- To transform the idea of what a candidate and city council member can be;
- To let everyone know that an average person of humble means can change city politics;
- To represent renting artists and hospitality industry folks, as well as property owners and small businesses;
- To bring innovative thinking and unique perspectives to city leadership;
- To listen to your thoughts and bring an independent voice to city government;
- To empower our ideas and create the policies we want.
A quote published in the Southwest Journal's profile seems to sum up his view of the ward in a nutshell. The ward, he says, "is all driven by food and art and entertainment." He argues that his background as a musician, a chef, and former owner of a record-label make him an ideal fit for Ward 10. He also has significant experience in the non-profit world.
Before I write much more, let me state that I like some of Alvin's ideas. Who could disagree with statements like "I am a firm believer that we need more low cost, safe, and clean affordable housing"? I love that he wants to get local food into local schools and retirement homes. I appreciate that he's made support for "mother-in-law cottages" part of his platform. But overall, to be frank, I think his views (or at least his explanations of them) are somewhat simplistic and vague. I agree with him on some things, but strongly disagree with him on many other points. On the other hand, I'm thrilled that he's running, as a race with only one candidate hardly counts as a race. I hope that his participation sparks additional neighborhood discussions. And in the spirit of discussions, here are some of my concerns and disagreements about Alvin's platforms and views:
The Ward is not "all driven by food and art and entertainment." Those activities are all major issues in the Uptown area, but a focus on this overlooks the many other activities and businesses in the area. I like that he is paying attention to these factors (and as a positive - too many people focus on them as negatives), but it does make me wonder if he's going to understand what my issues are and why they matter. Food, art, and entertainment are just one component of the whole.
I don't want an "average" person in office. I realize that he's trying to push a certain image, a man-of-the-people grassroots image. I have no idea if he really considers himself average or not. But why is it acceptable to vote for average people for office? My ideal candidate is brilliant, has a broad range of experiences, and knows the ins and outs of both the neighborhood and the workings of government. I don't care if candidates have money or not, as long as they are aware of and outspoken about the issues facing people of all economic backgrounds.
He lacks details. I know, I know: candidate's websites are often heavy on fluff and big talk, light on the details. I realize that, but when a candidate proposes major changes I want to know just how he or she thinks this is possible. It's good - even desirable - to dream big, but I also want results. Alvin wants to encourage cops to live in the community, for example; sounds great, but what does that mean? Citing "incentives" and mentoring programs doesn't go far enough. And by community does he mean the police should live within city limits? Does a cop living in Camden have a closer affinity to Ward 10 than does a cop living in St. Louis Park? I'd love it if all of our police officers lived within Ward boundaries, but it's not realistic. I'd certainly be willing to hear Alvin's suggestions, though, but want more evidence that he's thought through these issues and has a good grasp of all the implications of whatever proposal he comes up with.
I don't agree with him on the development issue, or at least I don't think I do. Again, websites are a little vague. Maybe some of these details will be discussed in more detail as the campaigns shift into higher gear. On his website Alvin writes "the recent housing property bust has demonstrated the failure of putting everyone in a house. I think the threshold of high-rise condos in the ward has been reached." What does he mean by this? First, there are few high-rise condos in Ward 10, so I'm assuming (although am perhaps wrong) that he's referring to some of the developments along Lake Street and around Lyn-Lake. I would hardly call those high-rise. Of more significance, don't condos provide more living options in the area? How do statements A and B relate? High-rise condos (or medium-rise condo or apartment buildings) are not single family homes; if done right they can be part of the affordable housing solution, not singled out as problem.
Alvin also suggest that local residents need more power over zoning: "no one knows the needs and the wants of neighborhoods more than the people who live there, so locally elected zoning commissions could apply a more accountable standard to development concerns." Ward 10 is already filled with vocal opponents of any and all development project, with most concerns based purely on height. The communities do have a significant voice in new developments. I understand the desire of local neighbors to have some control over what goes up in their own neighborhoods, but more local control is not the right answer. For one thing, how are we going to ensure that these locally-elected zoning commissions reflect the will of the people? Alvin himself acknowledges that local politics need to better incorporate a broader range of residents, including renters; given that local neighborhood boards are currently dominated by middle-aged white homeowners, many of them adamant NIMBYs, why would these zoning boards be any different? I'm the first to acknowledge that not all white boomer homeowners share the same outlook on life or on development, but let's fix the current system and increase representation on the current neighborhood boards before we throw any binding power to local groups, elected or not.
Is Alvin a feel-good candidate lacking in substance? Maybe, maybe not. I'll reserve final judgement. But his website skews heavily to the fluff side. The sentence that grates me the most is his stated goal to "empower our ideas and create the policies we want." What ideas, and what policies? Or are those all to be determined at a later date, perhaps driven by the will of the people? What if (and this is not going to be the case in Ward 10, thank goodness, but it's a hypothetical what if) the people, or at least those who get out and vote or participate in forums or whatever other way of communication Alvin prefers, envision themselves living in a right-wing wonderland? I want a city council member who will listen to all local stakeholders -- including those with views I don't agree with -- but that doesn't mean I want him or her to make decisions based on a majority-rules mentality. And if Alvin does intend to stick to his guns and make the decisions he feels are best for the Ward, then I want to know the details of those ideas and policies upfront.
I think Alvin means well. I'm sure he's a smart guy, and he does have an interesting resume. I think he'd be a wonderful asset to any neighborhood organization. But I'm far from convinced that he's ready for the big leagues of Minneapolis City Council. But even if he's unlikely to win (and, I think, not ready to win), I hope that he has success in bringing his issues to the table -- even those I don't agree with -- and can help to spark some larger discussions and debates among the stakeholders of Ward 10.