An introduction to your Green Party City Council candidates
by Brian Kaller & Adrienne Urbanski
This year more Green candidates are running in city races than ever before. In addition to endorsing Farheen Hakeem for mayor of Minneapolis, Annie Young for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Dave Berger for the Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation and Ian Stade for the Minneapolis Library Board, Green Party Minnesota is supporting six candidates for city council. This week’s Pulse takes a look at who’s running on the Green ticket in Minneapolis’ city council races.
BICKING: 9th Ward
by Brian Kaller
This is Dave Bicking’s first time as a political candidate, but he has
been a political activist for almost 40 years—as a labor organizer, peace
demonstrator, conservation advocate and small business owner. Bicking, who has
owned an auto repair shop in the 9th Ward for 13 years, said the stadium issue
was the catalyst for his City Council run.
“When I went to testify at the Hennepin County public hearing, there was
a long line of stadium supporters,” Bicking said. “Most represented
businesses or organizations that would benefit financially—though none
of them indicated an interest in paying part of the cost. What is shameful is
that so many of our political leaders support the stadium in spite of clear
and overwhelming public opposition. The stadium debate is a symptom of a much
larger issue—who are our leaders listening to?”
push for a publicly-funded, privately-owned stadium has percolated through Twin
Cities politics for 10 years, and Twins’ owner Carl Pohlad’s most
recent attempt has garnered support from several prominent city leaders, including
the top two contenders for mayor. Pohlad’s latest proposal would entail
a $353 million donation from taxpayers, a move promoted as good for business.
But Bicking believes that, while big business looks after its interest, residents
must look after theirs.
“It is to be expected that large corporations will seek competitive advantage
through public subsidies,” Bicking said. “That is their nature,
and their responsibility to their stockholders. In a democracy, it is the responsibility
of our representatives to resist, and to look out for the public interest. I
will remain conscious of that responsibility while I am in office.”
Another major problem with the city government, Bicking said, is that the federal
and state governments have rescinded their role of aiding the population. When
politicians of both major parties have reduced taxes for the wealthy and for
corporations, they have put more of a burden on city governments, and Bicking
wants to see that Minneapolis retains its populist priorities.
“Resources are being squandered on war, while social services, health
care and education have been cut,” Bicking said. “City government
is a level at which we can and must resist.”
Bicking advocates urban development that eschews stadiums and tourist attractions
in favor of poor areas and small, locally owned businesses. He also favors a
living-wage ordinance and programs for affordable housing to boost the standards
of the lowest-income residents.
While most politicians must respond to the will of major campaign donors, he
said, Greens have some freedom from such financial pressure.
Party politicians can be more independent, so that we can be more responsive
to our constituents,” he said. “Unlike the Republicans or the DFL,
we receive no money, and therefore no pressure, from large corporations and
PACs … The Green Party is different from some other movements in our focus
on electoral politics and our work on a wide range of issues. But we are not
separate from other movements—we are part of them, and they are part of
us, informing and motivating us as a party.”
One of the most widely-publicized city issues has been the city’s police
force, and Mayor R.T. Rybak was praised for replacing the chief of police. Bicking
said he favors reducing crime through social programs like youth programs, more
jobs and housing, and other long-term methods, as well as strengthening the
Civilian Review Board to ease tensions between the police and the poor.
Besides a Green Party endorsement, Bicking said he has received support from
many DFL members and the large immigrant population in his ward, people who
have come to know him through his community activism.
“I have known Dave Bicking for over three decades, during which time I
have been impressed by his sense of ethics, his strong support for anti-racism
and issues of social justice, and his deep understanding of environmental issues,”
said health specialist David Weisberg. “He’s the only politician
I have ever trusted.”
Reggie Birts: 8th Ward
by Adrienne Urbanski
Reggie Birts looked far and wide to find a political
party that was the right fit.
In 1984, at the tender age of 21, Birts’ interest
in politics was triggered by Jesse Jackson’s run for the presidency. While
he was a student at the University of Minnesota, Birts hosted a political radio
show on student station KUOM, where he met political candidates of all parties.
Birts explored his political ideologies by working on five campaigns as a student,
two of which were for Republican candidates.
a while Birts turned his interest toward the DFL, finding some matches with
his own ideals, though Birts became frustrated at the lack of change the party
was willing to bring about.
