Eleven candidates showed up to Open Book in downtown Minneapolis yesterday to discuss Minneapolis’s green energy future. Community Power hosted a Q&A session that included three organized questions as well as a handful of questions that were submitted by people from the attending audience. It was stated at the beginning that Jonathan Honerbrink has redacted his candidacy and will be running for the park board at-large position instead.
The candidates were each given 75 seconds to give a short intro of themselves before questions began, where each candidate seemed to have a distinct focus, though most would be considered left-leaning. Here is a quick rundown of the ideas and plans mentioned by each present candidate throughout the event:
Troy Benjegerdes- A farmer who said he “couldn’t afford to buy a politician” so he became one. He is an electrical engineer who built a solar car that he drove across the country. Benjegerdes talked about utilizing crypto-currency (think Bitcoin) within the city as a way to control the rules of the money rather than the banks controlling it. He believes that we can reach 100% renewable energy within ten years and talked about Minneapolis creating a system similar to the Paris Accord to bring other cities on-board with utilizing renewable energy. He stated that the city could benefit from working with rural communities and hoped that renters within the city could more easily get off the grid to produce their own energy.
Benjegerdes’ last words were that he’s not sure if he’s running for mayor of the city or if he just wants to supply bio-fuel to the city.
Bob Carney- Carney, a former Republican candidate for governor and a lobbyist, urged for a “transit revolution” in the Twin Cities. He stated this every time that he spoke and said that his website has a 150-page plan. He believes a bus stop should have a bus every five minutes and that the city should be investing in smaller vehicles rather than the light rail. He believes in a public/private partnership with transit similar to how the park board works.
Raymond Dehn- Dehn currently represents district 59B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. An architect who lives on the north side, even Flowers repeatedly stated that he would “just hire Ray Dehn for the job,” prompting repeated laughs from the audience. He believes the city hasn’t put enough resources into city buildings or created enough incentives for private businesses to move towards renewable energy, leaving us dependent on Xcel and Centerpoint. Rep. Dehn said that while the focus of the discussion has been on selling new kinds of energy, not enough focus was on conservation and that there should be penalties in place if the large energy companies don’t meet the set goals.
Al Flowers- Flowers, a community activist and organizer, repeatedly stated that he is not a scientist and isn’t going to pretend he knows a lot about the topic at hand. He opened his dialogue by saying “I will defy the Trump administration’s goal of destroying the environment.” As previously stated, he said that he would hire Ray Dehn for the job, since Dehn has the experience. He said that he’s a fighter and thinks that education is the answer to help the poor afford utility costs, and thinks that we need more electric vehicles.
Jacob Frey- Frey is a current member of city council whose ward lies in downtown Minneapolis. He stressed the importance of a visible and present mayor and said that action is the most important way to solve issues. “It’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do.” Frey talked about how we are on the cusp of autonomous vehicles and the opportunities that could be grasped by merging that with public transportation. He also talked about creating a vocational training system for manufacturing solar panels as a way to curb poverty while also pushing the city deeper into renewable energy. He wants the city to be a “beacon of progressivism” in the years to come.
Tom Hoch- Hoch recently retired as CEO of the Hennepin Theater Trust to run for mayor. He believes in “clean, reliable, and safe energy for everyone.” On the topic of electric cars, Hoch said that they still have to be plugged in somewhere and that electric cars don’t necessarily mean clean energy, discussing that we need a citywide grid that comes from renewable sources. He said that he continues to support the Clean Energy Partnership and wants power generation to be in the hands of the public and hopes that the plans can be developed by and with the community. Hoch also mentioned an idea of putting solar panels on the sides of the freeway.
Betsy Hodges- Hodges, the incumbent mayor running for re-election, said that our survival depends on doing away with the use of fossil fuels. She cited some of the initiatives she’s taken part in, which includes founding the Clean Energy Partnership agreement as well as signing Minneapolis to the Paris Accord when President Trump refused to sign it for the country. She brought up an instance that a majority of the city council cut a funding proposal she had for clean energy. She said that Minneapolis is number two in the country for solar energy and believes we should capitalize on that and continue to improve.
Nekima Levy-Pounds- A civil rights attorney and teacher, Levy-Pounds stressed the importance of having people of color reflected in the discussions around the city. She pointed out the lack of diversity in the room during the Q&A and said that black people will be forgotten if they aren’t present, despite people of color making up 40% of the city. Racial and social equity was her focus throughout the discussion, and it was repeated through the answers of others that clean and affordable energy is a socioeconomic issue at its core. The former NAACP President said that while Trump refusing the sign the Paris Accord was foolish, it lit a fire under the mayors of big cities around the country to take action. She hopes to diversify the board for the Clean Energy Partnership, saying that it’s a group that consists primarily of white people. In her closing statements, she repeated that the community of color isn’t adequately represented in the energy conversation.
Aswar Rahman- A self-proclaimed “bulldog” for the people, Rahman said that he moved to the country when he was six and that small business allowed him success as a citizen. Speaking loudly and forcefully, he said that we have the money but lack the political will to push for clean energy. He brought up the impossibility of families of poverty being able to purchase solar panels, mentioning grants and tax incentives to make that a possibility for this socioeconomic issue. Rahman also said that the first place to start utilizing renewable energy is in government buildings. Rahman said that the mayor has one responsibility, which is to “look out for the best interests of the people [of Minneapolis].”
David Rosenfeld- Rosenfeld was the only candidate present that is a part of the Socialist Workers’ Party and repeatedly said that “the problem we face is capitalism.” He said that the capitalist system is destroying labor and land and that it is important for the workers to know their worth. Rosenfeld said that the working class is not organized or powerful enough and that organizing the power of the working class is our best chance at improving conditions for the city.
Captain Jack Sparrow- “I have a funny name but a very serious platform,” were the first words said by Sparrow. A perennial candidate, Sparrow says he has a lot of history working with homeless populations and that he knows what it’s like to be poor. He believes conservation is key, that we need to limit automobiles, utilize smaller vehicles, and expand our bike lanes to improve biking conditions in the city. He believes in community ownership of green energy initiatives and hopes for the basic income guarantee. He also made an off-hand mention of looking into building more underground.