Newly elected Elliott Payne focuses on racial equity in Ward 1

Payne unseated incumbent Kevin Reich in a close race for City Council.


Courtesy of Neighbors for Elliott Payne

Elliott Payne poses for a portrait on June 10, 2021. Payne recently won the Nov. 2 election for City Council in Ward 1.

by Caleb Hensin

New Ward 1 City Council member Elliott Payne sat down with the Minnesota Daily to talk about how he ran his campaign, what contributed to his win and the issues facing Ward 1.

Payne won by nearly 5 percentage points of total votes over 12-year incumbent Kevin Reich. Ward 1 includes Northeast Minneapolis and part of Como.

What do you think you did to appeal to the people of Ward 1 over Kevin Reich?

“I’m a Black man running in a ward that’s never been represented by anything other than white men in the wake of the murder of George Floyd … When I moved to Northeast after college, I remember Central Avenue just being kind of rundown, it was a bunch of furniture stores and check cashing places. And now it’s a really vibrant commercial corridor. And I think that’s fantastic. And it’s just that the challenges that we’re facing right now are just so different from 2005. So I just kind of framed it as I’m not running against the incumbent, I’m running to take on these challenges of which I’m really uniquely equipped to take up.”

What do you bring to the table for Ward 1?

“One thing that really stood out to me was question [two on the ballot] failed to pass but had support in Ward 1. And that was largely because of our campaign, I think, because I was going door-to-door telling people, ‘Hey, we need to have an alternative response to police.’ … And so in having that firsthand experience trying to implement these alternatives, I think [it] really shaped a lot of the conversations I was having at the doors and gave people a level of confidence that I would be a good shepherd of some of those initiatives.”

What is your overall vision for Ward 1 and how do you intend to represent the residents of Ward 1?

“I think that’s kind of what happened with question two is people either fought it, or froze, because the uncertainty of it was too frightening. And there’s intentional messaging around making it sound scarier than it was … Although the Department of Public Safety didn’t pass the budget amendment, the mental health team is still ongoing. And the reason I ran is to make sure that that’s a success. And so what I want to see is, can we build on that success? … Can we imagine a community liaison for those businesses on Central Avenue, having somebody that’s just doing a walking patrol that doesn’t need to be a police officer, but maybe they can be trained in conflict resolution and de-escalation?”

One of your key messages is that the status quo has failed. What are you looking to do to make something new for the people of Minneapolis?

“One of the things that I talked a lot about on the campaign trail was grounding every one of my decisions and policies … in racial equity. And I think that Minneapolis in particular, having this tradition and reputation for being such a progressive city, I really want to interrogate that. Because we have some of the biggest racial disparities in the country. Whether it’s homeownership, education, employment, we have some of the biggest wealth disparities and the status quo basically says those disparities are just a cost of doing business in a modern society … This discriminatory policy making still lives with us today. How can we be intentional about closing the gaps that exist today as a result of that legacy?”

Do you think a big credit to your campaign’s success was being someone that can go door-to-door and talk directly to people and relate directly with their experiences?

“Yeah. And I think also, one of the things I tried to be intentional about is to personalize the stories, the policies through storytelling. For instance, my brother is bipolar. And I personally had to call the police on my brother before because he was having a manic episode at a level that I just couldn’t manage it by myself. And there’s just nowhere to go. At some point, when somebody is in a crisis, you just have to call 911. And hope. And when the police arrived, they grabbed me because I fit the description. And it was terrifying … So I always tried to ground it in real experiences.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity.