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Mpls., St. Paul candidates make final weekend campaign push for mayor

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Betsy Hodges talks to a man at Sanctuary Covenant Church.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges talks to a man at Sanctuary Covenant Church on Sunday.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Candidates for mayor in Minnesota's two largest cities spent the weekend making their closing arguments to voters.

Some candidates spent the last Sunday morning before the election in the pews of churches. At Shiloh Temple International Ministries in north Minneapolis, Tom Hoch, a former executive at the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said he came to the church to have a visible presence, which he hopes will send a message to residents of the north side. 

"I want everyone in our city to know that I'll be the mayor for the entire city, not just for part of it. And the best way to do that is to get and connect with people everywhere," said Hoch.

Several blocks away, Mayor Betsy Hodges attended a service at Sanctuary Covenant church, which — until next week — is holding its worship services in the auditorium at North High School. Hodges, who is running for reelection in a crowded field of 16 candidates, didn't get up and speak during the service. But Hodges said in this last weekend before the election, she wants to make sure voters know she's stuck to her pledge to make racial equity a top priority.

Candidate Tom Hoch speaks during the last mayoral debate.
Minneapolis mayoral candidate Tom Hoch speaks during the final forum candidates had before Tuesday's election.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

"And I've been bringing that transformative change to the city and challenging the old ways of doing business. And we've been making progress," Hodges said. 

Both Hodges and Hoch later joined Nekima Levy-Pounds, Jacob Frey, Raymond Dehn and Al Flowers for a two-hour long candidate forum on KMOJ radio. The forum was broadcast live from the station's studio in north Minneapolis and was moderated by Resmaa Menakem and former Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. 

Before the forum, Sayles Belton, the city's first and only black woman to serve as mayor, said hello to Nekima Levy-Pounds, who's vying to be the city's second person to hold that title.

Minneapolis mayoral candidate forum on KMOJ

Raymond Dehn speaks during a mayoral debate at the KMOJ-FM studio.
Minneapolis mayoral candidate Raymond Dehn speaks during a mayoral debate at the KMOJ-FM studio.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

The candidates answered questions on topics that included education, development along the river, affordable housing and racial equity.

The discussion also focused on an issue that has been a salient topic for the north side for decades: How to help small businesses thrive, especially those along West Broadway Avenue.

Ray Dehn, who represents north Minneapolis in the Minnesota House, said he supports increasing resources for agencies that provide loans and assistance to small business owners. 

"In addition, I think we need to expand our cooperative ownership model for businesses," said Dehn. "So working with cooperative groups of individuals who actually want to form a business versus the typical one or two individuals."

Nekima Levy-Pounds talks with people at Sammy's Avenue Eatery.
Nekima Levy-Pounds talks with people at campaign event in Minneapolis at Sammy's Avenue Eatery Sunday afternoon.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Levy-Pounds pointed out that she owns a small business in north Minneapolis. 

"I have a consulting business located on West Broadway. I live in north Minneapolis as well," said Levy-Pounds, who is also a former law professor and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP. She said the city needs to do a better job of helping entrepreneurs of color obtain start-up capital.

Council member Jacob Frey said he favors expanding the business navigator office which opened in City Hall last year. Frey says the office is particularly helpful for entrepreneurs who are immigrants and don't speak English as their first language. 

"And so as they get through the various, different departments and permitting processes that they need, by the time they get all their applications filled out, sometimes they've lost the capital that they initially had invested in the project to begin with," said Frey.

During a break in the forum, the leading candidates joked with each other about having participated in so many debates and forums together. Some laughed they may even miss seeing the rest of the candidates after the campaign ends Tuesday. 

St. Paul candidates' final push

St. Paul mayoral candidate Pat Harris poses for a photo with volunteers.
St. Paul mayoral candidate Pat Harris poses for a photo with volunteers on Saturday morning at his campaign headquarters.
Peter Cox | MPR News

In St. Paul, the talking points now come easily, peppered into conversations. Their shoes are well worn from going house to house, event to event. 

At Pat Harris' headquarters on West Seventh Street, Harris greeted a small army of volunteers who were getting ready to go door knocking.

Harris, a former city council member, said on Saturday that he loves the final days of a campaign.

Mayoral candidate Dai Thao meets with some immigrant community leaders.
St. Paul mayoral candidate Dai Thao meets with some immigrant community leaders at the Unity Cafe on Rice Street on Saturday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

"I actually absolutely love door knocking," said Harris. "Just walking the neighborhoods of all areas of St. Paul, knocking on doors and seeing what's on people's minds. I think it's important for the candidate to be on those doors and I love doing it and I can't wait to be out there this weekend."

On the city's north end, current Council member Dai Thao ducked into the Unity Cafe on Rice Street to speak with leaders of different immigrant communities.

Thao zipped from the meeting to another campaign event, and said he spent the morning at his phone bank.

"I personally feel that I'm leaving everything on the field, working hard, there's no regret," said Thao. "So you have to use your time wisely and engage as many people as possible, listening to them and figuring out how you can integrate their vision and their dreams into your overall vision for the city."

Melvin Carter, a candidate for St. Paul mayor, calls a potential voter.
Melvin Carter, a candidate for St. Paul mayor, calls a potential voter on Saturday. This photo has been edited to remove personal information of a voter.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Candidate Melvin Carter, another former council member, dropped by the AFSCME Council 5 offices, where he joined other volunteers in calling voters.

He thanked his volunteers and told them how important their work this weekend will be for the campaign.

"We expect it to be close, we expect a high turnout and we expect a lot of people to make their decision in the last three days," Carter told volunteers. "And so what that means is winning this race really isn't about me giving speeches, it isn't about candidate forums, it's about us. The question is, can we knock on more doors than everybody else, can we call more phones, can we connect with more voters?"

Ten candidates are running for mayor in the state's second largest city. With ranked choice voting, it may take days for results to be official after Tuesday's election.