Former council member worries about New Brighton’s future

Solomon Gustavo • Gina Bauman served on the New Brighton City Council for 12 years until an election loss last fall.

Solomon Gustavo • New Brighton City Manager Dean Lotter and Mayor Val Johnson said they have forged a united front and a trusting working relationship as the leadership of what they call a thriving city.

Mayor looks forward to more unity.

Friendly and with laughter, the kind that squeaks out from under tales weighed down by a general sense of exasperation, Gina Bauman casually talked about her 12 years on the New Brighton City Council, the state of the city, its future, and more.

The three-term council member, who lost a reelection bid last fall, was often a dissenting voice on the council and sometimes a controversial figure. The past two years were particularly riven with conflict between Bauman and Mayor Val Johnson, and while Bauman sees a bleak future for the city’s governance without her, current city officials relish the opportunity of a united council.

Bauman sat inside a St. Anthony coffee shop, still wearing her securely fastened jacket on one of these unconscionably cold nights, staying warm and speaking warmly of New Brighton, but also expressing deep concern about where it will go.

A Northeast Minneapolis native who works for Cargill, she enjoyed a few memories from the day she decided to first run — a frantic day in which her friends implored her to join the council race while she was making plans to pick up a clarinet for her then 12-year-old daughter. 

Bauman said she will not rule out making another New Brighton council run, or running for a different office in the future, but also talked about her plans to take it easy for a while after the election loss to focus on her family and time with friends, before getting back to being involved in the community. 

During her council days, it was the people that Bauman said she focused on most. 

“My allegiance is first and foremost to the people, projects come second,” she said, noting that, though she “really couldn’t pinpoint a single thing,” she did mention her contributions towards the massive Exchange redevelopment as a project highlight. 

Bauman said she delighted in reaching out to the community, especially while campaigning or during town halls. 


No ‘sour grapes’

When she returns to more active community engagement after her post-loss break, Bauman said she will work toward another petition in the hopes to again stop the city council from changing the city’s elections from odd to even years. 

Bauman stopped the 2015 attempt to make the switch through a petition and lawsuit, but not before being censured by the city council. She said the censure was a low point.

Saying that she comes from a place of care for New Brighton, Buaman said she has many concerns about its future, many of which extend from the results of Election Day last fall.

“The election is the election. They won,” said Bauman of newly seated council members Emily Dunsworth and Graeme Allen. “I also don’t believe they know a lot about the city.”

Bauman said her criticism of the newly elected members taking her place and the newly constituted council, without Bauman for the first time in 12 years, is not just “sour grapes.”

Bauman, who frequently found herself as the lone vote against the rest of the council while she served out her last two years, saw herself as a necessary counterbalance for the city. She frequently struck and held stances against the city’s spending.


‘The train is going’

New Brighton residents and Bauman supporters Terry Post and Ken Schumann agree with her, both believing the new city council to be too single-minded, the homogeny being a bad thing.

“No one is going to stop them, the train is going, and it’s going to hit a wall,” Bauman said of the newly constituted council, saying New Brighton City Manager Dean Lotter, with whom she worked for more than a decade, will not be a check on the council.

Bauman also called out Johnson, her frequent council foe, as “not a nice person,” a sentiment echoed by Bauman ally and 2017 New Brighton City Council candidate Susan Erickson, who previously worked with Bauman to quash the election year change.

One passionate exchange between Bauman and Johnson during a council workshop last October, ignited over Bauman questioning the notion of white privilege, reverberated all the way to Fox News, where Bauman was interviewed about the interaction.

White privilege is the concept that people who are perceived as white enjoy unearned and unacknowledged advantages in society, based on their skin color alone.

Johnson said what Bauman said was racist. Bauman said she was deeply insulted.

“It offended me to believe that I sat there for 12 years, now your telling me, because I am white, I can’t represent people, because I’m white?” Bauman said. “If you believe that, you shouldn’t be sitting there, because guess what color you are?”

Bauman said Johnson has tried to ruin her reputation. “She’s a vile woman.”


A conciliatory tone

“God bless Gina,” said Johnson on a recent morning in a New Brighton City Hall conference room. “Gina served her community for 12 years — that’s not easy to do.”

Johnson, with City Manager Lotter to her right, sat at a large conference table. Both faced historic pictures of New Brighton that they couldn’t help but point to, reference and appreciate.

“As an elected official, I know how much work has to go into that, I commend her service,” Johnson said.

When it came to any tension between the two during their time working together, Johnson said sitting next to Bauman in council chambers was like sitting next to any other council member. 

“I think there are times we don’t always have our best moments,” said Johnson, specifically of the white privilege spat; “I will state that was maybe not one of my best moments. It came from a place of doing good.”

Johnson said her leadership style differs from that of the former mayor, Dave Jacobsen, who held the seat prior to her election win. She said the change may not have “been conducive to what Bauman was used too,” but that she and Bauman and the rest of the council did “amazing things” in those two years. 


‘Let’s move forward’

In her time as mayor, Johnson, who won reelection last fall, said she is proud of her continued work on projects like the Exchange and working on New Brighton’s decades-old water issues, and that she enjoys working with Lotter, the council and city staff. 

A New Brighton native, Johnson said that she “had the privilege” of seeing the city change over the years into a far more diverse community, more welcoming to people of different races, religions and physical abilities. 

Johnson said she is optimistic about the future of the council because she trusts the voters, and that she is excited for the future of New Brighton because the city is doing well — she said one would have to squint really hard to find any problem.

Lotter and Johnson both said they credit part of the city’s success to their united leadership, a relationship that both called trusting and professionally liberating. 

Johnson said the city must make certain that the New Brighton community remains one for all people, by staying flexible and adapting according to the perspectives of every kind of person.

She said part of that requires tough conversations on things like white privilege. “I’m not going to regret tough discussions. That’s what moves things forward.”

That’s how Johnson also feels about the new city council. “The voters have had their voice heard and said, ‘”Let’s move forward.’”


– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at or 651-748-7815.

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