Mayor campaigns on her record

It took a few moments to wade through the list of past accomplishments and current ideals, but once she did, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton spelled out a few definite plans for the future.

Sayles Belton, 50, seeks a third term as mayor of Minneapolis, a city she calls “one of the best managed in the U.S. of A.”

Three goals top the DFL candidate’s to-do list if re-elected: economic security, public safety and promoting the welfare and positive development of the city’s children.

She has repeatedly touted a 34-year serious crime low achieved under her mayorship, though many of her opponents have been quick to challenge that statistic.

Sayles Belton defended her low-crime record by saying she has tackled crimes such as rape and homicide, successfully repealing the “Murderapolis” rap the city had in the mid-’90s. She said the time is now to focus on lesser crimes.

Sayles Belton said she wants to “attack drugs at the street and keep guns out of our community.”

She added she would work with Hennepin County and state officials to ensure people incarcerated on drug charges get access to rehabilitation and education.

“This is especially important for our youth that have made bad decisions about how they want to live their lives,” she said, “and before they continue to self-destruct and leave a wake of victims in their path, we need to find ways to get them on a more productive course.”

For Sayles Belton, education has long been a high priority, though as mayor she is not required to address or advance it. Nonetheless, she has started programs in Minneapolis, including Everybody Reads, a community volunteer program aiming to improve child reading levels.

Now she wants to expand programs like Train to Work, a pilot project with local medical centers that provides jobs to Minneapolis citizens, to apply to other growth industries. She said linking education and training will equip citizens with the knowledge and skills to create both a positive atmosphere and economic stability.

Sayles Belton said she aims to cut the poverty rate in half.

“That is my goal,” she said. “I know it’s a big one, but I believe if we do the right things we could have the same kind of positive statistic that we had in reducing crime.”

She added that households with gainfully employed parents encourage children to succeed in school and reduce student drop-out rates.

“Positive role-modeling, in my opinion, is manifested in these four core values: work, the importance of education, self-respect and personal responsibility,” she said.

That responsibility, she said, lies in the community, teachers, parents and students. She said she would “rally the entire community,” soliciting volunteers from all sectors.

She said that with their help, she can guarantee all children from kindergarten through third grade will perform at grade level.

Regarding affordable housing, the mayor said she would like to see her “life-cycle housing” plan – an initiative to build housing for people at all economic levels and in all stages of life – continue.

She also wants to see neighborhood demographics spread out more evenly to integrate low-income families with more affluent residents.

But City Council member and mayoral hopeful Lisa McDonald said the mayor’s housing plan has been around for several years without success.

After the state passed a property tax bill unfavorable for community improvement groups such as the Minneapolis Community Development Agency and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Sayles Belton has had to defend her 2002 budget proposal, which includes added tax levies. She said the government can’t be expected to pay for all of these programs.

She has also come under fire for supporting the use of public tax dollars to subsidize downtown development such as the Target store and Block E. The mayor stood by these decisions as well, citing the economic boost they could bring Minneapolis. She cited the revenue the Orpheum and State theaters have brought the city – projects she had been criticized for spearheading eight years ago.

R.T. Rybak, one of Sayles Belton’s main opponents, attacked the mayor’s acceptance of campaign contributions from people he said would directly benefit from such downtown projects.

“I think it’s important when there are multi-millions of dollars at stake on development subsidies to know that decision-makers aren’t conflicted,” he said. “So when I see people taking money from developers … I really question whether people can walk into City Hall without their hands tied.”

The recent upheaval in City Hall has been a point of contention for the mayor as well. Lost faith in the city’s inspections departments and cries of impropriety haunt her campaign in the wake of former Council Member Brian Herron’s admission to federal extortion charges.

But Sayles Belton said Herron’s actions should not be taken into consideration during the mayoral race.

“As the mayor of Minneapolis looking forward, there are still some challenges that I think we have to try to address to ensure that the prosperity continues and the quality of life is strengthened,” she said.


Shira Kantor welcomes comments at [email protected]