St. Anthony City Council candidates talk racial equity at forum

“Describe what you, personally, have done to advance racial equity in St. Anthony Village,” and do it in two minutes. 

After introductory statements, this was the first thing candidates for the St. Anthony City Council were asked to do at an Oct. 25 candidate forum sponsored by the St. Anthony Village Chamber of Commerce. 

The council race, which comes to a head on Election Day, Nov. 7, has four challengers pitted against two incumbents. Council members Jan Jenson and Randy Stille aim to hold onto their seats, which they’ve each held for several terms. They are being challenged by Christopher Clark, Dave Colling, Thomas Randle and Nancy Robinett. 

While the candidates were asked a variety of questions, moderator William Huseonica said that first question about racial equity represented the topic of nearly 20 percent of the questions submitted to the chamber by residents of St. Anthony. 

Huseonica noted the forum’s questions were selected by chamber members who do not live in St. Anthony, and who will not be voting in the upcoming municipal election.

 

What they said

Clark, 44, described himself as a libertarian, saying, “I’m about less government and more personal responsibility and freedom.” 

Just as others did, Clark listed the shooting of Philando Castile — though he did not say Castile’s name — and the eviction of residents from the Lowry Grove mobile home park as his main motivations for wanting to become a council member. 

Castile was killed by a St. Anthony police officer on July 6, 2016, during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

Also that same summer, residents were told they’d have to leave their homes when Lowry Grove was sold. The RV park, which was finally shut down this past June, was St. Anthony’s only manufactured housing community, and one of the most affordable housing options in the city. 

Of the complex social issue of race and equity in the U.S., Clark said, “I see people for people.”

“We are the human race. The differences are cultural ...” he said, pointing out that being African-American is “a cultural difference” and “Caucasian is ... a cultural difference.” 

“It’s all about love and it’s all about treating people with respect,” Clark said. “It’s things that you learned as a child and you should continue on as an adult.”

 

Colling, 48, said he’s not running because of the events that occurred over the past year and a half, but instead “because of the things that didn’t happen” — namely, the things city leadership did not do during or in the wake of the two recent flashpoints in the city.

“I truly believe we have a city council that is very good intentioned, they’re very good people,” he said. “But good intentions aren’t going to solve the issues facing a modern, 21st century city. I think we need new leadership that will bring a grassroots model of governing to our city.”

Asked what he’s done to promote racial equity in the community, one of the things he said, is what he wished he had done. In hindsight, Colling said he should have been a better advocate for the residents of Lowry Grove.  

“That was really one of the few places in the city where we had a concentration of people of color,” Colling said. “I wish I could have done more. I wish I did more. I miss them and I wish they were still my neighbors.”

When a bullet was shot through the window of a St. Anthony business owned by a Somali immigrant, Colling said he made sure to call the owner the day of, to say, “That’s not what I stand for; that’s not what we stand for.”

“When anything happens like that, we all need to stand up and say that kind of thing.”

 

Jan Jenson, 67, and his wife are 35-year residents of the city and raised three children who attended St. Anthony schools. He’s been on the council for eight years. 

In regards to racial equity, he talked about his work on the council, mentioning the city joining the Government Alliance on Race and Equity program, a move he said will help the city retain resources to advance racial equity in the community. 

“I’m committed to promote the outcome of these important initiatives,” he said before listing a number of things he’s done since the death of Castile — not using his name — including attending three Wilder Foundation seminars on race and equity and participating in an anti-bias training conducted by the Race and Equity Minnesota Network. He also said he’s been diving into books on the subject. 

He concluded, “I would measure success by asking a person of color: do they feel included and do they have access?” 

 

Randle, 51, and his family have lived in St. Anthony for about two years, though he said they previously lived just miles away in Minneapolis and have long been involved in the St. Anthony community.

Randle, who is African-American, said he’s been involved in a community group called St. Anthony Villagers for Equity and Community.

“They have a platform that can move the city forward,” he said. “And I believe in that,” he added, without detailing what that platform is. 

He said for real change, “a person has to change their heart.”

“You can’t legislate racial equity, it comes from within” he said. “I believe if we all get together and work towards a common goal, maybe we can measure success.”

 

Robinett, 54, who moved to St. Anthony from Washington state just over three years ago, said she and her family “love living in St. Anthony ... we like our neighbors, we like the congeniality of the community, we just really feel at home here.”

She also said that she’s been active in grassroots community groups since the police killing of Castile. 

“Things that I’ve personally done over the past year center around activities that I’ve been involved in since the shooting death of Philando Castile,” she said. “Soon after his death I banded together with other St. Anthony villagers and founded St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action.”

She said the group focuses on social justice and equity issues, and that it formed a 15-member Police Advisory Committee that “pressed the mayor and the council and the police chief for some sort of police audit and review, because we were alarmed and concerned,” about what the police department data was showing in regards to racial bias.

She said it was this committee’s efforts that led the council to look to the U.S. Department of Justice for assistance. 

The DOJ’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services is performing a collaborative reform initiative with the St. Anthony Police Department, assessing the agency’s policies and, by the end of the two-year review, it will recommend any changes it sees fit. 

 

Stille, 56, has been on the council for nearly 14 years and has lived in St. Anthony for twice as long. 

“I believe continuity is important and city staff and residents deserve this,” he said of himself retaining his post on the council to extend his lengthy stay. “The institutional knowledge gained by living here and serving in the community is invaluable. I want to utilize that strength.”

He added, “I look forward to not changing St. Anthony, but moving it forward and improving our community in every aspect.”

As for his personal pursuits to advance racial equity in the community, Stille said, “Number one, I think is learning. We can all learn from this tragic situation that happened.”

Stille said he’s learned by reaching out to people of color in the community and at his workplace; “I’ve even had coffee with one of the protestors that was coming down our street, just trying to learn about the situation and listen more.”

Like his colleague Jenson, Stille said he’s attended racial equity workshops, and he mentioned the city’s participation in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity program.

“The city is actually working on a racial equity plan, trying to remove barriers that may be obvious, but we don’t see them, and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. 

 

The candidates were also asked about how to rebuild community trust in the police, a topic that Huseonica said represented 22 percent of the submitted questions. 

Candidates went on to answer questions about the city’s comprehensive plan and development and density, a topic looming over the suburb with the controversial, proposed-but-denied high-density redevelopment of the Lowry Grove site

Sustainability, fiscal responsibility and community engagement were also the subject of prepared questions. 

To hear more of the candidates’ answers, watch the forum online at www.ctv15.org.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815



 

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