Make history, build power, rank your vote

One week away from the mayoral election next Tuesday, November 5 — the first one in 20 years without an incumbent mayor running — I know some people are nervous or confused about two facts: the fact that there are 35 candidates for mayor on the ballot, and the fact that we’re using a new voting system called ranked-choice voting.  But these two facts — the 35 candidates on the ballot and ranked-choice voting — are in fact very different. I believe we should raise the bar for allowing candidates the privilege of appearing on the ballot, but I believe we should be excited about and embrace the ability to rank our candidates. I’ll tackle these two separate issues in order.

Raise the bar

Right now, to get on the ballot to run for mayor of Minneapolis, all you need is $20, a filing fee has remained unchanged for the last 46 years. While that fee may have made sense in 1967, today the bar is simply too low for anyone to get their name on the ballot. As a direct result of that too-low fee, voters in 2013 are faced with 35 candidates to choose from, including far too many candidates who have not made any effort to engage seriously with voters. It’s no wonder people are confused.

To make it more likely that candidates respect voters’ attention and commitment by running real campaigns, not recreational or novelty ones, I believe we should raise the bar for the privilege of appearing on our ballot. I support a higher, more common-sense filing fee, but one that would be waived for a candidate who can garner a certain number of signatures from voters and demonstrate real grassroots support. An effort earlier this year to raise the fee fell short, but I support moving forward with this proposal so that in 2017, when we next vote for mayor, voters can be sure that the candidates on their ballot — however many there may be — are candidates who take them seriously.

Rank your vote

In my opinion, some of the candidates on the ballot this year could be very good mayors, and some could be excellent mayors. Now in past elections, we would have had to narrow our choices of very good and excellent candidates down to one; but this year, ranked-choice voting allows us to vote for the candidate we think is the best, and for two other candidates that we also think are good.

Although voters in other cities, like San Francisco and Oakland, have ranked their vote in recent local elections, we haven’t yet put the system to a real test in Minneapolis. As I’ve looked at our ballot, I’ve found it really exciting that we finally get to do so this year.

Ranking your vote is easy. The City of Minneapolis website has a very informative page that explains very clearly how to rank your vote and how your vote will be counted, including a fantastic two-minute video that you just have to watch. You can even practice ranking your vote on a sample ballot of “candidates” that are actually Minneapolis parks. (Using parks for candidates is actually a brilliant illustration of appeal of ranked-choice voting: most of us would hate having to choose just one of Minneapolis’ amazing parks as our favorite to the exclusion of all others, but most of us can come up with our top three.)

Please join me in thanking the dedicated City of Minneapolis staff who have worked so hard to build our terrific elections website, http://vote.minneapolismn.gov, which not only explains ranked-choice voting, but which can tell you where to vote, how to register and even how to volunteer to be an election judge. If you’re a Minneapolis voter, you will also be receiving an extremely helpful packet at home in the mail that includes very clear instructions and a sample of the actual ballot that you will receive in your precinct on Election Day, Tuesday, November 5.

I’m very grateful to all the staff and volunteers who are working hard to make sure that all voters know how to rank their vote and that Election Day is a success.

Make history

Two of Minneapolis’ greatest strengths are our dedication to voting and civic participation — our voter-turnout rate in last year’s election was one of the highest of any big city in America — and our openness to new ideas and new experiences. In that spirit of openness, we, the voters of Minneapolis, voted to adopt ranked-choice voting. Now, in the first real test of ranked-choice voting, Minneapolis is once again leading the way on a new way of voting that gives each of us more options, influence and power.

Next Tuesday, November 5, make history, build power, and rank your vote.

My statement at the Southwest Light Rail Corridor Management Committee

As one of the strongest supporters of the Southwest Corridor LRT line in the state, this is a day I have looked forward to for many years. It is especially significant to be here with some of my fellow mayors: we have worked hard to pass transportation amendments, elect people who will fight for transit and make the case to everyone that our region needs to invest more in alternatives to congested freeways.

In every way possible, I want to be able to join you today in a unanimous alignment vote, but, sadly, I cannot do that. I will be voting “no” today, but intend it to a constructive no from someone who will stay at the table and continue to do what we can to get this line built right.

