OKAY. ::cracks knuckles:: Let’s get this election-blogging-show on the road. The first set of four (edited to note: these are the first four alphabetically, I will be covering all sixteen candidates):
Troy Benjegerdes FARMER LABOR
Raymond Dehn DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
Jacob Frey DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
Al Flowers DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
Four years ago, I suggested that when picking three candidates (out of 35) to rank, the two most basic questions are, “who here could plausibly do the job?” and “who here could plausibly win?”
Occasionally, candidates show up really mad when I say they’re not a serious candidate. Here’s how I know that you are definitely not a serious candidate for a job like “mayor” — if you have no campaign manager, no fundraising link, no way for interested people to volunteer, no one who appears to be volunteering for you, and no one who’s endorsed you. (If I can’t even figure any of that out because you have no website, then you definitely are not a serious candidate.) Even if all your ideas are perfectly sensible, if you’re not doing this fairly basic stuff, you’re not a serious candidate.
In most cases, not all their ideas are perfectly sensible. They’re a crank. Or they have no actual ideas. Or they’re running 100% on platitudes. (There are serious candidates who run 100% on platitudes, but they also have high-powered endorsements. This might seem unfair; you can take comfort from the fact that I, for one, do notice when someone’s running 100% on platitudes.)
Anyway, on to the first set of candidates!
Troy ran four years ago. I was not super impressed by him at the time. From his Facebook, he’s clearly in local fandom (there are pictures of him, his wife, and his adorable baby going to both MarsCon and Convergence) and we’ve got several real-life friends in common and in looking at pictures of his wife I think it’s entirely possible we’ve chatted at conventions.
Putting him through the “fannish” filter makes his obsession with cryptocurrency slightly less weird. Maybe? Maybe slightly.
Back in 2013, he suggested you could support his campaign by donating Bitcoin. This time around he suggested last month that you should get yourself some “Grantcoin,” which is a cryptocurrency that “supports basic income” in the sense that you can enroll in it and they’ll simply send you some every month, which appears to differ from me declaring a currency and offering to send anyone who wants it an e-mail awarding them 1,000,000 Gold-Plated Unicorn Farts annually in the following ways:
- Blockchain is involved.
- There’s a registration process that isn’t working very well and people got really pissy about it back in 2016. (Or so I gather from the really irritable blog post from its founder.)
Also, it sounds like “Grantcoin” is relaunching as “Manna.” However, everything here really sounds to me like it runs on unicorn farts. I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON BLOCKCHAIN and hey, Bitcoin continues to be in use, although I’m pretty sure that the only people I know who’ve used it, bought it in order to send in the ransom after getting hijacked by ransomware. But I’ll tell you this much: after a bunch of poking around on the Grantcoin site, I didn’t run across anyone accepting payment for anything in Grantcoin, and on the exchange I found via the Grantcoin site, they appear to have the approximate value of dog farts (I mean, let’s be honest, unicorn farts would probably be worth something).
In addition to donating 6 months of volunteer time to Grantcoin, Troy also works for a company that provides cryptocurrency infrastructure, I guess? He’s also an “Agronomic artist and Holistic Engineer” at a farm he owns (?) down in Iowa.
Four years ago, I remember him mentioning somewhere that he really wanted to run as “Farmer-Labor” but wasn’t allowed to — you can be a Democrat-Farm-Labor candidate but you couldn’t have either “Farm” or “Labor” in your party name otherwise. (He was “Local Energy/Food” instead.) I thought this was bogus. This year, he’s on the ballot as Farm/Labor and his website talks about how Democrats are more dangerous than fascists: “The organized elite left-wing….are, due to unconscious bias, far more dangerous than the open right-wing fascists.”
Hey, did I mention he’s a white dude?
He goes on to say: “You see it in the politics in Minneapolis in the belief that only a card carrying lifetime democratic party member can be a serious candidate. I am a serious candidate, and so is everyone else who has taken the time to gather signatures or pay the fee to be on the ballot.”
- If someone’s prime example of threats to democracy is that in Minneapolis, only Democrats get taken seriously as candidates, they need to get out more. (Also, serious Greens get taken seriously. Serious Independents get taken seriously. Even occasional Republicans have gotten people to take them seriously.)
- He was trolling for a campaign manager in July.
Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? no.
Does he have any chance of winning? hell, no.
Is there any reason to vote for him? maybe you really like his proposal to allow you to pay your taxes in unicorn farts.
