Students will benefit from the Letofsky/DFL loss

I am critical of the hypocrisy of self-serving “liberal” homeowners and neighborhood associations.

INOTE: This column originally ran in the November 16th print edition, but was not put online.

I have lived in Prospect Park since 1968. For the past seven years, I have attended many of the neighborhood association’s meetings, but am critical of the leadership’s undemocratic self-serving agenda and the hypocrisy of the “liberal” homeowners who want to maintain the status quo. I was a DFL delegate this year ” but I also vote for some of the Greens.

At the neighborhood association meetings when students were not present, I’ve listened to discussion of how to keep students from having any decisive role. Despite its public statements, the association is unfriendly to student-renters, affordable housing development and other progressive causes. It is just one example of a much larger problem at the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program that centers on a lack of accountability.

I imagine most of you are unaware of the information presented here. Some of the quotes taken from the Prospect Park forum are taken from a tape recording.

Nowhere in the Daily’s coverage of the 2nd Ward City Council race was there mention of candidate Cara Letofsky’s position on over-occupancy, the discriminatory housing code that targets students. When the over-occupancy question was raised at the student-sponsored Coffman Union debate, Letofsky ran the clock out by answering other questions and said nothing about over-occupancy.

But at a candidate forum a week later in Prospect Park, when students weren’t present, Letofsky found what she called a “place for disagreement” with her opponent Cam Gordon. Letofsky told a sympathetic audience of Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association members what many of them hoped to hear: “One of the things about the over-occupancy code is that it protects some of our areas.”

Green candidate Cam Gordon had just been very direct in telling the association’s less-than-thrilled members that the over-occupancy rule was discriminatory and should be changed. His message was the same as the one he delivered at Coffman Union the previous week.

Although it likely cost votes, Gordon was willing to stand by his principles. “Let’s treat everybody equally,” Gordon said.

Student residents who followed this year’s 2nd Ward City Council race, but were not a witness to the bizarre election contest that occurred in 2001, might be interested to know how some under-reported and seemingly forgotten historic events are still in play.

Five years ago Prospect Park’s neighborhood association changed its bylaws so that it could exclude dormitory students from becoming voting members. Current 2nd Ward DFL Council member Paul Zerby was a strong supporter when the change was approved.

A year later, Zerby campaigned successfully on the ethically dubious concept that student-housing residents should be prevented from voting at their neighborhood associations.

The Oct. 31, 2001, issue of Pulse magazine, from which debate quotes were given, credited Gordon for supporting the students’ right to participate in their neighborhood’s decisions. “Why exclude the ones who actually care about issues from coming to the meetings?” Gordon asked at a 2001 University debate.

At that debate Paul Zerby claimed that if University Village student-residents were allowed a vote on how their neighborhood’s taxpayer-derived funding was spent, they would choose to build “an underground heated swimming pool behind University Village.” If they were allowed “one person, one vote, they would do it,” Zerby said. Zerby argued that in a case where the majority rules, “there is a potential for a lot of mischief.”

In a Daily election article from Nov. 3, Zerby said “there are many things the city does that have an effect on students and I hope they would pay attention and go out and vote.”

He didn’t mention that some students in his neighborhood, which he called upon to pay attention and vote, are prevented from becoming voting members of his neighborhood association, by the associations’ bylaw which he helped put into place. Zerby’s University Village student neighbors, who likely voted with him at the Pratt Community School on Malcolm Avenue, couldn’t walk across Malcolm to the Methodist Church and join his neighborhood association ” because of the bylaw amendment he helped approve. It’s this sort of hypocrisy that has given the DFL a bad reputation.

In a guest column titled “Student involvement is critical,” in the Nov. 3 Daily, Letofsky gave a commitment to “working… to identify policy approaches to issues facing students,” including housing and safety, and “working with neighborhood groups to set up governing structures that facilitate student involvement.” She wasn’t very specific and didn’t say anything about discrimination, voting rights or the occupancy code.

Letofsky told students they “have been historically underrepresented in neighborhood and city priorities… You need a council member who knows how to work with you as a partner in city hall… It all starts by going to the polls… and electing me to be your next City Council member,” she wrote.

Gee! Minneapolis has been run by DFL office holders for years. If students have been historically underrepresented, could DFL politics have played a role?

Steve Ficker is a Minneapolis resident. Please send comments to [email protected]