneapolis and Golden Valley
Policing, gun violence and immigration
Candidates were asked about their opinions on policing, climate change and the local impact of nationally debated issues like gun violence and immigration.
Harris said immigration absolutely was local, and the removal of police responsibility from ICE sweeps was beneficial to residents and the department. He discussed the passage of a recent ordinance that restricted the sale of guns in the city to specific zones and prohibited home sale.
Schmidgall said the ordinance on gun-related business “reduced the number of gun business in Golden Valley from zero to zero,” he said, to audience laughs. “I firmly believe that gun safety is an urgent issue in our society certainly but I just do not believe that our city has an effective role in that.”
Schmidgall supports background checks for gun purchasers, and greater regulation of online gun sales and straw buyers, but at the federal level. In regards to immigration, he firmly agreed with the current department policy to “serve all” in the city.
In regard to climate change, both candidates highlighted current city programs, and agreed that a fleet of all-electric city vehicles could be in the future.
Candidates were asked what they believed were there top infrastructure issues they wanted to tackle in the future.
Schmidgall said improving crossings at Highway 55, stormwater management in the northwest and places where Bassett Creek overflows, county roads brought to the standard of Douglas Drive as cost allows, the completion of Bassett Creek Trail and the creation of more east-west connectivity of bike and pedestrian trails.
“My long-term vision for the city is that our entire downtown will be raised one up one level so that the highway and parking would be down below,” he said, to laughs.
Harris said “general upkeep” issues like pavement management, road maintenance and water main planning are important. He foresees the next large infrastructure project would be on the downtown study being conducted by city staff members.
“What can we do with city hall? Can we combine forces with Hennepin County Library, and put together one building, and then it will open up parts of this city hall campus, that might be developed for affordable housing opportunities?” he asked. He said the condition of the Golden Valley shopping mall also needs attention. He agreed that under- and overpasses at Highway 55 were important.
On the question of taxing responsibly, Schmidgall and Harris agreed that city staff members are “frugal” in the budgeting process. Schmidgall said that some spending has been needed, like for the mental health officer at the police department, and that road maintenance and reconstruction has been significantly slowed because of the tripling in cost to do such projects. He said if the city were to make any more drastic cuts, residents may be frustrated by a sudden decrease in services.
Harris said the comparison of infrastructure between his native New Orleans and Golden Valley were so different because one of those cities is in a low-tax state.
“We are paying a lot in taxes but we’re getting good services,” Harris said. He said the city could become more aggressive in receiving local government aid and switching elections to odd- to even-numbered years.