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Is Downtown Minneapolis Doing Better than the City Council’s Makeup Might Suggest?

It long has been a political fact of life in Minneapolis that conservatives and Republicans are nowhere to be found on the city council, school board, or among the city’s legislative delegation.  As an overly cautious diplomat might put it, this has been “unfortunate,” for reasons of good and measured governance, among others.

Quick: Who was the last Republican member of the Minneapolis City Council?  Answer at the end.

Never mind political affiliation, unhelpfully reinforcing matters is the current shortage of men and women on the city council and school board who have ever held a job in a for-profit organization, much less pursued a career in one. This also is not good and not just because leaders in business generally have a useful business sense.  The same applies to experience making payroll year after year, be the economic climate foul or fair.

Exactly how large is the dearth of men and women with business experience on the city council and school board?  I spent a few hours the other day reading through the online bios of all 13 members of the city council and all nine (nonstudent) members of the school board.  Starting with the city council, here are a few numbers.

  • Only five of 13 members note ever having what seems a for-profit job.  Perhaps more members have, but if that’s the case, they didn’t say so.
  • Meanwhile, words like “activist,” “advocate,” “fighter” and variations on “organizer” are sprinkled in descriptions of what they did before getting elected, with one person writing how she “consistently stood up for progressive values in the face of almost impossible odds.” Yes, she’s talking about Minnesota.

As for the school board:

  • All nine adult members list having worked in the non-profit sector at some point in their lives, often several points.
  • But only one of the nine (Don Samuels) lists ever working in the for-profit sector.

A handful of quick thoughts.

  • Nothing above should be interpreted as criticism of any one person, as I credit each with having the fortitude to run and the skill to win.  My lament, rather, pertains to the whole: A political landscape and culture in which a school of ideas is never debated, a class of policies is never considered, and corresponding ordinances are never adopted.
  • Who’s responsible?  I don’t know what others might say, but I’d say not enough Republican and conservative voters.  As someone who lived in Minneapolis on and off for 30 years before moving to the burbs last year, I recognize how tall the mountain is and admit to being as absent as anyone from doing the hard work of increasing those numbers.  I also recognize the many Republicans and conservatives in Minneapolis who have not been AWOL and continue climbing.  They have my admiration.
  •  I likewise acknowledge that my own bio is on the light side regarding for-profits and on the heavy side regarding nonprofits, public universities, and state and national government.  But in defense of whatever private-sector cred I have, there were long stretches when making payroll dominated the metaphysical core of my existence, especially around 4 a.m.
  • The budget for Minneapolis Public Schools is more than $600 million.  Might students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other taxpayers be better served if more than one member of the board had a business background?
  • Focusing on the city council and skewed bios notwithstanding, I’m pleased to acknowledge there are things about Minneapolis these days that are particularly impressive, the enormous amount of construction downtown my best example.  Yes, I know these projects were in the works well before many current council members were elected, but I’m fine with whatever glory they’d like to bask in.
  • Is Minneapolis as impressive socially?  Often not.  Most pointed comments in this regard understandably focus on economic, academic, and other gaps.  I would add a sense that things are increasingly frazzled.  Or to use the technical term, “increasingly nutty.”  For instance, think of bicycle lanes which mess up traffic and make driving potentially more litigious for all concerned, but which frequently contain nary a bicyclist in sight.  But since bikes and bike lanes are increasingly seen as environmentally sacrosanct, criticizing them risks being decried as sacrilegious.  “OFF! with your internally combustible four wheels!”
  • Without at all forgetting about lives forever changed and ended on the city’s north and south sides, I’m frankly surprised that portions of downtown are doing as well as they seem to be given how it’s not terribly safe to be on certain streets at certain times, especially in the Warehouse District at bar closing.
  • Then there’s all the screaming masquerading as civil protest, with dangerous blockages and disruptions more likely countenanced than condemned.
  • I’m guessing the building boom is less a reflection of confidence in the city’s political culture and more a matter of strategic blind eyes on the part of entrepreneurs.  I’m thankful that key players such as the Minneapolis Downtown Council, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Minnesota Business Partnership, among others are continuing to make the kinds of persuasive arguments on behalf of private enterprise that elected officials in the city may not be as eager to make.
  • All of which is to say, here’s hoping Mayor Jacob Frey’s appreciation of business is robust and that he enjoys speaking up.

Answer to the question above.  Denny Schulstad was the last Republican on the Minneapolis City Council, serving from 1976 to 1997.  Of extra special note, he also served as a Brigadier General in the Air Force.

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