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Minneapolis mayoral candidate Jackie Cherryhomes Q-A: ‘I bring hands-on experience and relationships’

“I [have] what I sort of think of as a trifecta … a community organizer … experience in the private sector … experience running the City of Minneapolis.”

Jackie Cherryhomes was elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 1989 to represent Ward 5 on the north side. Four years later, she became City Council president.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros

Editor’s note: This is the second  in a series of interviews with seven candidates for Minneapolis mayor. Only those who have filed with the Hennepin County Elections Department to form a campaign finance committee have been interviewed.  The interviews will run in alphabetical order. At the bottom of this article, you can find a short list of high-profile supporters (where provided by the candidate).


Jackie Cherryhomes won her first election 24 years ago, when she was elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 1989 to represent Ward 5 on the north side. Four years later, she became City Council president.

Under her leadership, the city purchased Target Center, built Block E, moved the historic Shubert Theater and expanded the Convention Center.

For the last 12 years, she has run her own business as a consultant and lobbyist for developers, school districts and small businesses.

Now, Cherryhomes, 58, is running for mayor.

In this series of edited interviews, candidates were asked to introduce themselves to voters and respond to some basic questions.

MinnPost: Why are you running for mayor?

Jackie Cherryhomes: I am a lifelong resident of Minneapolis. I am the daughter of an 86-year-old woman living in South Minneapolis and the mother of a 16-year-old that I’m raising in North Minneapolis.

I am someone who has what I sort of think of as a trifecta. I’ve been a community organizer most of my life, in one capacity or another, but organizing people. I have experience in the private sector, having run my own business successfully for the last 12 years and having interacted with a lot of the private sector. And I have experience running the City of Minneapolis, having been the City Council President.

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I left office 12 years ago and I’ve spent the last 12 years in a consulting practice that I’ve built that’s successful.

I am running, not because I am looking at this as a stepping-stone to anything else. I look at this as an opportunity to give back to the city that is my city some good stuff I’ve learned over the years.

I am appreciative of the opportunity to re-introduce myself to people because I think that during the last 12 years I have both grown and changed and learned a lot.

I think I’m a more patient person. I’m a better listener than I was. I still have my strong commitment to social justice issues, probably even stronger than it was before. I think I’m a more well-rounded person in the way I’m going back to City Hall.

MP: You left office because you lost an election. What did you learn from that experience?

JC: I was thinking this morning when I was [out] running:  How am I different?

There are a number of things that have affected me over the course of the last 12 years. I’ve gone through losing a parent and my husband losing a parent. That’s a life-changing experience.

Raising a 16-year-old, raising a daughter, is a truly life-changing experience of the best kind I would say.

Losing an election absolutely changed me. I learned that what we all think of in that little bubble called City Hall as being the most important things in the world often times aren’t what the public is concerned about or sees as being important.

I’ve now spent 12 years in what I think of as the real world listening to people, getting to know people in a different way and hearing what their concerns are.

I think that when you are in City Hall and in that government bubble, you are largely with people who either agree with you or who are part of your world. That becomes very insular.

Losing the election, at the time it was very hard. It was a truly humbling experience. To get fired from your job in front of 350,000 people is a humbling moment in your life.

But when you pick yourself up afterwards, you say, “What am I going to do with that? What am I going to learn from that?”

I picked myself up. I put myself kind of back together. I went out and started my own business and I went out and refocused my life.

I come back at this now with a whole set of experiences and a whole set of views and different relationships than I had before that I think will make me a much stronger Mayor for Minneapolis.

MP: You are a consultant and you are a registered lobbyist. When I see you at City Hall meetings, you stay in the background and rarely speak for your clients. Why?

JC: I never speak for my clients. My role has been to help people strategically understand how to connect with community and how to connect with government to get their project forward.

I’ve worked with developers connecting them to neighborhoods, again, more as a community organizer than anything else. I’m helping people talk to each other about what they want to get done and helping find a way to “yes.”

In that context, I never speak for my clients in public. I can think of maybe twice I’ve done it in 12 years, and that was because there were issues that I probably got more personally involved with than I should maybe have. I cared deeply about them.

I help my clients understand that they need to speak for themselves, they need to own it, they need to not need me later. They need to be able to address government on their own. My best thing is to teach them how to do that.