I’ve heard Dehn referred to as the favorite candidate of the lefty progressives. (I’m not entirely sure how fair this is; I definitely know lefty progressives supporting Betsy Hodges, and I’m pretty sure there are at least a few supporting Nekima Levy-Pounds.) Dehn is the State House Rep from 59B, which I think includes a mix of upper-income and lower-income neighborhoods. I was trying to check my assumptions here by looking for the houses for sale in the Jordan neighborhoods he represents, and — this is kind of hilarious — found a handyman special with a JACOB FREY sign in the picture of the house. At least one of his constituents clearly thinks he sucks.
Anyway. The thing I find most fascinating about Dehn is that he’s served time. In the 1970s, as a troubled teen with a cocaine habit, he took up burglary to pay for his drugs. He got caught and served seven months, followed by a drug rehab program. He’s been sober for 40 years. In the early 1980s he had his voting rights restored (this doesn’t happen automatically in MN) (which I think is bogus, FTR). He was elected to the state legislature in 2012.
His website has a “Ray-Bot” link that pulls up Facebook Messenger and lets you chat with a chatbot that will tell you about Ray’s background, visions, etc. I will say I’m impressed with the fact that he manages to be both brief and reasonably substantive. (On housing, his action plan: “1. Build enough affordable housing to meet demand. 2. Increase density while protecting naturally occurring affordable housing. 3. Increase the number of public housing residents serving on city boards and commissions.” There are a lot of hanging questions there, like “when you say build enough affordable housing, do you mean that the city itself should build it? Or offer incentives to get landlords to build it?” But I like that he mentioned protecting “naturally occurring affordable housing” — that is something Minneapolis has been distinctly terrible about in the past. (This may be a hot new buzzword I’m going to find in everyone’s essays about housing; I guess we’ll see.)
His website gets you longer versions of everything, but who’s going to build the new units is still not clear. He does talk explicitly about avoiding gentrification that prices poor people out of their neighborhoods, and calls for “upzoning” — “Implement strategic and equitable growth in density by upzoning parcels across the city and bringing our zoning code into the 21st century.”
I was curious about upzoning and turned up this case for it. It looks heavily like what a lot of Republicans would call “deregulation.” “Fewer design requirements that limit the size, shape, and cost of new buildings or how they’re used inside. Examples include further reducing parking minimums, easing minimum setback requirements, and reducing minimum lot size per unit requirements.”
One of the issues we’re seeing in both Minneapolis and St. Paul right now is teardowns: people want a big house, can’t find out available in Longfellow or Nokomis because they’re neighborhoods full of bungalows, so they buy a bungalow, tear it down to the foundation, and rebuild it as a 4-BR 2-BA full-two-stories house with a two-car garage on the alley. These are mostly not McMansions; they’re replacing 1200-square-foot houses with 2500-square-foot houses. I went looking for an example and found one. At 4452 41st Avenue (this is literally three blocks down from my old house) someone bought a 2-bed 1.5-bath 1402 square foot bungalow:
…tore it down, and replaced it with a two-story, 4 BR 2.5 BA, 2200-square-foot (but the basement can be finished with another 2 BR 1 BA and family room for $35K…) house that is currently for sale for $493K:
I know this is literally the opposite of what Dehn is advocating for, but I’m not sure how you regulate against teardowns followed by overbuilding (one of the objections to these houses is that they’re often a lot taller than their neighbors, putting everyone else into shadow) if part of your plan is decreasing regulation about mandatory setbacks and how tall stuff can be.
On continuing to read down, he wants to impose a special tax on houses worth more than $500K. I’m not sure whether this is a tax imposed at time of sale, or if it would apply to people whose houses go up in value because their neighborhood became trendy.
He’s a fan of rent control. (I am not. It perpetuates housing shortages, unless your city is going to get out there and build an absolute shit ton of housing, which it’s not going to do, no matter who you elect mayor. I mean, realistically speaking.) It doesn’t really matter that he’s a fan of rent control, though, as apparently there’s a state law against it? (He wants to have that changed, but he’ll have a much better shot of changing that law if he stays in the state legislature, where this stuff actually gets passed.) He also uses language on his website like “Uplift Climate and Environmental Justice,” which sounds like the sort of language a lefty Madisonian would use, which is probably why he’s endorsed by Our Revolution. (Bernie also chronically sounded to me like a lefty Madisonian.)
Where Dehn has really made a name for himself is with the police accountability stuff. He got profiled on some godawful right-wing news site and infuriated the head of the Police Union by suggesting that police officers in Minneapolis ought to be required to leave their gun in their car unless they had a good reason to go get it.