“I kind of was disenchanted with the Democratic Party,” he said.
“Right before a primary two and a half years ago I was invited to a meeting
for the Green Party. I’d been hearing more about the party and the 10
key values and I felt like this fit with me. I’ve always tried to live
in harmony with mankind and make this world better than I found it.”
At the Green Party meeting Birts talked with a party member about his ideals.
The member told Birts that, “You’re Green, you just don’t
know it yet.”
Birts sees violence and crime as two of the most dire problems residents in
the 8th Ward face; the seriousness of the problems became even more noticeable
to Birts after being robbed at gunpoint while walking home within the ward.
Birts plans to ameliorate the situation by stopping it at its source—the
youth who become sucked into crime as a way to fill their lives. Birts sees
his past experience working with the African American Men's Project as helping
him better understand the problems and their roots.
“I think we really have to replace the activity these people are involved
in, we can’t just lock them up or throw them off the streets. Clearly
we have to go to where the problem starts. I know that Powderhorn has really
been helping by providing activities and distractions away from crime,”
Birts sees the solutions the cities have been using as too one-sided.
“Too often the city thinks that the only solution is putting more cops
on the street,” he said.
Birts’ resume is long, covering everything from radio talk show host to
serving in the military and as a parole officer. Birts sees all of his experiences
as applicable to the open City Council position in some way. Even working as
a custodial engineer in the high schools of the 8th Ward was a means of learning
the conditions of the area’s schools.
Encouraging economic development in the poorer neighborhoods of the ward is
also a chief concern of Birts, who wants to see the financial opportunities
for his constituents grow. He sees his current employment as a loans officer
as a means to aid those in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been in the mortgage industry for three-and-a-half years,
so I’m the first person they come to, I know how this works.”
Birts also hopes to see economic stimulus occur within the African American
community, a problem he became aware of as a chair on the economic committee
for the NAACP. Birts’ interest in creating economic opportunites for minorities
has led him to encourage Allina, the company that took over the old Sears building
in his ward, to hire an adequate number of minority workers within the area.
Surprisingly to some, Birts also sees cultural diversity as a problem that the
areas within his ward need to deal with better. He sees the minorities within
his ward as being isolated and separate from each other.
“I really emphasize the need for the inclusion of cultural diversity within
the 8th Ward. Of course there have already been some token examples of this,
but they’re mostly for show. There’s little inclusion for people
Birts recognizes however that this problem is not one with any easy identifiable
solution, but rather one that the ward will have to slowly work toward. He also
hopes that this is a problem he will be able to work with the city on, should
he take office.
Gordon: 2nd Ward
By Adrienne Urbanski
Cam Gordon is a busy man, finding time for an interview only while out knocking
on the doors of those who call the 2nd Ward home. Five days a week Gordon and
those working on his campaign set out and use the Greens’ concept of grassroots
democracy to reach the residents of his ward. Gordon says this is how some Green
candidates like Natalie Johnson Lee have been able to defeat their well-established
As if the door-knocking didn’t consume enough of his time, Gordon also
runs a Montessori school out of the lower level of the duplex he calls home.
The father of six also serves as associate editor of the Public School Montessorian,
as a reporter for The Seward Profile and as editor of the Profile’s West
Bank stories section.
As a father, much of Gordon’s concerns for the ward and the city at large
are for its children. Among Gordon’s plans for the children of the city
is a system where he would like to set up “index indicators” so
that the health of the children could be tracked and resources could be applied
where most needed.
In order to provide the best possible environment for the area’s children,
the state of the ward’s schools and parks are also important to Gordon
“There are several schools and parks in or near the ward. People want
to be sure that these remain healthy and supported by the city and the neighborhoods.
We must find ways to work together with both public and nonpublic agencies and
institutions to ensure that our children grow up in supportive communities and
that people of all ages have good educational opportunities.”
The 2nd Ward remains unique because of the large amount of both university students
and immigrants within its boundaries. While Gordon sees this as contributing
to the rich cultural life of the community and its ability to have thriving
small businesses, he also knows that this presents many challenges for the area.
“It is especially important to find ways to fight against racism and discrimination.
New immigrants must understand both their rights and their responsibilities
as new members of our community.”
