Some of the leading candidates for mayor of Minneapolis say they'll bring fresh eyes to City Hall. But Jackie Cherryhomes doesn’t think being a political outsider is an asset.
"This doesn't need a fresh set of eyes,” Cherryhomes said during a debate in north Minneapolis this spring. “This needs someone who knows what they're doing, and has done something in the past.”
Cherryhomes' political career began in 1989 when she unseated Van White, the only African-American member of the Minneapolis City Council at the time. Cherryhomes would represent the most diverse ward in the city for the next 12 years.
It was a time of racial friction in the city. In 1992, there was a riot in North Minneapolis after a false rumor spread that a white police officer had shot a black teenager.
Four months later, a white Minneapolis police officer, Jerry Haaf, was shot in the back by black gunmen. Cherryhomes said she was harassed by white supremacists, and said Haaf's shooting was the moment Minneapolis lost its innocence.
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“This incident has shocked, outraged and has changed the city,” she told MPR News at the time.
While on the city council, Cherryhomes was instrumental in the city's development of Block E on 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue downtown. The city poured nearly $40 million into the area in the 1990s.
The subsidy helped turn a empty parking lot into about 400,000 square feet of business space, but today much of that space sits vacant again.
"In hindsight, I didn't have a full appreciation for how important design is and how design can impact the success of a property,” she said.
However, Cherryhomes says she has no regrets about another city-subsidized project – a $60 million investment in a downtown Target store. Some city leaders, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, opposed the project and said it was corporate welfare, but supporters maintained it was a critical job creation measure.
"I think time has born that out to be correct,” Cherryhomes said.
Rybak's position on the Target project was a centerpiece of his first campaign. He defeated then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in a landslide. That same election, Cherryhomes lost her council seat to Green Party candidate Natalie Johnson Lee by just 72 votes. Her loss surprised the city’s political establishment, but Cherryhomes says she saw it coming.
"I came home from door knocking one day and I said 'I'm going to lose,” she said. “You get that feeling when you go to the door, and you talk to people you've talked to before. I knew it in my gut: They needed a change."
Cherryhomes says she needed a change, too. For the last 12 years she has worked as a consultant and lobbyist. Her past clients include real estate developers, trash haulers and the company that operates the garbage-burning power plant near Target Field.
Cherryhomes acknowledges that some voters find the idea of lobbying distasteful, but she says her clients needed someone to guide them through the city’s complex bureaucracy.
“I know the process and I can help you get through it," Cherryhomes said.
She argues that knowledge and experience also puts her in the best position to be the city’s next mayor.