According to his page on accountable policing, he wants to cut the police budget; not increase the number of officers; decriminalize some low-level offenses (he doesn’t say which, although as a general rule I think this is a good idea. Broken-windows policing was debunked as a good thing a long time ago). He wants to ban the MPS from using military-grade equipment and prioritize de-escalation. He wants to protect the right to protest and assemble. Here’s the piece he wrote for the Star Trib on all this stuff.
I like pretty much all his ideas on policing, although when he says “Add effective civilian oversight mechanisms to current structure” I wonder why he thinks he’ll succeed where others have failed.
I always find endorsements interesting in these sorts of races. Dehn is endorsed by the Minnesota Nurses Association; Minnesota Young DFL; Our Revolution; Representatives Karen Clark and Ilhan Omar; and Minneapolis School Board members Kim Ellison, Kerryjo Felder, and Jill Davis. He also lists two private citizens, one of whom I’m friends with; possibly this is simply because they went up on his campaign’s Facebook page (there’s a lot of automatic connectivity between his website and his Facebook page, which is pretty cool.)
Anyway: that’s certainly a number of noted progressives in town, but it’s definitely not the full spread. I noticed that he’s not endorsed by any of the reps in the districts that border his, or by the State Senator whose district his is within. (You can see the map of State Reps or the map of State Senators, complete with pictures.) The fact that a State Rep has very few endorsements from colleagues makes me wonder if this is a policy issue, or if they’re hedging their bets because they think Betsy Hodges is probably going to win, or if they don’t much like the guy. (To be fair: a lot of city legislators just stay out of the endorsements for mayor. To quote one legislator I spoke with last time: “I have to work with whoever wins.”)
One final note: I started writing this over a week ago, and having chatted a bit with the Ray-Bot, I sent him an e-mail asking him a question about his plans for affordable housing and police accountability. Nine days, no response. (The Ray-Bot says that if you have more specific questions, you can send in an e-mail, but I guess it doesn’t actually say you’ll get a response?)
Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? Totally.
Does he have any chance of winning? Heck yes.
Is there any reason to vote for him? The police stuff.
So due to the alphabetical order, we’re going straight from the leftiest lefty to the guy broadly viewed as a corporate hack.
I’m not quite sure how and when that transformation took place; back in 2013, he was definitely more progressive than the stadium flack he ran against. (Here’s my writeup at the time.) He’s the one who floated the idea of a tip credit to offset the $15 minimum wage for waitstaff (and then backed off when this proved unpopular) and he was pro-soccer-stadium. (FWIW, the soccer stadium was asking for a much more modest sort of public subsidy, and I kind of suspect that Hodges shot it down mostly to demonstrate how anti-stadium she was. But, whatever.)
Frey promises to be an approachable, responsive mayor. I sent an e-mail to his media contact address, asking for more information on his housing plan and also his endorsements. I got a response within three days, with a link to his brand-new endorsements page and the promise of an affordable housing plan that was coming out soon.
There’s an expanded housing section on the website now, in fact, and he makes some of the same proposals as Dehn: preserving naturally-occurring affordable housing, increasing density, building more public housing. He also suggests expanding the owner-occupied rental market, decreasing parking requirements, shrinking or eliminating minimum lot sizes, and easing occupancy limits. (“Restrictive occupancy limits based on outdated conceptions of what a ‘family’ is supposed to look like often make life challenging for immigrant families, and I support changing these laws.”)
Are there candidates pushing for street cars this time around? Dehn’s Uplifting of Environmental Justice references transit but with basically no specifics. Frey wants expanded light rail and bus rapid transit.
Again, policing is a big issue. Frey’s proposals are overall less radical than Dehn’s. The stuff he advocates is mostly stuff I think people were generally advocating for a decade ago: let’s go back to having beat cops, everyone should know their cop, let’s train cops in de-escalation and educate them about mental health crises, stuff like that. Probably his most controversial proposal is trying to get more police officers to live in the city, but contrary to the outraged letter to the editor I saw last week, he is not trying to force anyone to live anywhere, he’s suggesting offering a rent credit good only in the city or some other incentive.
One of the claims he makes, incidentally: “We must implement the use-of-force reforms that the MPD rejected and that Mayor Hodges declined to implement less than a month before Justine Damond was shot, including requiring officers to exhaust reasonable alternatives before the use of deadly force is a permissible option, deterring officers from shooting at moving vehicles, and holding officers accountable for taking actions that unnecessarily place themselves, suspects, or bystanders in deadly force situations.” I went looking for more details on this and found something from over a year ago on how the MPD was changing its use-of-force policy: “Minneapolis police officers will be trained to exhaust all reasonable means in defusing potentially violent encounters before resorting to force, under new department rules unveiled Monday” says this article from August 2016. This change is discussed in an article from last month (which observes that it didn’t keep Justine Damond from getting shot). Anyway — I found no info on what Frey was talking about regarding stuff rejected by Hodges, so if anyone knows, please chime in in the comments. (And I’ll note that this is one of the things I dislike about both Frey and Dehn. Like, I know you are running against Betsy and you have some legit beefs with her; I feel like some of the claims they make about her are neither reasonable nor fair.)