Two areas of concern that Gordon identifies are maintaining police and community
relations, and making sure everyone is included in making community decisions.
can do a much better job to ensure that typically underrepresented groups get
the information they need in a way they can understand it. And we need to ensure
that they find a welcoming place in our neighborhood organizations so that they
can participate fully in civic life. Too often students and immigrants feel
unwanted by and disconnected from city government and the civic life of their
Gordon also wants to work towards preserving and promoting the small businesses
and co-ops that exist within his ward. He sees these businesses as helping the
neighborhoods by keeping jobs and money within the community, as well as countering
sprawl, reducing traffic, protecting the open spaces and protecting the local
economies. Gordon feels that small businesses often get the short end of the
stick when it comes to public policy.
“Too often public policy has played a role in fueling the growth of large
corporations at the expense of small businesses. We need to find new ways to
help small businesses and curb the kinds of large scale formula development
that conflicts with the vision so many of us have for our city and for our neighborhoods.”
Gordon ran for this same position last term, losing by only a hair with 49 percent
of the vote. This time Gordon says he’s better prepared for his campaign,
already knowing the ropes and the steps he’ll have to take.
“We are working harder this year and focusing more on doing a better job
of meeting more voters face to face. Many of the issues are the same and I remain
committed to the core values of social and economic justice, grassroots democracy,
ecological wisdom and nonviolence.”
JOHNSON LEE: 5th Ward
by Adrienne Urbanski
Natalie Johnson Lee didn’t always possess the same enthusiasm for politics
that she now displays so strongly in her city council position. Johnson Lee
originally came to Minneapolis not for politics, but to further her corporate
career through a position at General Mills. While living in Minneapolis, Johnson
Lee noticed the concern her two sons displayed toward their public school education.
Wanting to ensure a higher quality of education for all children in the city,
Johnson Lee became interested in groups like the Minneapolis Urban League, for
which she did policy work.
Initially Johnson Lee placed her sights on the DFL, but became frustrated with
what she saw as the party’s avoidance of important issues in order to
ensure more votes.
Upon becoming involved with the Green Party, Johnson Lee immediately found a
solid match for her beliefs and ideals, something she had been starting to see
less and less of within the DFL.
“The DFL just wasn’t right for me. I think the DFL has become too
complacent ... I think they need to reevaluate who they stand for and where
they stand to make it work for all the people and not just businesses.”
Like her fellow Green Party members, Johnson Lee believes deeply in hands-on
campaigning, which she sees as her secret to unseating the well-established
and well-liked former City Councilmember Jackie Cherryhomes.
“I think she [Cherryhomes] had kind of gotten away from that, and no longer
saw that as a necessary part of the campaign. They severely underestimated me
all the way through. Whenever you fly under the radar you can get a lot of stuff
done. No one pays attention to you.”
Johnson Lee agrees that hands-on campaigning is a common practice for Green
Party members, and a key aspect of the fact that it’s the only political
party that’s been growing steadily.
“I think we have to because we’re a third party—the resources
don’t come as fluidly as [they do to] others. We really have to be creative
about how we get people engaged and how we get our message out about what we
have to say.”
of the key concerns Johnson Lee has for her constituents are the problems holding
back development in North Minneapolis, a large part of her ward. Misconceptions,
Johnson Lee says, are a large part of the problem.
“Most people just go by the media’s perception of things. I live
in North Mineapolis because I love North Minneapolis. We’re there because
we just love the area, we love the people. It might have a lot of challenges,
but it has so many jewels and gifts that too often get overlooked. North Minneapolis
provides homes for working class people, it’s near downtown and it has
great housing stock. Because of people’s opinions there is a lot of hesitancy
for businesses to become an active part of North Minneapolis.”
Johnson Lee has already set about using her hands-on strategy this summer by
walking through the North side and making sure everyone is registered and intends
to vote. Far too often she feels voters make the grave mistake of only voting
once every four years, not realizing that important decisions are made with
“There’s the old theory that only those who vote will get the resources
they truly need. The only way that can happen is if you go to the polls and
vote for the office. I think people citywide don’t vote enough, and only
care what happens in a presidential election. We need a greater voter turnout
for local elections. No one gets encouraged to vote in them. To me democracy
is year round, it’s not just every four years. We have to be consistent
and keep the dedication to getting people to vote.”
As an issue, education is still high on her list of priorities, especially with
respect to a quality education for all.