I have said that I would be willing to take a tough vote for my city if the key questions we had were answered, and if all other options had been exhausted.  I am voting no because questions do remain and I do not feel we have completely exhausted alternatives.

The concerns that remain have been outlined in depth by me and my representative at this committee. As mayor of the City of Lakes, one of my and my city’s most important concerns is that with this project, we are proposing to build tunnels in the middle of a sensitive wetland without proper assurances that it will not impact the water in the Chain of Lakes, which surrounds this piece of land in almost all directions.

A second, extremely important remaining concern is whether promises made on mitigation can be kept. If tunnels are proposed, we cannot see that promise value-engineered away at a later date. I do not feel we have that assurance yet.

I also cannot yet tell my constituents that this alignment is necessary because all other options have been exhausted. We were promised three weeks ago that there would be one more hard look at options for relocating freight, but when the selected firm withdrew, there was not an attempt to find another. Making a commitment one week, then withdrawing it one week later, is not going to help build the trust we will need in my community, or any community along this line.

I fully understand that the staff and many of you on the committee have already concluded that there is no other way to get the railroads to explore options.  I understand, but I disagree.

While the railroads clearly have significant rights, it sounds a lot to me and to my constituents what we were often told about our challenges with the airport.  If we had accepted what we had been told in that case — that airports and the FAA can make and break promises without any recourse — we would never have fought for and won airplane-noise protection for about 10,000 homes in Minneapolis.  I cannot say confidently that in this case we will get the railroads to be more flexible, but I do feel we owe it to those we represent to fight hard.

This is important because I feel that Minneapolis and St. Louis Park are in untenable positions because the railroads have taken the untenable position that they would not negotiate. I know St. Louis Park well: my first job was as editor of the St. Louis Park Sun, and having spent a lot of time in the area that would be affected, I do not think it would be right to have an alignment with massive berms through the city. I do feel, however, that if the railroads were more flexible, we could have a better option on the table to put against Kenilworth.

I have spoken with many of you on this committee and I am very convinced that this is a group of individuals with good motives. We simply see this situation differently.

I also want to say how much I respect those who have raised concerns about this alignment. There are those who have made irrational statements, but the overwhelming majority of those who have questioned this alignment have been transit advocates who want their questions answered and other options exhausted. Their name says it: they just want LRT Done Right.

We will now enter the municipal-approval process. I cannot predict how this will fare at Minneapolis City Hall but I will stay at the table, try to get our concerns fully addressed and our questions answered, and try to assure my constituents that we have exhausted other options. If so, am prepared to vote yes and be a strong champion.  I just want to see LRT done right.

More collaboration and transparency for our schools, not less

Knowing how urgent it is to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color in Minneapolis Public Schools, I was very pleased last week when teachers, in collaboration with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers union and Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, voted overwhelmingly to accept $9.2 million in State aid. This much-needed aid will create more opportunities for teachers to collaborate with each other in order to come up with creative, data-driven solutions for ending the achievement gap. It was a great step forward for our children.

All of us — parents, teachers, community members, the School Board, Superintendent Johnson and I —agree that we must improve our public schools and make sure that every child succeeds in Minneapolis. But with as polarized as the national debate on this topic can be, it can be hard to tune it out and focus on Minneapolis solutions to the problems that Minneapolis children face. So I congratulate Minneapolis teachers for doing just that with their constructive, collaborative vote last week.

That great step forward was why I was all the more disheartened to learn that the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has asked the State of Minnesota to shut out the public from the current contract negotiations between the school district and the union. I agree with Superintendent Johnson that this request comes far too soon, before discussion of the most critical issues — putting the best teachers in front of the children who need them most, making sure our children spend more time in school, rewarding great teaching and diversifying the teacher corps, among others — has even begun.

None of us can do well when so many of our children are not succeeding in school, and especially children of color. To end the achievement gap and make sure that all of them — and all of us — do well, we need the best, most creative minds and every innovative solution at the table. But we can’t have that if parents, community members and rank-and-file teachers are shut out of negotiations.