Moving on to his endorsements: wow, is that ever a lot of unions. I have mixed feelings about union endorsements. On one hand, I am in favor of worker-friendly policies like mandatory paid sick time. On the other hand, building and trade unions tend to adore things like stadium deals. And on the other other hand, everyone seriously running for mayor supports mandatory paid sick time, I think. If you actively opposed it, you’d probably come in behind the Rainbows Butterflies Unicorns guy.
I don’t know: I have a lot of friends who are vehemently Not Fans. Fundamentally, I think they think his progressive stances here are for the sake of political expediency. And … maybe? The thing that strikes me is that he radiates ambition. I’m not necessarily opposed to ambition if it’s tied to genuine progressive values. We need a bench, right? This guy wants to be on that bench. (And he’s younger than me by almost a decade. So he’s got years ahead of him to run for the offices that would eventually lead him to whatever it is he’s dreaming about in his secret heart of hearts.)
Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? Totally.
Does he have any chance of winning? Heck yes.
Is there any reason to vote for him? I mean, he’s trying to position himself as possessing basically Betsy Hodges type values, but being a more effective version of Betsy. And possibly that’s what you want? I feel like his housing platform is pretty practical and his campaign office lived up to their “I will get back to you promptly if you contact me” pledge.
Al Flowers has run for mayor once before — in 2009, he was one of the dozen or so randos who ran against RT. He made the news for a marijuana arrest, not that it mattered: he wouldn’t have won the election anyway.
Articles that mention Al Flowers typically describe him as an “activist” but mention no issues or organizational affiliations. I wanted to know what exactly he was an activist for or with. Also, since he doesn’t hold elected office, I was also curious what he does for a living.
He has a campaign website (with a fundraising link and lawn signs, even) and an issues page full of bland platitudes and zero specifics, but there’s no “About the Candidate” page with the usual bio. I dug in and here’s what I can tell you about who he is.
Al Flowers is a Black man who’s had a shit ton of negative run-ins with the police. Back in 2007, MinnPost had an article about the many times he’d sued the city, generally over police brutality issues. In 2003, local NAACP leaders called the cops to have him removed from a meeting because he was allegedly being violent; he sued the cops and city for allegedly beating him up while he was handcuffed.
In 2014, the police came to Flowers’ home very late at night to arrest his daughter (she’d violated some sort of home-monitoring thing). When he asked to see a warrant, they arrested him for obstruction of justice and beat him up. He filed a complaint and sued. The cops were cleared, but in May 2016, surveillance video captured one of the police officers involved in that arrest brutally kicking an unresisting man in the face. (He looked like he was about to resist, you see. The kick caused a permanent traumatic brain injury and was so egregious they actually fired the cop and charged him with felony assault. (As of June of this year, the victim had sued for 4 million; no update on the felony charge.) (In case you’re skimming: that wasn’t Al Flowers, but the cop that Al Flowers said assaulted him, with no video so he couldn’t prove it despite a bunch of really visible injuries, went on to really brutally assault someone else in front of a camera.)
So hey, if you were for some reason wondering why policing in Minneapolis is such a hot-button issue in this election: this is barely scratching the surface.
But okay, what does Al Flowers do, exactly? In 2014, he apparently ran an organization — of a sort — called the Community Standards Initiative. It’s mentioned in a July 2014 article about crime in North Minneapolis. In May of 2014, the Community Standards Initiative was approved to receive $375,000 from the Minneapolis School Board for … stuff. It was supposed to be an achievement-gap group, maybe? But it doesn’t sound like there was ever any specific plan for how they were going to accomplish anything? And then in October of 2014, a group of Black leaders demanded an investigation into what the hell the school board was thinking, awarding this much money to a group with no plan or even a website other than an inactive Facebook page. With no bidding. There’s a longer postmortem here.
So I guess what I’m concluding here is that he would probably not be a good choice for mayor.
Is there any reason to believe he’s qualified to be mayor? Less and less the more I read about him.
Does he have any chance of winning? Not in a million billion years.
Is there any reason to vote for him? If your #1 issue is policing, you could put him on your ballot to send a message, maybe. (However, it might or might not get through.)