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Sayles Belton on defensive in mayoral debate
By Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
August 16, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Campaign 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

Four Minneapolis mayoral candidates met Wednesday evening to debate their qualifications for the city's top post. The candidates used the forum to challenge each other on city issues including economic development, affordable housing and crime.

Minneapolis mayoral candidate Leslie Davis tried to enter the TPT studio prior to the debate, but was restrained by police officers.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)


You can watch an online video of the debate between candidates for mayor of Minneapolis on the Web site of Twin Cities Public Television.   See video.
MAYOR SHARON SAYLES BELTON found herself on the defensive several times during the debate as her challengers questioned her two terms in office. In particular, opponents Lisa McDonald, Mark Stenglein and R.T. Rybak criticized the mayor for her support of several major downtown development projects, her handling of the city's finances and her leadership style.

McDonald, who is a City Council member, opposed the council's decision to grant millions of dollars in tax incentives to the Target Corporation to build a new headquarters building and retail store in downtown Minneapolis. She says big projects like Target and the Block E entertainment complex, meant to bring more people downtown, won't work unless the city pays attention to other issues.

"I think the problem with downtown is we're treating the symptom and not the cause," she said. "We subsidize large-scale retail, but the reason people don't come downtown is it's dirty, it doesn't feel safe, the streets are all ripped up, the parking is very expensive they can't find their way around."

The mayor defended the condition of the city and her support of downtown development. She told her opponents that the new developments in downtown Minneapolis are increasing the city's tax base, which she says helps the surrounding neighborhoods.

"Look at the central riverfront. That land five years ago, there was nothing there. Look at it now! You've got parks, green space, trees, flowers, a new museum, housing that serves a variety of income needs," Sayles Belton said.

But other challengers, like former Downtown Council executive director R.T. Ryback, say an overemphasis on downtown development has depleted funds for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. He also decried the city's loss of its AAA bond rating under Sayles Belton's watch. Ryback says he'd be a different kind of mayor.

"The mayor needs to set down the public checkbook, pick up the phone and start hustling for some businesses here . We need a salesperson for this town; we also need somebody who recognizes that this is about much more than a couple buildings for a couple of corporations," Rybak said.

The one-hour forum touched quickly on many issues such as the proposed closing of six schools and anti-grafitti initiatives. The public television hosts were challenged with moving the discussion along as two or three candidates often tried to speak at the same time.

On the topic of crime, candidates generally acknowledged that serious crimes have decreased since the police department instituted its CODEFOR program. The program uses computer data to concentrate police resources in areas where they get the most calls.

McDonald and Ryback were critical of CODEFOR because of complaints from members of communities of color who say the program has led to more harassment by police officers.

Mark Stenglein says he's also concerned about police misconduct, but he says something needs to be done about major and minor crime in the city.

"I live in an area where I go home to nuisance crimes all the time. I go home, I have three little babies in that house. I live it. Believe me. My passion is to bring this city and the nuisance crime and the livability under control," Stenglein said.

The forum was a joint venture between Twin Cities Public Television and the Star Tribune. According to forum organizers, the candidates selected to participate were considered the leading four candidates out the field of 22 registered to run. Before the evening's debate, Earth Protector candidate Leslie Davis tried to enter the studio but was restrained by police officers. Davis vowed to be included in the debate or get arrested trying. Davis left the building voluntarily and was not arrested.