With about two weeks before the special election for the Minneapolis City Council’s vacant Ward 6 seat, Cedar-Riverside organizers held multiple forums for the public to get to know the candidates and their visions for the community.
Prior to the Aug. 11 vote, 11 candidates attended forums over Zoom and Facebook Live over the last two weeks.
The forums gave each candidate an opportunity to present their solutions to commonly discussed issues in the ward, like the future in public safety in Minneapolis, the opioid crisis in Ward 6 and affordable housing.
Suud Olat, DFL:
Suud Olat’s top priorities are bringing jobs to Ward 6, advocating for children and seniors, and empowering small businesses.
Olat’s solutions for many public policies, including public safety reform and addressing the opioid crisis, focus on collaboration with the community.
“A name change [for MPD] will not bring any solutions,” Olat said. “We need real solutions when it comes to public safety.”
Olat said he thinks the solutions for many public issues lie within the community and that he will build a team so that solutions can be found.
Saciido Shaie, DFL:
Saciido Shaie said her background as a community advocate and nonprofit founder makes her primary campaign focus unique. She wants to address the need for more youth programming in Ward 6 that is culturally sensitive for both children and parents.
“I see the needs of the community, and for the longest time I have tried to address those needs at the local level,” Shaie said. “I keep hitting walls, and it made me realize that if I want to make change that I need to be at the table myself.”
Shaie repeatedly emphasized the need to have everybody “at the table” so she can accurately bring a council voice to the community’s concerns.
Sara Mae Engberg, Humanity Forward:
Sara Mae Engberg said we are in a pivotal moment in history, and she wants Minneapolis to be on the frontlines by making the right changes.
As a Humanity Forward candidate, she is advocating for defunding the police, universal basic income and fully funding the federal Section 8 very low-income housing program.
Engberg advocates for solutions like unarmed first responders and other reforms to police union contracts. She said that housing, job training and perhaps a universal basic income would be additional solutions in addressing the reform of the MPD.
In response to a question about the opioid crisis, Engberg wants the city to fully fund Section 8 so people recovering from mental health and addiction issues can have stable housing. She also said it is imperative to look at the criminalization of addiction, which affects Child Protective Services and family integrity policies that make it difficult to seek help.
“I am not aware of a single program [in Ward 6] where a father can enter treatment with his children,” Engberg said. “And that needs to change.”
Nebiha Mohammed, DFL:
Nebiha Mohammed is campaigning with a focus on three different public issues: a lack of social justice, a lack of investment in the community and a lack of affordable housing.
“We are past the point of reforming the police department,” Mohammed said. “We need to change the way we recruit the police and stop militarizing the police and reimagine them as a community service officer because they are of the community.”
She said all officers need to be held accountable for their actions by passing extensive background checks, and any complaints against an officer must be addressed before moving from one department to another.
In response to a question about the opioid crisis in Cedar-Riverside, Mohammed said community investments like early intervention programs for children and teens with mental health illnesses could help curb the issue. One solution she presented is helping teens with mental health issues find employment to keep them busy and away from the influence of hard drugs.
She said Ward 6 lacks sufficient market-rate apartments. Gentrification is a problem in the neighborhood, and her plan for addressing this issue is to make sure that all future developments include mixed-income units, or they cannot be approved.
Joshua Scheunemann, Green Party:
Joshua Scheunemann said he remains convinced that the two major political parties are never going to get the best results on a local level. He said that as a Green Party candidate, he will offer a unique voice alongside the majority-DFL council. His campaign is focused on two major local issues: police reform and improving access to housing.
In his limited time to discuss police reform, Scheunemann said the city needs to revamp how officers are onboarded, and the city needs to “[clean] out the gutters.” He also mentioned reallocating funds from police into community programs and making officers carry their own liability insurance.
For mitigating the housing crisis in the city, Scheunemann said rent control is a great option. He has experienced homelessness and lived in a tent.
“It’s having the balls to do it,” Scheunemann said. “This land is not ours, this land was stolen by us. This is Native land too, so we need to make sure we don’t kick the people out that we stole it from.”
Jamal Osman, DFL:
Jamal Osman prides himself on being a man of the community. With 15 years of experience working with the neighborhood, including as a resident advocate with CommonBond Communities — one of the largest nonprofits for affordable housing in the Midwest, he said he is “already doing the work.”