“My biggest issue is making sure we have a platform where all kids have
a good education and have access to some kind of post-secondary education outside
of high school,” she said. “We can have programs to support and
make children successful year round; programs like youth employment, youth summer
employment. We need to connect with organizations that really support and enhance
the growth of young people.”
Johnson Lee sees a direct link between providing adequate education and opening
people’s eyes to the importance of voting.
“Some people are going to realize [the importance in voting] and some
aren’t,” she said. “You just have to educate people, provide
them with information, keep them engaged and connected all the way.”
Neumann: 3rd Ward
By Adrienne Urbanski
Though significantly younger than the other City Council candidates, at 29,
Aaron Neumann already has more political experience under his belt than one
might assume. Neumann first became familiar with the political system by volunteering
on the campaigns of Rep. Karen Clark, Sen. Linda Berglin, and city councilmembers
Shane Price and Don Samuels. Neumann has also remained dedicated to environmental
causes working for both the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action. As a freshman,
he also worked to form the first Earth Club at his high school.
Tying into Neumann’s environmental platform is his concern about public
“I often wonder how we can pay for a stadium but not for the bus,”
Like Dean Zimmermann, Neumann prefers riding his bike to driving, and wants
the city to extend the options for bike riding further by advocating a for the
City of Minneapolis Bikeways Master Plan, (Northeast and Northside Quadrants)
to ensure it's completion by 2010..
Neumann has tried to take his political and environmental concerns to his neighborhood
by working as a board member for the Steven’s Square Community Organization
and the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA).
Concerns for the state’s drug laws have been an issue for Neumann since
the beginning of his campaign; specifically the penalties associated with marijuana
usage. Neumann has been involved in a number of groups relating to legalizing
marijuana, including as Chair of NORML MN, and he was a co-organizer with Gov.
Ventura of the first-ever nationally State-sponsored medical marijuana forum.
The Minneapolis Observer, in its June/July issue, suggested that his stance
on de-criminalizing marijuana, combined with his youth, could hurt Neumann’s
chances. Later, though, the Observer admitted to underestimating Neumann’s
viability as a candidate. Neumann says his campaign doesn’t focus on the
Drug War quite as much as he is credited with, and that his concern extends
to the harsh penalties that residents in his ward face, which he sees as being
“According to the latest numbers available from our Bureau of Criminal
Apprehension (BCA) Criminal Uniform Crime Reports, Minneapolis arrests roughly
1,500 people each year for marijuana offenses alone—and a big majority
for simple possession. That’s about four people every day in Minneapolis
who get arrested for a substance that is far less harmful than alcohol and many
over-the-counter drugs. As if this isn’t enough, Minneapolis leads the
nation in the greatest disparities in black and white marijuana possession arrest
rates,” said Neumann.
Neumann feels that in areas like the North side of Minneapolis, marijuana can
be used as a “leverage tool” for police, and that arresting users
has accomplished little. He would like to see the city shift its focus to treatment
for "hard" drugs.
“Like other progressive cities, we can pass a resolution denouncing our
nation’s failed Drug War, and call for policy that de-penalizes drug users
with a focus on treatment, and pass an ordinance that will de-criminalize the
responsible personal use of marijuana by adults, direct our police to re-prioritize
our enforcement, and level the playing field and ease the tension between cops
and the people they serve,” said Neumann.
Aside from policing drug users, Neumann sees the relations between the police
and the constituents of the 3rd Ward as worsening in recent years.
“I think our police force has become more on edge in recent times, and
therefore more harsh on regular folks. This is in part due to cuts in police,
and in part due to lack of accountability. I
would like to see nobility and respect restored to the police and the communities
they serve. It used to say “To Serve and Protect” on all the squad
cars, and that’s gone now. I personally would love to see “Serve.
Protect. Respect.” as the mission of our police, and back on the squads.”
Predatory lending has also been a key issue Neumann has been addressing within
his campaign, as he feels that the residents of the 3rd Ward are specifically
targeted by such scams. He would like the City Council to pass an ordinance
to prevent fewer city residents from being hurt by these schemes.
“It’s a simple ordinance that the council can pass that defines
what a ‘high-risk’ loan is and then provides counseling to those
who qualify, as a way to end the many foreclosures and bankruptcies that devastate
already fragile communities,” said Neumann.
