In 2017, Andrea Jenkins’ victory in a Minneapolis City Council race made her the first Black transgender woman to win public office. Last year, she became the nation’s first openly-trans council president — which earned Jenkins more national attention.
“I am experienced, I build bridges and I get things done,” Jenkins said Saturday at the Ward 8 DFL endorsing convention.
But the pioneering politician’s skepticism about rent control and her stances on tent-encampment evictions and public safety issues have put her on weak footing with the left wing of Minneapolis’ already-left-of-center electorate — and on Saturday, Jenkins lost out on the DFL party’s endorsement for her re-election bid.
More than two-thirds of delegates at the Ward 8 convention voted to endorse Jenkins’ challenger, Soren Stevenson, who has also secured the endorsement of the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter. Stevenson has declared his support for a strict rent control ordinance and a new approach to policing and public safety.
“The kinder, safer city that meets our basic needs is one that is possible,” Stevenson said during the convention, “if we have new leadership who is committed to getting us there.”
Thanks to all of my supporters who worked tirelessly to participate in our democracy. Although today’s results are not what we’d hoped for, I will continue to fight for equity, dignity and respect for the people of ward 8 and be your champion and voice for a better Minneapolis.— Andrea jenkins (@Andrea4Ward8) May 20, 2023
The resounding result at Ward 8’s virtual convention came despite not only the power of Jenkins’ incumbency, but also technical problems and confusion around the online voting process that party volunteers scrambled to resolve.
(Sidenote: the DFL postponed another convention in Ward 6 when the hired Somali language interpreter didn’t show up. In Ward 8, Spanish translation was unavailable in the videoconference for much of the convention.)
@sorenmpls started giving a victory speech to the war room — before being invited to speak to the convention pic.twitter.com/BdpUuozio7— Kyle Stokes (@kystokes) May 20, 2023
The Ward 8 convention’s question-and-answer session with the candidates offered a glimpse at the candidates’ views on several major issues. Here are a few of Jenkins’ and Stevenson’s answers:
Clearing tent encampments for unhoused people
Stevenson called the city’s current policy on encampment evictions “cruel” and “ineffective.”
“We are wasting our money. We are wasting our time,” Stevenson said, urging an approach that recognizes homeless individuals’ “humanity, and gets people places to live rather than pushing them from place to place and pretending that that’s going to ever deal with the issue.”
“This is a very challenging problem that is impacting cities all across the country,” Jenkins said, saying the city leans on its shelters and surrounding supports “that can help people find housing if they take those opportunities.”
“We do need to improve how we communicate about these closures,” Jenkins said, and added later: “We need support services for people dealing with mental health and chemical dependency issues.”
Rent control & tenant supports
Though Minneapolis voters approved a measure that would give the City Council the power to propose a rent control policy, Mayor Jacob Frey has threatened to veto it — and the council currently lacks the votes to override that veto.
Stevenson supports “strong” rent stabilization. He didn’t specify whether he supported a specific proposal — favored by more hard-line rent control proponents — for a firm 3% cap on annual rent increases.
In her answers at the convention, Jenkins listed alternatives to rent control that would offer more targeted help to low-income renters: “rental assistance,” or a guaranteed basic income program. In statements at council meetings, Jenkins has indicated she’s skeptical a rent control policy alone will deliver help to the most cost-burdened tenants.
“If we have a strict rent control policy,” Jenkins said Saturday, “that will limit how we can address this problem. It can be a part of the solution, but it can not be the only solution.”
Stevenson also said he supported giving tenants the opportunity to purchase multi-family property that goes up for sale before it’s made available to outside buyers. He also supported limiting landlords’ ability to evict tenants without just cause.
The city moved to end single-family-only zoning in the city and clear the way for up to three units of housing on every residential property as part of the 2040 comprehensive plan. Jenkins said this change will pave the way for more housing supply and drive down the cost of housing.
Jenkins also said she supported inclusionary zoning, which means that “whenever a development goes up, it means that [developers] have to [build] 20% affordable units or put money into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is growing by leaps and bounds.”
“We must continue to fight to ensure that we can build more dense communities and neighborhoods,” Jenkins said.
“The 2040 plan was a great step forward,” Stevenson responded — but said that the city can go even further to remove barriers to putting denser housing developments in place.
“We cannot rely on the free market alone to give everyone housing,” Stevenson added. “That will never work.”
‘Why should I trust a white man?’
The question that had most delegates buzzing hearkened back to Jenkins’ place as a pioneering Black and trans politician — and what it meant for Stevenson to get the party’s backing over her.
During Stevenson’s opening statement at the convention, he noted that he lost an eye after Minneapolis Police fired a less-lethal projectile at him during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020: “I’ve had to understand what it means to be a white man shot and the struggle for black liberation.”
Delegate Roxanne Anderson asked Stevenson about that comment: “Can you tell me why I should trust that over the ongoing lived experience of a black trans woman?”
Stevenson answered: “My neighbors have said loud and clear that we are not headed in the right direction for a kinder, safer city … We do not have institutions that treat Black people, Brown people, Indigenous people with dignity and respect.”
Jenkins responded: “I have a lifetime of experience in trying to overcome racism. I have to state that I agree with some of the aspects that my opponent has mentioned: racism exists in every single institution … I have been working for decades to try and eliminate that from this city … and I am not sure how a white guy is going to solve that problem.”
Jenkins’ answer drew a reaction in Stevenson’s campaign headquarters that participants on the Zoom call could hear, with a mingle of groans and laughs audible.
“Racism is a white problem,” Stevenson said in an interview afterward. “It was created to benefit the white race. We need to have everyone in this fight working against racism. And if a white man can’t be a part of working against racism, then we’re really in a sad place.”