Mayoral candidates meet, exchange ideas over coffee

Shira Kantor

The afternoon was warm, the coffee shop packed and the excited air contagious as four of Minneapolis’ mayoral candidates huddled around a green picnic table outside of Bob’s Java Hut to discuss plans and ideas they’d like to see make it to office – even if they, as candidates, don’t.

Candidates Jeffrey Amadeus Booty, Marcus Harcus, Mark Koscielski and Mark Stenglein attended the forum Sunday, where they considered issues ranging from welfare reform to housing to police brutality.

Now a near-ritual for him since he first set up a meeting like this one three weeks ago, Booty said he is willing and hoping to meet with as many candidates as possible.

“If these are the people who’ve stepped up for mayor, they must really care and therefore they should be listened to,” Booty said.

His three cohorts nodded in agreement and tackled the first topic – the city’s fiscal responsibilities.

Each of the men expressed opposition to the tax subsidies of the downtown Target store and Block E and to tax increases in general.

Koscielski suggested the privatization of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.

“Let’s turn it over to the Salvation Army or the Urban League,” he said. “Because if a nonprofit group takes over, at least 80 percent of funds have to go toward what they’re meant for. Right now it’s the opposite.”

Stenglein said upkeep of city infrastructure – including bridge and sewer system repairs as well as street cleaning – has been a disappointment. “Our sewer system is a hundred years old,” he said.

Koscielski agreed, saying the city is five or six years behind in many much-needed repairs.

“When one of these sewer lines by Lake Calhoun or Lake Nokomis breaks, then it’s too late,” he said.

Regarding affordable housing, Booty proposed landlord-tenant arrangements in which landlords wouldn’t have to play such a large role in the upkeep of the property in exchange for lower rent. “There are plenty of people who would live in substandard housing if they could have a house at all,” he said.

Stenglein said the city needs to reassess housing initiatives.

“The regulation and zoning has gone haywire,” Stenglein said. “A duplex will be torn down on a side block, and they won’t let another be rebuilt.”

The candidates also discussed the availability and the legality of weapons both for citizens and police. Koscielski, a gun shop owner, said people should have the right to protect themselves. “We need better gun laws, not better guns,” he said.

Taking a slightly different stance on the effects of guns in the community, Booty said, “If someone is running away from the cops because of minor possession and (they’re shot at), then I think the real criminal is the law on minor possession.”

Candidates also offered several methods for dealing with the homeless and welfare recipients, including allowing people to camp in city parks for extended periods of time and doling out welfare in the form of goods and services rather than checks, which could be misspent.

Koscielski and Booty agreed the city traps poor people and makes it difficult for them to live in Minneapolis. Koscielski called it “nothing but ethnic cleansing,” while Booty named it “gentrification.”

As the group disbanded, Harcus, who remained silent for most of the discussion, said he would like to see bar hours extended until 2 a.m. and clubs until 4 a.m. “so you have two hours to sober up.”

Booty grinned and said he agreed. “But you have to give him credit for his idea,” he laughed. “I would probably say `have the bars open till 3.”