Primaries to focus on local matters

By voting, students can help shape whose ideas enter the city races.

Cati Vanden Breul

Voters will have a variety of issues in mind when they vote Tuesday for mayoral and city council candidates to advance from the primaries to the general election in November.

The top two mayoral candidates in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the top two candidates from each ward in Minneapolis will move on to the general election. St. Paul is not holding city council elections.

City officials deal with everything from public safety, transportation and housing, to diversity and multicultural issues, said Lee Munnich, senior fellow at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

“The decisions you make in a local race are just as important, or sometimes can be more important, than those that go on at the national level,” Munnich said.

Voters tend to care a lot about safety and the police department’s effectiveness and funding, he said.

“It’s been a part of the mayoral debate again and again,” he said, “as well as some of the issues with gang violence, which flared up during the summer, and how those issues are being dealt with.”

Candidates will want to demonstrate to voters that they can work with limited budgets and still get things done, he said.

“How to solve city problems with fewer resources will be an issue on anyone’s table,” Munnich said.

Economic development versus community development is a key focus during city races, said Larry Jacobs, University political science professor.

Some voters would like to see more money put toward economic development in the city, while others want to see their communities developed and strengthened, Jacobs said.

“There’s always the question of the tension between putting money into communities or into businesses downtown,” he said.

For example, housing is an area where voters look to candidates to make changes, Jacobs said, because it’s becoming less and less affordable in the Twin Cities.

The possibility of new Twins and Gophers stadiums is also an issue of contention, Jacobs said, because there are large groups of voters on both sides of the projects.

“A large number of (Minneapolis residents) would rather see taxpayer money go for something other than sports, while others feel pretty strongly the other way about it,” he said.

Although state legislators would ultimately have to approve new stadiums, city officials can often use their opinions to influence the outcome, Jacobs said.

“The mayor has got to be kind of the coach and the cheerleader in bringing local, state and national governments together with the private sector,” he said. “If the mayor were to come to state legislators with a very strong position saying, ‘We’re opposed to this,’ that would probably carry weight.”

If students have concerns about their neighborhood or city and want to be heard, they need to vote, Munnich said.

“When fewer and fewer people actually get out and vote, candidates are forced to spend their effort on those who do,” he said.

If more people voted, candidates and elected officials would broaden their interests to reflect those of the larger group, Munnich said.

“Voting is the most powerful tool we have in this country to make our voices heard and we need to take advantage of it,” he said.

Jesse Lickel, co-chairman of the College Greens at the University, said he thinks more students will probably vote in the general election than in the primaries because it seems as though the top picks have already been decided.

But by voting in the primaries, students can make a big difference, Lickel said.

“In the primaries, for the nature of fewer people voting, their vote can have a larger impact,” he said.

The future of transportation in the city is something students should pay attention to, he said, because gas prices are becoming more expensive.

“We need to have a lot of different ways for people to get around the city,” Lickel said. “Bus fare just keeps rising and rising, and they are coming less regularly.”

The group will begin efforts to register students for the Nov. 8 election after the primaries are over.

The polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Minneapolis and St. Paul.