A couple of his main policy goals include solving the opioid crisis and protecting renters' rights. Osman said he would immediately work to protect renters in the ward.
“There are a lot of landlords and managers that are evicting people for absolutely no reason,” Osman said. “The reason our kids are on the streets and on drugs has something to do with the landlords.”
In the forums, Osman shared critiques against landlords and emphasized the importance of renters' rights. However, it is unclear what actionable steps he plans to take straight to the city council should he be elected to fill the 6th Ward’s seat.
Mike Dougherty, DFL:
Unlike the other candidates, Dougherty said he is not basing his campaign on public issues. He is compelled to run for city council and wants to make “pragmatic” decisions by dealing with these community concerns sensibly and realistically.
With that said, Dougherty does not understand what defunding the police accomplishes. His primary concern with the city council’s decision lies in what defunding and deconstructing the MPD does without “real pragmatic change.”
Regarding the opioid crisis, Dougherty said his experience owning a funeral home has shown him how addiction has impacted the ward.
“If I had to say one thing with pragmatism, it is that you have to build community, and you have to make people proud of where they live,” Dougherty said.
Alex Palacios, DFL:
Alex Palacios said their primary focus for their campaign is that the community cannot rely on “a criminal justice system to address criminality.”
While in full support of the city council’s decision to defund the MPD, Palacios is more interested in how the transitional process will be executed. Their solution is to go from neighborhood to neighborhood to find out the community’s concerns so they may find a way to address them because “one solution does not solve all.”
In response to a question about affordable housing, Palacios’ solution entails protecting naturally occurring affordable housing and creating a Section 8 to the homeownership program.
“This means that we are building housing that isn’t beholden to this 30% figure that was set up in the ‘60s and ‘70s — that is just not affordable for Ward 6 residents,” Palacios said. “We are going to lower that percentage down, and we’re going to set up housing that is available along transit routes and make sure we are investing in green housing that saves money in the end.”
Additionally, Palacios wants to make sure there is a cap to homeownership costs so that Ward 6 can make sure its residents have a place to go that is easily accessible to them.
“They can have and build community wealth and leave something for their children and grandchildren,” Palacios said.
AK Hassan, DFL:
AK Hassan, current Minneapolis Park Board commissioner, said his primary focuses lie in improving the availability of affordable housing and fighting the opioid crisis.
“Access to affordable housing is a basic human right,” Hassan said. “We have to talk about the law that prohibits the city [from placing rent caps] to make sure that we can pass and work with our legislators so that we can change the city ordinance.”
Hassan was unable to attend the first forum on July 14 where League of Women Voters Minneapolis directly addressed the panelists about their plans regarding the opioid crisis in the city.
AJ Awed, Democratic Socialist:
AJ Awed said his primary focuses for his campaign are in abolishing the MPD, combating the opioid crisis and keeping public housing public.
As a self-declared police abolitionist, he said he thinks America’s criminal justice system and police are deeply rooted in white supremacy.
“There is no deep reform that can fix this, so when defunding, we cannot end up going back to this,” Awed said. His concern is whether the city council’s work will last.
Awed said that since most crimes are nonviolent, his plan is for the city to come up with a system that does not end in escalation. He wants the new system to include trained professionals in de-escalation.
He wants to take the funds from the MPD’s budget and invest them toward addiction in the community. Awed, like Palacios, said there should be culture-specific addiction treatment centers for such a culturally diverse ward.
Responding to a question about universal rent control, Awed said he would fight to cap rent increases at 3% per year.
“I don’t really trust anyone who says, ‘I want to do something about rent control’ but wait[s] for the state to do it,” Awed said. “If people are really serious about gentrification, they need to vote for the candidate that is actually going to put that up and make it the first issue that he brings on the floor for resolution at city hall.”
Abdirizak Bihi, DFL:
Since Abdirizak Bihi began his campaign around late April, he has said that his top priority lies within the inequities in the community.
Bihi agrees with the city council’s decision to dismantle the MPD. However, he said a year is not enough time to develop a successful plan to replace the MPD. He said it is more complex than that, and the solution will ultimately lie in the transparency of all parties involved and a number of town halls to collect community input.
Bihi is passionate about affordable housing. His solutions — which are shared by many other candidates — include capping rent increases and putting a greater focus on building low-income housing.
He said many of the families in the homeless tent communities, specifically at Powderhorn Park, are working families with jobs that simply could not afford to be renters in the city anymore because of the high spikes in rent.