Most, if not all, of the candidates running for mayor of Minneapolis promise to provide better opportunities for the city's minority communities.
Minorities in Minneapolis lag behind the white population when it comes to jobs, education, home ownership and many other measures of prosperity. While those gaps also exist nationwide, they are worse in the Twin Cities -- in some cases, the very worst.
"We have some of the biggest gaps in opportunity in the country between folks of color and white folks," Minneapolis City Councilmember Betsy Hodges said in a speech kicking off her campaign for mayor.
Councilmember Don Samuels and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew also made closing those gaps a cornerstone of their campaign announcements.
The topic has also come up repeatedly in debates.
“I'm tired of us going to forums, and just feel like, 'man, we just wasted 90 minutes of our life,' not hearing anything, or we heard a political answer,”Henry Jimenez, " One Minneapolis" forum organizer
"The gap between those who have jobs and those who don't have jobs exists because of poverty and racism," Councilmember Gary Schiff told a north Minneapolis audience.
For Jackie Cherryhomes, the issue is personal: her husband is African American.
"This is about him with a law degree being less able to get a job than a white guy coming out of jail," Cherryhomes said.
For Cam Winton, the only non-DFLer at most of the forums, part of the answer is to change the education system.
"Longer school years, longer school days, principals getting to choose the teachers that are in their schools," Winton said.
The mayor of Minneapolis has no direct power over the schools, but Winton said he would try to change that.
Other candidates propose different solutions. Schiff wants to require contractors on city-funded projects to hire Minneapolis residents. Minorities make up about 40 percent of the city's population. Samuels wants to make sure the city itself hires more racial minorities, and proposes punishing department managers who don't meet those goals. Cherryhomes would give more authority to the city's director of employment equity.
Hodges wants to provide incentives for companies to open in the parts of the city with highest levels of unemployment. She also intends to create a task force to come up with additional ideas for closing the gaps. Andrew has proposed something similar.
"In my first month, I will convene a blue-ribbon task force made up of families, made up of institutions, made up of the city, the parks, the schools, the Legislature, and the foundations and maybe even a kid," Andrew said, "and they will have a time-limited, six-month deadline to deliver the list of prescriptions to deal with that problem."
Nine candidates for mayor of Minneapolis will meet at a forum focused on reducing the city's racial disparities. The "One Minneapolis" forum, will be at 6 p.m Thursday at Sabathani Community Center.
Henry Jimenez, one of the organizers of tonight's debate, said he does not believe that a task force is going to change things. He's heard what the candidates have said about addressing the city's racial disparities. And he's not impressed.
"I'm tired of us going to forums, and just feel like, 'man, we just wasted 90 minutes of our life,' not hearing anything, or we heard a political answer," Jimenez said. "The last thing we want is to waste the audience's time. We don't waste the candidate's time. We don't want to waste anyone's time."
Jimenez would like to see the city pump money into small, neighborhood-based non-profits. He believes those organizations have the ability to lift people out of poverty and train a new, more diverse generation of leaders.
Another organizer, Marjaan Sirdar, wants the city to re-examine how the police department operates, in an effort to reduce racial disparities in incarceration.
Sirdar envisions a city where inequality is a thing of the past.
"Minneapolis, ideally, in one generation or less looks like an unemployment rate that is equal across racial lines," Sirdar said. "Foreclosure rates in housing is equal across racial lines. Graduation rates and dropout rates is equal across racial lines. Incarceration rates is equal across racial lines."
Sirdar knows the next mayor of Minneapolis can't make that happen alone. But he wants that person to make racial disparity the top priority, and not just talk about it.