Every one of us has a critical stake in improving Minneapolis Public Schools: the future of our city, our economy and our entire region depends on it.  We need more transparency and collaboration, not less.

“This project flunks the fairness test”

Statement on Southwest LRT by Peter Wagenius, representing Mayor R.T. Rybak, at the Southwest Corridor Management Committee October 2, 2013

This is a very sad, very disappointing day for many citizens of Minneapolis.  That includes many long-time residents who feel they have been misled for 17 years. Mayor Rybak represents those residents — and on their behalf, I’d like to state the following.

Mayor Rybak is a strong supporter of Southwest LRT.  And he has acted accordingly, going above and beyond on multiple occasions.

The Mayor didn’t want Southwest LRT running on Kenilworth at all. He thought LRT should go where the most riders are — through Uptown.  But he agreed — under conditions that are now being violated — to support the County’s preferred alignment of Kenilworth. That was in 2010.

Now again in 2013, with the cost of dealing with freight rail turning out to be so much higher than expected, most of his constituents wanted him to immediately slam the door shut on the shallow-tunnels option. No delay; slam the door.  And if the Mayor was only thinking parochially, he would have done so and advocated only for his City’s narrow interest, as St. Louis Park has done so effectively.

But the Mayor saw it as his responsibility, our responsibility to the region, and to the greater good, to try to keep multiple paths to success open — even the paths he didn’t want, even paths against adopted City policy. He wanted to try to keep multiple paths to success open — as long others were doing the same.

But that is obviously no longer the case — and I think it hasn’t been for some time.

So why did the Mayor want to avoid putting all our eggs in one basket?

Because that is exactly what got this project in such a giant mess on the first place.  In particular, it has proven foolish to put all our eggs in one basket if the project believes the railroads own that basket, which obviously the project does.

There’s seems to have been this impression that at the end of the day the railroads were going to act in the public interest, which is crazy. They are private interests. The failure is not theirs for acting in their own interest; the failure is on the project for not anticipating that.

Which bring us to the representations that were made to the City when it agreed to drop further consideration of Uptown alignments, and support Kenilworth, again with conditions that are now being violated.

If someone had told Mayor Rybak in 2009 that there really wasn’t a real plan for how to handle freight, and that the can was just being kicked down the road, he never would have agreed to support Kenilworth.

If someone had told Mayor Rybak in 2009 that rerouting freight meant that we would be required to apply to the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), which the region would consider an unacceptable hassle, but that we would not be required to apply to the STB to keep the freight in Kenilworth, then he would have said, “Then the project has a built-in incentive to not keep the very promises you are making to my City and me.”

If someone had told Mayor Rybak in 2009 that the region would be unwilling to negotiate with the railroads and that the railroads could ask for whatever they wanted and the region would give it to them, he would have said “Then that’s an open-ended cost escalator. You have no idea how much the promised re-route actually costs.”

Of course, no one told Mayor Rybak any of those things. I was there in the room with him. They said, “Mayor, your alignment costs $1.4 billion and that’s too expensive.”  He responded, “But you haven’t factored in freight with your alignment.” And they said, “No, Mayor. That’s separate. We’ve got that covered. We have a plan.”

Mayor Rybak is less prone to regret than anyone I have ever known, but I’m sure among his biggest regrets is the faith he placed in the assurances he was provided about freight rail in 2009.

So this project obviously flunks the fairness test.  This project is breaking the promise made to Minneapolis so as to facilitate St. Louis Park breaking the promise it made to the region.

But fairness is not the only measure. If it was, the Mayor would have slammed the door shut on the shallow tunnel, as he was repeatedly asked to do.

Transparency of the process is also an important measure.

Most of all, this project suffers from “Failure to Factor in Freight.” Seventeen years’ worth of failure to factor in freight.

First, there was the failure to get a binding agreement with either St. Louis Park or the railroads 17 years ago. Some consider that “ancient history,” but we are still living with impacts of that failure today.

Moreover, the failure to factor in freight runs right up to the present day. September 4 was not 17 years ago, it was just four weeks ago. On September 4, the Met Council committed to a new freight-rail study.

