Mayoral candidates debate on campus as election nears

Seth Woehrle

Wednesday night offered an opportunity for both students and the Minneapolis mayoral candidates to learn where the other stood on key issues.

Incumbent mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and challenger R.T. Rybak were quizzed and lectured by an audience of mostly students about affordable housing, education and pushing back Minneapolis’ bar closing time.

About 60 students sat in the Hubert H. Humphrey Center, where they had a chance to ask questions of the two candidates with either a microphone or paper and pen.

The ever-present issue of affordable housing dominated much of the discussion and marked one of the only areas of contention between the two candidates.

“I feel it is important to not have areas in the city where poor people can only live,” Belton said, citing her “life-cycle” housing – which mixes different income levels in different neighborhoods – as a solution.

“In some cases, (neighborhoods with low-income concentrations) would be better off if there was additional housing there,” Rybak said. He countered by saying increased density was a necessary by-product of increased housing units.

The debate turned from housing to the task of increasing public, minority and female involvement in city politics, with Rybak and Belton trying to out-tout the other’s initiatives and record.

When asked specifically about the interests of college students, Belton said she saw many different ways to harness the energy and new ideas of youth. She mentioned her three-year-old program that brings students from campus to public schools to help children with math and reading.

Rybak said one of his strengths when reaching out to students was his experience in new areas of interaction, such as Internet chats. He expressed interest in the Napster file-trading program as a model for citizen participation.

The candidates found concurrence of agreement midway through the forum when Rybak and Belton both said the 1 a.m. closing time for bars was too early and deprived the economy of consumer dollars and citizens of an active night life.

Returning to more serious politics, Belton and Rybak said they would work with whoever becomes the city council member for Ward 2, which covers most of the University area.

The event was sponsored by the Minn. Youth Vote Coalition, including the Minnesota Student Association, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and the Minneapolis League of Women Voters, which provided moderator Jennifer Schaefer.

Shaefer said she was happy with the turnout and format of the debate, which allowed students to question and inform the candidates about issues with which they were concerned.

Students said they were generally pleased with the debate and the chance to learn the candidates’ stances on issues important to younger voters.

“I thought their responses were really good,” said Sam Holle, a senior in political science who was undecided as to whom to vote for, but concerned about corporate subsidies downtown.

Maria Anderson, in her fourth year of natural resource management, enjoyed the debate but said she wanted a longer discussion.

“They could have gone more in-depth to explain how they would go about achieving their aims,” said Anderson. “I think specifics would have satisfied me more than the generalized answers they gave us.”

 

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]