Mpls. mayoral candidates square off

The two Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates running for Minneapolis mayor debated Thursday.

Focusing mostly on economic and employment issues during the 90-minute debate, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin also squared off views on transportation and education.

Dozens of residents attended the event hosted by the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, including firefighters, city employees, union workers and local high school debate teams.

Nick Coleman, a Star Tribune columnist and AM 950 talk radio host directed the questions and served as the moderator.

During opening statements, Rybak addressed his previous work and accomplishments as Minneapolis mayor.

He said he has helped to create approximately 2,600 affordable housing units, 4,000 new jobs and added 50 probation officers to the most crime-ridden areas of the city.

“I have defended union members, supported immigrant workers rights and stood up for teachers in schools around the city,” he said.

McLaughlin emphasized the tough financial times the city is facing and the importance of labor unions.

“We cannot achieve a 21st century economy with 19th century labor policies,” he said.

Both candidates said closing the economic gap within the city was a top priority.

Rybak said he’s been a strong supporter of affordable housing, and proud that there are “miles and miles” of middle-class citizens.

He said he’s also worked to keep people’s jobs in the city.

“I have protested against breaking unions and worked against outsourcing good jobs from Minnesota workers to Asia,” he said.

McLaughlin reflected on standing on picket lines with teamsters and fighting for strong job coalitions.

McLaughlin said education was a priority of his campaign.

Audience members probed the candidates’ views on University leaders’ plans for eliminating General College.

McLaughlin said he’s against the proposal.

“The University’s General College has been a gateway for low-income families and immigrants to earn a quality education,” he said.

Rybak said he’s open to change at the University, but wanted to talk with University President Bob Bruininks.

“The University has accomplished a lot and if we want to continue to progress in biological technology and nanotechnology we need to discuss these changes with a lot of consideration,” he said.