MP: What would your priorities be if voters handed you four more years at City Hall?  What do you see as the pressing issues?

JC: At the macro level, we need to re-engage the citizens with government. In my travels around, talking to people throughout the whole city, I hear consistently, “Nobody is listening to us, we’re not engaged, there is no place for me to get my ideas across and to fit in.”  We need to re-engage our citizens with the city.

Second, we need to re-engage government with the business community. I see a chasm there. R.T [Rybak] has done a good job in the last four years helping to mend that, but R.T. can’t do that alone.

The City Council, the Downtown Council, everybody needs to be working in the same direction. I see that as another piece, and both of those call for a community organizer. That’s where my skills in organizing people come together.

The third thing is we need to draw ourselves together again as one city. One thing that strikes me over and over again is how we are separating into two cities.

We have two seemingly separate school systems. South and Southwest have transit lines. North doesn’t have that type of transit. We have a lot of division, and we have to figure out how we move together.

In terms of issues I’m concerned about,  I’m concerned about property taxes not driving people from their homes and keeping young families out of homes.

I’m concerned about public safety. We’ve made good strides, but we need to continue on that path and we need to re-think. Are there other things we could be doing in the area of public safety and to engage our citizens more in the public safety aspects of our city?  It’s not just up to the police. It’s up to all of us.

We need to focus on job creation. We have a growing number of people who are not employed. It’s structural unemployment hitting certain communities and pockets of people more harshly than others.

We need to figure that out real soon because if we don’t and we don’t find a way to address both the need for employment by businesses and people looking for employment, if we don’t find a way to address that issue, we’re going to suffer as a city.

We have to have a strong economy in the city that includes people working, strong businesses, strong commercial corridors and houses that have people living in them.

MP: How do you create jobs?  That’s linked with attracting businesses that need to hire people. How do you do that as mayor?

JC: Rather than get overwhelmed by it, we should break it into sectors of things we can do.

One of the things I’m doing right now, for instance, I’m working with a group called the Network for Better Futures that takes men who are coming out of prison, African American largely, and unites them with health care, housing and a job.

There are lots of lower-skill or no-skill jobs out there that we could use to employ these guys. By employing them, we save money on other services these folks would use.

There are instances I can think of where we put these men to work. We have to think creatively about how we do that. That’s one piece of it.

I do some work with the Summit Academy. We want to build on that work. They have an extraordinary training program, not just for the building and construction trades, but for health care.

We need to help them discover the new jobs for the future, and how we train for those jobs and then how we place the students. They have a huge track record. They actually train people and they actually place people. We need to do more of that. That’s another piece of it.

Then we need to look at manufacturing opportunities that want to be in our city. Not everybody is going to have a post-secondary degree. Not everybody who is unemployed right now has one.

More companies are coming back on-shore from offshore. How do we encourage those businesses to be here?  Right now Minneapolis is not the first place they think of when they want to locate. They think of the suburbs. We need to be their first place.

That comes by having a “can do” attitude, by having an open door and saying, “Let’s work with you and figure it out.”

I can think of numerous instances where small businesses wanted to locate their manufacturing jobs or businesses in Minneapolis and haven’t gotten an open door or a “Let’s figure this out” and that’s what we need to do.

Finally, we need to have partnerships between the educational institutions and the businesses. We need to build on the Step Up program for high school students [a summer internship program].  Why not build that into a college program?  Why not have the college juniors and seniors do internships with businesses so they’re prepared to go into those jobs after their graduation?

It’s not just creating jobs. Let’s figure out different pieces of the puzzle and address it a piece at a time. It’s something I do right now.

I’m the only person in this race that has any experience in actually creating jobs and understands how to do that. I bring hands-on experience and hands-on relationships to the mayor’s office.

MP: When you arrived for this interview, you said you had been on the phone earlier today talking to residents living along the proposed Southwest Light Rail route. What were they telling you, and where do you stand on that project?

JC:  I’m a strong supporter of transit opportunities. I’m looking forward to Southwest. I’m looking forward to Central [the Central Avenue/Nicollet Transit Corridor] and I’m supporting the Bottineau line [from downtown to the northwest suburbs] on the north side.

