Aug 19, 2021 - News
Encampments become wedge issue in Minneapolis Park Board races
A sign saying no parking in a Minneapolis park
Last summer, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board permitted camping in some parks. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Image

The homeless encampments that sprang up at Minneapolis parks following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent riots last summer loom large over this year's park board elections.

Driving the news: 23 candidates are running for nine Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board seats up for grabs in November.

  • And some of them have reported hefty fundraising totals for a part-time job that pays $12,000 a year and rarely acts as a stepping stone to a higher office.

The big picture: The park board permitted the encampments in June of 2020 after residents were displaced by the riots and COVID-19.

  • Though they're no longer allowed, the decision has become a major issue in the race for District 4, which represents downtown and the neighborhoods just southwest of there.

What they're saying: Candidate Elizabeth Shaffer — who has raised $44,000 in her campaign— said park board leaders failed when they allowed the encampments and didn't listen to neighbors' complaints.

  • "Most people really felt like the encampments of last summer were a poor decision — it was not well thought out before it was enacted," she told Axios.

The other side: Incumbent and current park board president Jono Cowgill — who's nearly doubled his fundraising from 2017 to about $6,700 — said the city was responding to a major challenge caused by displacement of "mostly brown and Black" people during the civil unrest.

  • He noted the park board mobilized a response team to get people out of the parks and connected to services.
  • "This year we haven't had hardly any, if at all, encampments in the (park) system," he said.

Zoom out: The issue is also playing out in other races. In District 6, for example, candidate Risa Hustad volunteered at an encampment last year and said on her website "using our park as a safe shelter is a legitimate use of the parks."

  • "I think we can support the outreach staff that we already have in setting up processes and building relationships with other agencies in the city and county to make sure that when a person finds themselves taking shelter on public lands, they're given resources and access to things that they need and deserve," she told Axios.
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