On September 4, Commissioner Dorfman said that the existing freight reroute option works for TC&W and CP, the railroads.  It’s building a sort of a Cadillac version they would never invest to build for themselves for so few trains.  So I don’t support that.”

Later, Commissioner Dorfman noted that there were still so many unanswered questions, and added, “So I look forward to the next couple of weeks getting those questions answered. I look forward to hopefully having this group come in, TTCI from Pueblo, Colorado, who I am told are absolutely, I’ve been told, the best in the business to take a look at what we studied in the past, but to give us a second opinion. I look forward to coming back together with more information.”

On September 4, Mayor Schneider, whose advocacy for a responsible process we very much appreciate, spoke of the value of “doing a thorough, exhaustive evaluation, “reining in the expectations of the rail companies,” and how this was “a critical element in not just getting Minneapolis satisfied, but the general public satisfied that we’ve looked at all the various alternatives.”

Finally, on September 4, Chair Haigh said about the study that was going to be performed by TTCI, “We’re going to have a chance to hear from them. So you’ll be able to ask those questions when they come forward.  I just want everyone to know this a thorough, honest, deep assessment of the relocation alternative in St. Louis Park. There are a lot of questions that people have raised. These questions are going to get answered in this study.”

Of course, we know that didn’t happen. TTCI didn’t do the promised study. They are not here to answer our questions. They announced they had a conflict of interest and left town.

We expect that the weeks ahead will include lots of focus on the product. And the product reflects the hard work of great staff of many agencies, trying to make the best of this situation. Staff deserves a lot of credit for their hard work.

But both these products — both the last two options that we are choosing between — are not the logical products of a fair, transparent and rational process. They are simply what’s left. They are what’s left from a process that contained serious flaws.

Mayor Rybak’s Property-Tax Cut Guaranteed

2014 levy to decline for first time in 30 years

One-percent cut in maximum levy is 3.8 percent below growth in cost of current services

September 11, 2013 (MINNEAPOLIS) — The Board of Estimate and Taxation today ratified Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposed one-percent property-tax cut in 2014.

The Board’s action guarantees that for the first time since 1984, the City of Minneapolis property-tax levy will decline.

“Today’s guarantee of a tax cut next year is the result of 12 years of tough choices,” Mayor Rybak said. “From reducing City spending and paying down debt, to reforming closed pensions and securing the stadium that took pressure off taxpayers, to finally reforming Local Government Aid after a decade of cuts, taxpayers are reaping the benefits of our long-term strategy to make Minneapolis financially sound. I thank the City Council, Governor Mark Dayton and the current Legislature for their partnership.

“But the real heroes are our residents and businesses,” Mayor Rybak continued. “When times were tough, we asked them to invest more to keep Minneapolis strong. With times getting a little better, we are now asking less.”

In presenting his final budget as mayor on August 15, Mayor Rybak proposed a one-percent cut in the property-tax levy, despite the fact that the cost of maintaining current services will grow 2.8 percent in 2014, before any new initiatives.

Four members of the Board — City Council President Barbara Johnson, directly-elected member David Wheeler, directly-elected Board President Carol Becker and City Council Ways and Means/Budget Committee Chair Betsy Hodges — voted for the tax cut. Board Member Bob Fine, representing the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, first abstained, then voted against the Mayor’s tax cut. Mayor Rybak, a member of the Board, was absent due to illness.

Making Dr. King’s dream Minneapolis’ reality

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech, how do we in Minneapolis act to bring home the powerful message that Dr. King delivered 50 years ago, and President Obama reinforced today?

Each of us in our own way should hear the words about opportunity for every single American, but all of us should remember that the remarkable city of Minneapolis has a gaping weakness: We have some of the largest gaps in jobs, wealth and education of any community in the country.

So many people in Minneapolis are working to close these shameful gaps, but we must all do more. Building One Minneapolis, where people of different races and different neighborhoods are no longer separated from each other by gaps in jobs, wealth and student achievement, has been one of my key goals since taking office and the work continues.  In my recent budget proposal, I laid out several strategies that are targeted at doing our part to end those gaps.