Transit is that force that can bring all of us together. If we talk about job creation, transit is the way for people from south central Minneapolis and central North Minneapolis to get out to a job if there are no jobs in their immediate environment. I’m a firm supporter of transit.

That being said, I think there are some real issues along the Southwest line. One woman I was talking to this morning described it most aptly. She said we are sort of being overtaken by cars, trains and planes, but no one is connecting the dots. There seems to have been a lack of what I would call on-the-ground understanding of how the route works or doesn’t work and the real-life impacts it has along the route.

One of my strengths is that I’m the dot connector. We need to connect the trains, the cars and the planes and figure out the impact on the crown-jewel part of our city, the Lakes area. That’s a challenge, and that’s not happening now.

I think there are some real concerns around the 21st Avenue Station and that neck of the woods. Now, the important part is being active in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and what they’re calling the issues resolution process. I think it’s really important for people to be active in that part of it.

MP: The mayor and the City Council have taken a stand against freight trains and light rail both running in the space between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. Where are you on that issue?

JC: For me a true deal-breaker, if you will, is freight and light rail in the same location. That can’t happen.

MP: We’ve got a lot of transit issues that will be decided in the next four years. We talked some about the Bottineau line and the Central Avenue/Nicollet line. And then there are streetcars being proposed for Nicollet Mall. What are your priorities?

JC: Getting Bottineau situated is an absolute priority. One of the things that keeps the north side isolated from the rest of the city is the fact that you can’t get to there from here. We really need a transit system that works.

Granted, Bottineau will take awhile to get up and running, so we really need to get moving on that process.

Streetcars on Nicollet Mall are not my highest priority. I think the higher priority is figuring out how we deal with safety issues downtown, how we deal with loitering downtown, how we build a strong retail base downtown and how we support the businesses that are there.

Fixing the Mall, and the cracks and all that, is a huge priority, but streetcars are not my big priority.

MP: We have been asking for state bonding money to make repairs on the Mall without success. Where do we go from here?

JC: I don’t know what those partnerships have or have not been. The fact that we’re not being successful tells me something is not working right. But having not been part of those discussions, I’m not going to second-guess.

But I certainly know that when I come into something, I’m persistent, I’m tenacious, and I’m really good at building partnerships. I believe I have strong relationships at the Legislature, and I believe I can get something done.

MP: For the last two years, Mayor Rybak has proposed bare-bones budgets that have not caused the large property tax increases experienced in earlier years. What is your view of property taxes?

JC: I have made a practice since I’ve left City Hall of never second-guessing what people are doing that I’m not immediately and personally involved with, because there is nothing worse than trying to second-guess something you don’t really know anything about.

That being said, my priority would be to hold the line on property taxes and find ways to operate more efficiently. I want to dive in, look at what is working well in departments and what is not working. Where are we with middle-management folks?  Are there ways we could do things better?

Part of that is looking at best practices in other cities. We are not alone on the planet. We are not alone as a city of this size. I believe we can look at other cities and learn from their experiences.

I’m sure there are places in the budget where we could do things differently. We could do things more tightly.

We need to recognize that we have a growing, aging population in Minneapolis and property taxes hit our senior citizens harder than they hit anybody else. That’s a very real issue.

And we need to ensure that people are getting the services they have paid for with their property taxes.

MP: Many city employees have gone several years without a raise in pay. The next mayor might have to deal with that problem.

JC: I’m a strong supporter of the folks who keep the city running. From the time I was on the council, I was always one of the people who was absolutely the last to want to cut anybody in the support roles. Those are important jobs for folks, and those are important jobs to keep our city running well. Those folks are the front lines when constituents call.

I have a real priority for maintaining a good healthy city workforce. Clearly, you can’t work without some incentives and some raises.

MP: In the last year, Mayor Rybak has appointed Police Chief Janee Harteau and Fire Chief John Fruetel. What do you think about those two major appointments?

JC: I don’t know at this point. I don’t know Chief Harteau well enough to make an assessment. She gets really good reviews from people, but I don’t have a personal relationship, so I haven’t had any conversations with her about what her priorities are with regard to policing and how they fit or don’t fit with mine.

And I don’t know the fire chief at this point either. I couldn’t make a guess at what I would do with anybody until I figure out if we share a similar vision.

