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Hennepin County Commissioner election interview: Anne Mavity

The second of four candidate Q&As ahead of the April 29 primary for the Minneapolis-St. Louis Park seat. 

Editor’s note: this is the second of four candidate profiles to succeed Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. The primary election for the downtown/southwest Minneapolis and St. Louis Park seat is Tuesday, April 29, with the general election May 13. You can read Monday’s Ken Kelash profile here; Ben Schweigert and Marion Greene profiles will appear Wednesday and Thursday.

Anne Mavity started her career as a neighborhood organizer in Minneapolis and later spent four years in Russia for the United States Agency for International Development teaching citizens how to make change using the ballot and free speech.

A two-term St. Louis Park City Council member, she encouraged her colleagues to join her in voting against the Minnesota marriage amendment.

She wrote housing and community development legislation for the U.S. Congress and earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University.

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She has served as a member of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Hennepin County Workforce Investment Board.

Mavity is a biker and a runner who has completed two marathons and three triathlons. She is 50.

She is one of six candidates for Hennepin County Commissioner in District 3 to replace Gail Dorfman who resigned from the board earlier this year.

MinnPost: What would you have done differently with the Southwest Light rail Line?

Anne Mavity: We have to get a regional system built, and Southwest Light Rail is one line of that system. At this point we are building them out at about once every 10 years and that is totally inadequate to create the system we need in the time we need.

We need to be really smart about moving forward. That is my position. I feel very strongly about that.

I’ve been fortunate, or unfortunate I guess, to be on the front lines with this project. My particular perch has been focused on land use and development surrounding the light rail. I’ve been on the Hennepin County Southwest Light Rail Community Works Committee looking at how we leverage that investment to create jobs and affordable housing around those stations.

That’s the excitement of this project. It’s not about moving a single person from Eden Prairie to Downtown; it’s really about job development and investments.

One of the key challenges of the project overall is the perceived and real, and I think it’s a little of both, lack of transparency in the process.

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I think the biggest loss in the project is the loss of trust. I think that needs to change in future projects. I don’t know how much that can change in this project.

At this point in time we’re fairly down the path and we need to move forward and get this project moving, to work with the Met Council. Let’s roll our sleeves up and figure this out.

But this lack of transparency has been one of the challenges. In any large project, having authentic community engagement is a challenge. There are so many parts of this. It’s so complex.

Anne Mavity
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Anne Mavity

The trust that all of the options were thoroughly reviewed and looked at early on, when we had much more flexibility, that’s been one of the challenges.

Very specifically, when the locally preferred alternative was chosen, freight trains were not part of the discussion and were very explicitly not part of the process.

I think in retrospect, that was a key misstep and has certainly caused us a lot of angst along the way.

There were many routes and alternatives reviewed and looked at. This one would not necessarily be my first choice. I know everyone has an opinion about where it would be best. But this is where, for a thousand reasons, where we landed. So I think we need to move forward.

But the fact that when we were looking at the alignment of the light rail, at that point in time freight was very explicitly excluded from the discussion, I think that is part of the problem.

Originally, in St. Louis Park, I was the one, on a 6-to-1 vote, who said let’s reroute the freight trains north through St. Louis Park past the High School where both of my children were in attendance. There were many residents of St. Louis Park who were very unhappy with me at that time.

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There are certainly challenges to co-location (freight and light rail in the same area) but I am absolutely supportive, at this point in time, of the Met Council recommendation.

No one is completely happy with anything so maybe we’re doing something right.

MP: The winner in this contest will take office while Hennepin County and the cities along the SWLR line are in the process of deciding the question of municipal consent. Minneapolis is at odds with the current plan. What do you do to get them into the fold?

AM: I’m running for Hennepin County Commissioner. I am not running to be the Metropolitan Council Chair. I am going to trust that the City Council and the Met Council are rolling their sleeves up because I believe that Mayor Hodges and the others are very committed to equity and the regional transit system.

They have another two and a half months to work this out. I’m not going to second guess or tell them what needs to happen in their negotiations. I think they are all extraordinarily competent, dedicated folks who can figure this out.

