US: Minneapolis elections

Big business and DFL establishment join forces…Don’t Let Corporate Cash Buy this Election!

Low-wage workers have organized for two years to force $15 an hour to the center of Minneapolis’ 2017 elections. Today, I’m excited to see a growing list of candidates emerging to challenge corporate politics in City Hall, taking a clear position in support of issues like a $15 minimum wage. Many of them face an uphill battle against entrenched incumbents who have deep ties to the political establishment, big business, and developers: groups that, over the past four years, often seem to hold effective veto power over progressive initiatives like $15, fair scheduling, or substantive police reform.

We have a historic opportunity to break with the legacy of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL – the name of the Democratic Party in Minnesota) establishment and start building a left alternative, free from corporate cash, based on a clear program that benefits working people and is rooted in social movements.

Corporate cash is already starting to poison this election. In Ward 1, Jillia Pessenda supports the $15 minimum wage and is challenging incumbent Kevin Reich, who, in 2016, voted against putting $15 on the ballot to voters. Reich was seemingly rewarded on March 30, with a campaign fundraiser hosted by Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council, a vocal opponent of $15 an hour, and the only member of the Workplace Partnership Group to vote against paid sick days last year. Other anti-$15 hosts included Ted Grindal and Charlie Nauen, two of the lawyers from the firm hired by the Minnesota Restaurant Association to lobby against a $15 minimum wage, (the city also hired their firm to block $15 from the ballot).

In addition, Reich’s fundraiser was co-hosted by well known lobbyists, some associated with the International Franchise Association, a top-level executive for the Vikings, and the regional Vice President of Xcel Energy, a corporation which has fought against clean energy initiatives. All have pledged the maximum donation of $600 to help Kevin Reich defeat Jillia.

To hold on to their conservative majority, the DFL establishment is going after the only sitting City Council members who dared to oppose poverty wages: Cam Gordon and Alondra Cano. Dan McConnell, the Minneapolis Chair of the DFL, was exposed earlier this year for commissioning a negative messaging poll to test the viability of running his wife – Becky Boland, secretary of the Minneapolis DFL – against Cam Gordon in Ward 2. Cam is the only Green Party member on the Minneapolis City Council and one of the two that voted to put $15 onto the ballot last summer.

Gary Schiff, the former Ward 9 council member, is running against Alondra Cano, the only other sitting council member who stood with low-wage workers and voted to put $15 an hour on the ballot. As a council member in 2013, Schiff flatly denied the city could raise wages, and mocked Socialist Alternative City Council Candidate Ty Moore for even raising the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Build a Political Alternative

We should strongly oppose the city establishment’s efforts to oust the few on City Council who stood with low-wage workers. I will continue building the movement for $15 alongside Cam Gordon and Alondra Cano, and I want more pro-worker City Council members. We should not be surprised to see that the same big business interests who are fighting against $15 are working overtime to defend the conservative majority on the council.

I’m prepared to work with anyone on concrete initiatives that benefit working people – both as a council member and as an organizer – even though I don’t think that the best path to do this is through the Democratic Party process. It’s a terrain that favors big business, big donors, and backroom dealmaking over working people, as we’ve seen with their blatant attempt to defeat pro $15 candidates Jillia and Alondra. My biggest concern is that all the pro-$15 momentum is lost at the local DFL caucuses on Tuesday, stranded on the rocks of the Democratic Party.

We have the potential to build something new. Bernie’s call for a political revolution against the billionaire class got a deep echo in Minneapolis, though few in City Hall supported him. The fact that this mood persists, and that thousands of people are potentially prepared to oust the “conservative majority” in City Hall in favor of fresh candidates that support issues like $15, shows the necessity of building an entirely new political force, and making a clean break from the big business interests that dominate the DFL.

I welcome more candidates to join me in refusing to take a penny from the corporate executives and big business lobbyists who are trying to buy the elections, especially in Ward 3, where outrageous levels of corporate cash flowed into the race in 2013. I welcome more candidates basing their program on unapologetic demands that speak to the real needs of working-class people in Minneapolis like $15 an hour, taxing the rich, selling municipal bonds to build thousands of city-owned affordable housing on vacant land, and ending all policies that resemble “stop and frisk” in the MPD by creating an elected review board with full powers over the Minneapolis Police Department including budgets and department priorities.

But why tie the fate of issues like $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and Black Lives Matter to a party whose leadership commissions polls to oust Cam Gordon, and views people like Jillia Pessenda and Council Member Cano locally as hostile threats, just like Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison are viewed nationally? If the establishment succeeds in blocking pro-$15 candidates at the DFL caucuses, these left candidates should keep running as independents. My campaign is again proving that there is broad support for left independent politics in Minneapolis. Together, we can build a party that stands and fights 100% for working class people.

People want change in City Hall. Polls show 68% of Minneapolis voters support $15, but as workers struggle to pay their bills, City Hall procrastinates. After the murder of Jamar Clark rocked Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests and a month long occupation of the 4th Precinct, there has been little structural reform of the Minneapolis Police Department. While the Twin Cities are home to 17 Fortune 500 corporations, the highest concentration per capita in the country, racial and economic inequality lingers. Rents have increased 15% since 2009, and the vacancy rate for apartments has been halved. A recent study by CURA at the University of Minnesota found that there is no Minneapolis neighborhood where the average housing is considered affordable for a median-income black family. Capitalism, a system that values profits over basic human needs, is failing working people locally and around the world.

I want to live in a city and a society based on economic, gender, and racial justice, not a city built on corporate greed, run by corporate cash. I urge people to get involved in building the powerful movements needed to achieve that change.

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April 2017