MP: Mayor Rybak has said he will use his last year in office to get development started in the area around the new football stadium. What do you think needs to be done to make sure we don’t end up with a new stadium surrounded by surface parking?

JC: He’s started off really well. I think the mayor is taking some leadership on thinking through the Ryan Cos. proposal for Wells Fargo (a Wells Fargo campus and park in the area now occupied by the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune).  I think anytime we can get 5,000 jobs located in our city we would be very foolish not to make that happen.

I’ve had conversations with the Elliott Park Neighborhood Association [adjacent to the new stadium site] and I think its really really important that whatever happens over there be in partnership with that Neighborhood Association. They are an excellent neighborhood group.

They’ve worked hard for many years, and they need to be a partner in whatever is going to happen in the heart of their neighborhood.

There are also three churches in the area. How do we work with them?  How do we not lose that piece of the history of our city?  How do we have them be part of what is going to happen in the future?

There are a lot of exciting opportunities. One of the things I am good at is bringing people together and getting things to happen. But I would say the mayor is taking some really good leadership, and I’m pleased with what he’s doing so far.

MP: Part of that stadium legislation provides for remodeling Target Center. That doesn’t seem to be moving ahead. How do you get that going?

JC: I don’t know what is wrong there. Clearly there’s something going on where people aren’t coming together to get a deal done.

I don’t want to sound like I can solve all the problems, but one of the things I do know how to do is get people into the room and get it done.

Target Center was one of those things I cut my teeth on, having Glen Taylor in my office with a couple of critical council members.

We need to make something happen there. I know how to pull people together to do a deal, and something isn’t working there right now.

Time is running out. They need to start moving, because the last thing that they want to do is have the skin off that building and a bunch of construction going on when the Baseball All-Star game is at Target Field. That would just be a mess.

I think we have an opportunity with the Target Center to think bigger than just the Target Center. We should think of making it more of a campus.

How do we involve Block E in the problem solving?  How do we involve the giant parking lot that I think the Mauer family still owns?  How do we start to think about that whole intersection and not just one building?

I think there are people poised to have those conversations but, clearly, something isn’t happening to bring this together. I don’t know what that is, but it needs to move quickly.

The other thing is, you can’t ask people from the community and from the business world — and that Target Center Advisory Committee has some very very excellent partners — you can’t ask them to devote their time and then not be doing something. They have other things to do. It’s sort of an embarrassment to invite people to a meeting where nothing happens.

MP: You were on the City Council when Minneapolis bought Target Center. In retrospect, was that a good idea?

JC: I think it was. The reason I got involved with buying the Target Center when I was on the council was because I looked at the people who were working there. It wasn’t about the Timberwolves at that point for me. I’d never been to an NBA game in my life at that point. I didn’t care about basketball. Now I’m a huge fan.

At that point, it was people’s jobs, and there were people in my ward working there. Keeping it open meant you kept people’s jobs.

Also, all of the hospitality industry downtown was clamoring for that. I think it was a wise investment. At the end of the day we have, on any given game night, 10,000 to 15,000 people downtown that might not ordinarily be there.

That’s good. Anytime we bring some people into our city and they spend some money and they recreate there, it’s good. I think it was a wise investment.

MP: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you want to say?

JC: By re-introducing myself to people, I am reaffirming the fact that I am the only candidate in this race with true citywide experience.

I grew up in South Minneapolis, went to school in South Minneapolis, went to Augsburg, was on the Board of Regents at Augsburg. True South Minneapolis credentials.

I represented Marcy Holmes [across the river from downtown] for 12 years. I built the North Loop and represented the North Loop. I represented Nicollet Island, as well as the north side.

There’s no other candidate in this race with the breadth of city relationships and city experience that I have.

People associate me with the north side because that’s where I live. But the fact of the matter is it’s my city. It’s my city in every sense of the word. It’s been my city for the last 58 years.

I think I’m best equipped to represent it because I have that broad city view and that broad city experience and set of relationships.

Cherryhomes’ high-profile supporters

They include:  former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton; Kathy O’Brien, former U of M vice president for University Services; former City Council Member Walter Rockenstein; former City Council Member Tony Scallon; Al McFarland, president and editor of Insight News; Archie Givens, president of the Givens Foundation; and Carol Meshbesher, community activist.