MP: Leaders in Minneapolis and St. Paul are dedicated to closing the opportunity gaps that exist between persons of color and those who are white. How would you move Hennepin County if this direction?

AM: This issue about disparities and justice is a cornerstone of my campaign, and frankly, of my career.

This county has an enormous opportunity to have a wonderfully positive impact in moving this forward and they need to do that. Disparities and the dispiriting impact of them need to be the lens through which all of these programs are being judged. Everything from transit to libraries, to health care to housing, the whole range, has both an opportunity and a responsibility.

When we look at policies we are looking at money. Where we put our money should follow our policies, which should follow our values. I think that’s not always true. I think that needs to be a core piece.

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If we create this world class transit system, if we do all of this work within the county and we still have the kind of disparities we have now, we will have failed.

For example, libraries are a key issue. On a Saturday morning you go into the libraries, and for all of these families, all of these children who do not have computers at home, the libraries are places to do homework, or search for a job. Libraries are a key tool.

Investing in early childhood education is another key area. We’ve heard a lot about how, if we don’t invest in our children very early, we lose these critical learning moments in brain development.

Once they start kindergarten, if they are not all at the same starting line, catching up is extraordinarily hard. It is not cost effective to just let this go and not address it. It’s certainly not the right thing to do. It’s not the moral thing to do.

We have up to 2,500 children homeless in our community every night, every night, and we have normalized this, and we have accepted this when we should be outraged knowing that those children are going to experience trauma that needs to be addressed.

We expect them to go to school and learn with that kind of anxiety and instability. Most of us would not be able to handle that at all.

We need to be forward thinking and start investing in programs we know are delivering outcomes, particularly in early education issues, to address these disparities.

The county has key opportunities to leverage both its own resources and to partner and collaborate with other stakeholders. That is what we need to do more of to address disparities.

One last point: The county leadership at all levels does not look like our community and we need to make sure we are creating opportunities for communities and community leaders to participate authentically.

Hennepin County

My background is as a neighborhood organizer, it’s where I started my career, and to me this piece is absolutely critical. Communities need to be empowered and have the capacity to engage so they can be involved in the decisions that impact their lives.

The county’s key role is to make sure every family has enough of their basic needs met so that as the children enter school they are prepared to learn. It is the schools’ job to teach our children but the county can play a key role in making sure the children are going to school from a stable home, that they are coming back to a stable home, that they have food in their bellies, the nutrition they need to actually allow them to learn.

The county has a key collaborating role, a leadership role in making sure our children are prepared so that when they walk into that school room the teachers can do what they do best which is teach.

MP: What do you bring to this contest that makes you a better choice for County Commissioner than your opponents?

AM: What I offer is that I have 30 years of commitment and a track record of actually doing the work. It’s not just talking about what we would like to see.

My first job out of college was as a neighborhood organizer fighting to make sure we had resources in a central neighborhood in Minneapolis. I was on the Civil Rights Commission standing up way back then before that was popular or easy.

I worked for Congress writing laws on housing and community development. For the last 16 years I have worked professionally to prevent and end homelessness, linking together these very complex service systems with affordable housing and opportunities at the policy level and at the project level.

When I have come into this, it’s not just talk. I have done the work. I have delivered results. I understand who those partners are we need to engage and I have the relationships.

I’ve worked for Congress. I understand the legislative role. But local government is a very different role.

I’ve worked with a seven-member board trying to figure out how we move a policy forward. I have a track record for doing that.

I led the way to do citywide organics recycling as part of a new 5-year garbage and recycling contract. It sounds easy. Let’s all say we’re going to do it. But it takes a year of hard work.

These are things we should be doing citywide in Minneapolis, we should be doing it county wide to have an impact on being good environmental stewards for the generations to come. I have the track record to demonstrate that I know how to do this.

This is not a simple job and I think I bring the most demonstrated commitment for doing the work and getting results.

And let me add that working with the community in solving problems is a whole different way of addressing issues than just being smart enough to figure out the right thing to do by yourself. 

