Minneapolis City Council Lacks Diversity

Madison Dibble

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council’s newest members have taken their seats following the November elections. While they certainly check every diversity box as far as race, gender, and sex, they lack experience beyond the soapbox, as nine out of 13 council members have a background consisting solely as community organizers. 

  • Kevin Reich (Ward 1) worked for the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association.
  • Steve Fletcher (Ward 3) was the executive director for Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.
  • Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4) worked for the City of Minneapolis Youth Violence Prevention Executive Committee.
  • Abdi Warsame (Ward 6) founded Citizen’s Committee for Fair Redistricting.
  • Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) was a baby-killer extraordinaire while acting as the state affiliate for National Abortion Rights Action League.
  • Alondra Cano (Ward 9) was a legislative aid for City Council Vice President Robert Lilligren.
  • Lisa Bender (Ward 10) was a City Planner for the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
  • Jeremy Schroeder (Ward 11) served as a Policy Director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership.
  • Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) founded NAVIGATE, an immigrant college access program.

The nine community organizers are diversified by Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8), who is a poet and curator for the GLBT Collection at the University of Minnesota, and Cam Gordon (Ward 2), who is the author of the important book Together with Montessori ,which is an introductory guide to Montessori education. Because you probably need an introduction to Montessori, the American Montessori Society sums it up as “The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood.”

That leaves us with the two outliers: Andrew Johnson (Ward 12) and Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5). 

Andrew Johnson brings the only real-world experience to the Council with his background as a systems engineer at the Target Corporation. 

Jeremiah Ellison is an anomaly in on the council in that it is unclear whether he has ever held a job. His website states that he is “an artist and an organizer.” The job title that got him the job was “Congressman Keith Ellison’s Son,” but that is not listed on his website.

Mayor Jacob Frey was a civil rights attorney. 

The Minneapolis City Council has been lauded far and wide for its diversity, and if one classifies diversity only by skin color and gender identification, they are right. We have men, women, trans, white, black, and Hispanic, but what does that diversity offer the city?

Diversity is not a strength in painting a better picture. Diversity is a strength in providing a plethora of backgrounds and stories that can influence each other for positive change. 

That diversity in background is not found on this city council. It leads to the council routinely dismissing members of the community because they do not understand community members’ backgrounds. 

While St. Paul only has seven council members, they offer a much more diverse background. They have a former police sergeant, lawyers, nonprofit managers, and, yes, community organizers. 

These diverse backgrounds lead to some heated moments, like when Councilman Bostrom stormed out after an anti-cop debate sprang out. 

That debate is good for the city. 

So many people criticized President Trump’s lack of political experience as a weakness, but the signers of the Constitution included doctors, teachers, farmers, and lawyers, none of whom had political experience.

Diversity of background is far superior to diversity of physical traits, but it is rarely sought out, and it hurts the city.

From forcing bars to provide earplugs to banning menthol tobacco, the city council continually passes resolutions that hurt businesses for the simple reason that they do not understand businesses. 

When they have a businessman come to meet with a handful of sales receipts and purchase data discussing how a menthol ban will hurt business, they do not care. When a kid walks in and says his grandpa died of cancer, they care. 

They also do not understand policing because they are not police. They do not want to hear about how understaffed police are less effective, but they could listen to hours of testimony on unpleasant interactions with the police.  

Their background in community organizing tells them to care about these issues, but the city council’s job is not to care. Its job is to strengthen the economy and keep people safe. 

While the lack of diversity on the city council is not a strength, it is understandable why someone would be drawn to the job. 

Following the November elections, the city council quietly approved $10,000 raises to its own members, raising their pay to $98,696 per year. Mayor Jacob Frey voted to raise his own pay $10,000 to $126,528, which is a lot of money for a job with no real power. It is hard to come by a six-figure community organizing gig. 

The council may pride itself on diversity, but until the  members strive toward diversity of background Minneapolis will continue to be a stagnant city with rising crime.