MinnPost will be regularly publishing profiles of candidates running for Minneapolis City Council. Up today: Rita Ortega, running for the open seat representing Ward 9. Also in the Ward 9 race so far: Jason Chavez, Al Flowers, Jr., Carmen Means, Haji Yussef, Michael Moore and Saed Haji.
No Minneapolis City Council race has more candidates at the moment than the contest to represent Ward 9, which includes the Powderhorn, Corcoran, Longfellow, Midtown and East Phillips neighborhoods, and became an open seat when Council Member Alondra Cano announced she would not be seeking reelection.
The early rush of candidate announcements — there are now seven known candidates to date — includes a bid from Rita Ortega, who currently works for the Little Earth Residents Association: “I’m running because I have felt how … issues can impact people for the rest of their life,” she said. “I have been born from these issues of police brutality, homelessness, generational trauma, addiction.”
The 31-year-old was born in Minneapolis and lived among the Little Earth of United Tribes until she was 10, when her family experienced homelessness. They lived in tents around the state until she was 14, when they were able to return to Little Earth, a housing development where more than 30 American Indian tribes are represented. “We shouldn’t have any more children or anyone experience what we experienced,” said Ortega.
She graduated high school from an alternative school that specialized in educating Native Americans and received an associate’s degree in human resources from Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Now back living in Little Earth, she serves as a senior executive assistant for the Little Earth Residents Association, communicating issues and desires between board members and residents. “I would be the first Little Earth resident, first public housing resident, to go along with the first Indigenous woman elected to the City Council,” said Ortega. “I’d be the first to honestly say that I’ve lived through every single issue that we are addressing right now.”
If elected, Ortega said she would strive to provide more shelter beds in the city and work with Hennepin County to lower the barrier of entry to shelters for homeless people who may struggle with addiction or with following shelter rules. “When I was a child, back then in 2000, being homeless was criminalized,” she said. “We ended up going up north because of how hard it was working with the legal system in the city.”
She said she’d look to expand the city’s public housing stock. One way to do that, Ortega suggests, is by defunding the Minneapolis Police Department and creating an alternative public safety system, one that also frees up resources to help address mental health issues and addiction.
And whatever policy directives she would push in Ward 9, said Ortega, she said she would bring her experience to be “community-driven” on council.