Build a City government workforce that looks like Minneapolis

In a city that is now 40% people of color, we need to build a City government workforce that looks like the residents of our city. For several years, we’ve been laying the groundwork:

  • My budget doubles the Urban Scholar program, which brings promising young college students of color into the City for the summer to do high-level work. These are the future leaders of City government.
  • In addition, I am continuing to fund the remarkable STEP-UP program that in 10 years, has provided 18,000 young people — 86% people of color, 50% from immigrant families, 93% from families living in poverty — with real-life summer work experience in some of Minneapolis’ best employers, including the City of Minneapolis.

 

It’s especially important that our diversity be reflected in our Police and Fire Departments. My budget funds new recruit classes for both departments, as well as other pipelines for joining those departments, for which we will recruit heavily in communities of color.

With an impending “silver tsunami” of retirements across City government, we are seizing the opportunity to close gaps and ensure that the City of Minneapolis workforce of the 21st century looks like Minneapolis of the 21st century.

Make every neighborhood a safe place to call home

Every Minneapolis neighborhood needs to be a safe place to call home. We have seen some real success in recent years in lowering violent crime: 2011 and 2012 saw the lowest numbers of violent crime in Minneapolis since 1983. We are, however, seeing increases in some parts of the city this year, particularly on the Northside, and I am working closely with Police Chief Janeé Harteau to help bring it down.

This progress has been led by a dramatic decline in youth violence. I was pleased to join President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and a group of mayors from across the country at the White House yesterday to share the strong results of Minneapolis’ youth violence prevention efforts, which I am continuing to fund in my budget. From 2006–12:

  • The number of youth involved in violent crime is down 57%.
  • The number of youth involved in gun violence is down 67%.
  • The number of youth injured in gun violence is down 62%.

Finally, for Minneapolis to be a safe place to call home, it is essential that our police officers not only look like our residents, but demonstrate respect for them every day. There is no place for racism and discrimination in our Police Department, and when even one officer makes even one offensive comment — or behaves far worse, on or off duty — it jeopardizes the good work that the vast majority of our officers do every day. My budget funds new training, hiring and community-engagement practices that are aimed at ending all incidents of disrespect and misbehavior.

Invest where the gaps are the greatest

In order to eliminate gaps — and in particular, put an end the shameful gap in unemployment between whites and African Americans in Minneapolis, which is one of the largest gaps of its kind — we must also focus on efforts on growing businesses and jobs in the neighborhoods that need them most. My budget funds an innovative effort to attract large anchor employers to the Northside called Grow North. In addition, I am proposing the use the proceeds from the sale of the City’s share in Gaviidae Common downtown to fund small-business improvements in our neighborhoods through our successful Great Streets program, and to invest in the Midtown Global Market, which has been one of the most successful incubators for entrepreneurs of color that Minneapolis has ever seen. Finally, my budget also continues to fund our Small Business Technical Assistance Program, which in 2013 is providing technical assistance to 650 business owners and entrepreneurs, a very large number of whom are people of color.  

My budget also continues to fund our very successful workforce-training efforts: since 2002, we have placed nearly 14,000 hard-to-employ and dislocated workers into good jobs, and last year, they were 81% people of color. I also continue to fund RENEW program, which takes people who have been hard to employ and trains them for specialized, high-paying, green jobs — and in 2012, our RENEW trainees were 93% people of color. Finally, we are also aggressively pursuing the goal we have set of making sure that 32% of the people hired to work on the new stadium and the renovation of Target Center are people of color. 

Improving our schools so that every student succeeds

Along with what we have done in our budget — and although the mayor has no direct control over our public schools — I will continue to use my role as mayor to push for the strong, immediate actions we need to more aggressively attack an unacceptable achievement gap in our schools.  The shockingly low percentages of students of color who graduate on time from our schools are a direct assault on the vision and work of Dr. King, and of so many more people. There is no simple or easy solution, but I will continue to work with parents, young people, community and school leaders to bring the urgency and spirit of innovation to our schools. I will be advocating for

  • having our young people spend more time in school and in high-quality, out-of-school-time activities,
  • rapidly increasing the diversity of our teacher corps, and
  • supporting Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s proposals to allow more innovation in underperforming schools.  