As for specific changes within the ward, Neumann would like to see the areas
of West Broadway and Lowry Streets transformed into a thriving business community,
dominated by local business owners as opposed to chains. By working to change
the zoning laws of the area, he believes that businesses will be able to more
easily move in.
This revitalization of the ward’s neighborhoods is a large concern for
Neumann, who would like to see the dilapidated buildings of the city turned
into not just new businesses, but low cost housing as well.
Zimmermann: 6th Ward
By Adrienne Urbanski
Those who live in the 6th Ward might be familiar with spotting Councilmember
Zimmermann, riding through the neighborhood streets on his bike, outfitted with
“Vote Zimmermann” signs.
Zimmermann is devoted to his daily bike rides through the ward, not only because
of his dedication to alternative modes of transportation, but also because his
rides bring him closer to his constituents.
“I bicycle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is it saves
me a lot of money and I contribute fewer pounds of pollution in the biosphere.
But it does actually provide me a lot of access to my constituents. They
see me on the street and yell, ‘Hey Zimmermann’ so I go over and
talk with them about what problems they see in the city. So it definitely puts
me in closer contact with my constituents.”
Public transportation and reduced dependency on automobiles are two beliefs
that Zimmermann has remained dedicated to throughout his time spent on the City
Council and while serving two terms on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
“When I first ran for the Minneapolis Park Board 12 years ago, I promised
to make it as easy to bike to work as to drive in the city of Minneapolis,”
said Zimmermann, who sees this promise now as a
Zimmermann also bikes regularly with the Critical Mass—a group that meets
the last Friday of every month to ride en masse through the city streets, promoting
biking as a viable transportation option. In the spring of 2002 Zimmermann used
his position to help ease relations between city police and the group after
an altercation in which members were arrested and had their bikes confiscated.
Zimmermann’s dedication to both his position, as well as to the Green
Party, goes back to his lifelong interest in politics that started as early
as junior high school.
“I’ve always had this driving force in me that it’s important
for me to leave the planet in a better condition than I found it,” he
This force led Zimmermann to become involved in the civil rights movement as
a teenager, and then later in Vietnam War protests.
“When the opportunity came for me to run for political office, I saw it
as a place for me to create social and environmental justice more effectively.”
Zimmermann became acquainted with the Green Party in 1995, and in his 10 years
in office has seen it grow exponentially despite many misconceptions the public
has towards the party.
“Of course there will always be misconceptions about anything that’s
public. A lot of people are hesitant to support new things, that’s always
true. Some people will never be the first one to do anything. The political
system in this country puts up a winner-takes-all system, which means people
don’t want to vote for something that lets the worst possible guy get
elected. To a certain extent it makes it harder for any third party to be successful.
We really have a system that forces us to vote for the lesser of two evils.”
Zimmermann, however, is confident about those misconceptions changing as the
party achieves more and more success.
“We are the only political party that is growing in this country. We have
elected members on the City Council and on the Park Board, and we expect to
increase those numbers,” says Zimmermann.
many of his fellow Greens, Zimmermann spent years working within the DFL, putting
time in on both Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Paul Wellstone’s campaigns.
“I just grew weary that they [the DFL] were never going to be a party
that would stand up for the issues they told people they were standing for.
They continued to nominate safe candidates. I grew tired of all of that. I certainly
have found a better way to change things within the Green Party.”
Zimmermann has used the Green Party in the past few years as a means to discuss
his plans for improving and promoting the public transportation options within
the city. One plan Zimmermann has discussed with his fellow Greens is the Personal
Rapid Transit system (PRT). Zimmermann says PRT doesn’t have the same
problems as other public transportation, in that it’s able to go to more
specific locations and riders don’t have limited times to catch it.
“It’s there waiting for you when you’re ready to go, and it
goes directly to where you’re going.”
Because of the eight years he spent serving on the Park Board, Zimmermann said
that few surprises awaited him when he took on the role of councilmember. He
was surprised, however, about the feelings he developed toward small business
owners within his ward.
“Probably the thing that most surprised me is that I’d become an
advocate and defendant for small business people. When you’re dealing
with a big city like Minneapolis, the bureaucracy has a tendency not to be very
understanding of people caught in the nuances of how things are applied. We
need to find a way to enforce policy in a way that doesn’t run roughshod
Come September 13, the residents of the 6th Ward will take the first step toward
deciding whether Zimmermann will continue to make things easier for small business
owners and bicyclists alike.