The messiness of democracy is where I have lived my life, my career. Folks may not agree on things and you work through that process with the community and that’s how you get the best decisions coming out the other end.

That’s a skill set that, compared to the other candidates, I have done throughout my life, in every job.

MP: The winner of this contest will have to run again come November. If you lose in May will you challenge the winner this fall?

AM: No. I plan on winning. (Laughs) Should I not have that privilege I have great work that is very fulfilling, ending homelessness and creating opportunities. I serve on the City Council and work with the community.

MP: You will not have much time between May and November to establish a track record. What will your number one priority be and how will you make that happen?

AM: I would say the core core issue of my campaign is equity and ending disparities. And to get the county to provide increased transparency in its budgeting and programs and accountability. And understanding, across all programs, where its investments are being made and how it’s impacting the communities within the county. We need details.

For example, the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, the garbage burner. The county just passed a $407-million allocation for that this past month. We need details about what that’s for. I think it’s been since 2002 that we’ve had any real reports on the environmental impact of that project.

I want to understand how the county’s money is going into communities of color. For example, if the county is saying we need to look into health issues of Somali women. Are we working with that community to do that? Or are we working with the traditional organizations who hire their one Somali outreach worker? 

MP: Hennepin County is second only to the state of Minnesota in size. Yet some complain that it is an almost invisible government. Do you think this is a problem? What do you do to change this image?

AM: For the single mom who is in our shelter downtown at People Serving People and meeting with her social worker and going to the Workforce Board to get a job while her kids are at the library doing their homework, the county is not invisible to her.

It’s quite a privilege to say the county is invisible. The people I have dedicated my life and my career to, the county is not invisible to them.

Is it as responsive as it needs to be? Not necessarily.

But this issue of invisibility, I think, what a privilege that the county is invisible to you because you are not in need of these services.

I think the county needs to authentically engage the community in the issues that are impacting them. So when we do road re-designs, like we just did Lyndale Avenue from Lake Street all the way down, the community needed to be involved in that planning and that visioning. Working with neighborhood groups, working with neighbors. That’s absolutely critical.

I think our focus is less about making it less invisible and more about the people who have to use these county services, who are in the emergency room because they have an abscessed tooth and don’t have access to health care.

We need to make sure we are delivering cost effective, quality, [respectful] services to folks so they have an opportunity to move ahead and succeed.

The tendency has been to engage folks you know best and are most comfortable with. What I’m saying is that we need to go beyond that into constituents and communities that have not been engaged and have not had a voice in really being able to help the county articulate what programs, policies and investments would best benefit those we’re trying to serve.

MP: Is there a question I haven’t asking that would your like to answer?

AM: I’m a Washburn [High School] graduate. Not only is southwest Minneapolis my stomping ground, I know every nook and cranny of this community. My first apartment was on Hennepin and 26th. The work I’ve done has been in the policy arena of Minneapolis.

I’m on the St. Louis Park City council. I know and love St. Louis Park.

So when Minneapolis is thinking about who is going to be their best partner on the County Board, to help the city succeed as a city, what I offer is an understanding of what that is and how we best leverage each other’s resources and energies to move this community forward.

MP: This final question is the product of a journalism seminar I attended a few years ago. It is designed to get people to talk about themselves and perhaps reveal something about who they are. Here’s the question: What is your favorite childhood memory. How does that influence you today?

AM: I grew up on Park Avenue and the creek. And my mother worked downtown at the Government Center so she wasn’t around during the day.

So all of those kids, we would live in the creek all day long, finding crayfish, following the creek to Lake Nokomis, sitting under the falls, the memories of those long summer days just hanging around.

Before we had bike trails, we’d say let’s bike the perimeter of Minneapolis and we’d get on the bikes in the morning and that would be the day’s adventure. Those long summer days just creating our own trouble and our own fun.

I’m a very resourceful person. I think it’s always a challenge with children today who are so programmed. We had so much time unprogrammed and had to create our own fun and our own activities.

That ability to be creative and resourceful and a little bit of measured risk taking was what it was all about.