I will also continue my strong support for successful early-childhood interventions like the Northside Achievement Zone. And all Minneapolis residents should join me in thanking Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature for finally passing all-day kindergarten.

50 years later: working hard to making Dr. King’s dream Minneapolis’ reality

Fifty years ago, Dr. King inspired us to dream of a world where every person had the ability to live the American Dream. Today in Minneapolis, we have to keep working even harder to end the gaps in race and geography that are keeping us from realizing Dr. King’s dream, and to make his dream Minneapolis’ reality.

 

Investing in the future

Today I released my final proposed budget for the City of Minneapolis for the coming year, but I want to be clear: this is not a 2014 budget. This is a budget that invests next year in efforts that will pay off for years and decades, in:

  • A new generation of police and firefighters who reflect the face of a diverse city.
  • Repaved streets and roads that will last for decades.
  • Investments in modern streetcar lines, bikes and pedestrian improvements so that just a few years from now, people can live well in Minneapolis without depending on a car.
  • Long-term, green strategies to reforest our city and clean our air.
  • New resources to invest in growing businesses along our commercial streets in our fast-growing city, and to continue the success of the Midtown Global Market.

Running the city well, making Minneapolis a safe place to call home, investing in the common ground of our environment and our infrastructure, and growing the city. This is what investing in the future looks like.

And my budget delivers all these investments and more with a cut of 1 percent in the City’s property-tax levy. And that 1-percent property-tax cut is actually 3.8 percent below the growth in the cost of maintaining current City services, before making any new investments.

The bottom line on property taxes is this: In tough times, we asked residents to invest more to keep the city strong. With times getting a little better, we will ask less.

We can make these investments in the future while cutting property taxes in 2014 for three reasons: 

  • Earlier this year, Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature restored some of the decade-long cuts to Minneapolis’ Local Government Aid, which provides us with $10 million more in 2014 than in 2013. I’m very grateful to Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature for passing the first honestly-balanced State budget in more than a decade and understanding how tough the last decade has been on homeowners.
  • The City Council and I created a Property Tax Relief Fund with money that we saved in 2012.
  • Thanks to the stadium legislation, revenues from sales and hospitality taxes that the City can now use for economic development are growing twice as fast as estimated in our recovering economy.

These positive developments for our homeowners come on the heels of tough choices that City leaders have taken over the past decade to restore the City’s fiscal health, by watching spending, paying down $350 million in debt, reforming closed pensions that were draining taxpayers, restructuring City government, and delivering $5 million annually in property-tax relief with the 2012 stadium deal. Had we not made those tough choices, property taxes would be 35 percent higher than they are. And now we can lower them a little more.

You can read more about my budget here, and the text of my speech here. In the meantime, here are a few more of the investments in our future that I’m excited about: 

  • I’m proposing to expand the hours of one of the City’s most popular and effective services. Next year, Minneapolis 311 will now be open on Saturdays, with City Council approval.
  • To meet the pressures of pending retirements, and to build a homegrown, public-safety workforce that truly reflects and represents our city, I am proposing a new police cadet class of 30, and three firefighter classes of 15 each. I am also proposing 20 new Community Service Officers in the Police Department.
  • I’m adding resources for new police training, expanded early-warning systems and community engagement. Our officers do great work every day under very difficult circumstances and they deserve our thanks, but that work can be wiped out when a single officer, whether on duty or off duty,  makes one offensive comment or does much worse. There is no place for racism or discrimination in our Police Department.
  • It’s time that America’s #1 biking city also became America’s #1 walking city. That’s why in addition to bike improvements, I’m investing in pedestrian improvements, including beginning to turn 29th Street, the most blighted street in our city, into a great pedestrian walkway from Lake Calhoun to Lyn-Lake and beyond.
  • We must take action to restore our beautiful tree canopy that provides so many environmental benefits but has suffered a series of unprecedented losses.
  • We’re returning the proceeds of the sale of Gaviidae Common downtown to economic development in our neighborhoods.

We stand on broad shoulders in Minneapolis. Today, we join our predecessors whose investments looked down the road — and paved it, too. They built a great city for generations to come, and we’re doing the same.