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Two candidates vie for Minneapolis City Council seat
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The general election will be held Feb. 3. The new councilmember will replace Joe Biernat, who resigned late last year after being convicted of five felonies, related to free plumbing work he received from a union official. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
The two candidates seeking the vacant Minneapolis 3rd Ward City Council seat represent the diversity of a neighborhoods divided by the Mississippi River. Olin Moore is white and lives in the predominantly white, east side of the river known as northeast. Don Samuels is an African American who lives in the predominantly black section of the ward -- the northside -- immediately west of the river. However, both men say they have experiences that make them qualified to represent the entire ward.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Olin Moore,32, has spent many of his years in DFL politics. Moore worked for congressman Martin Sabo for nine years. And he worked on Janet Robert's unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2002. Moore is the DFL-endorsed candidate. And his experience positions him as the political insider. Moore knows that his opponent's supporters question his ability to relate to the concerns of people who live in impoverished inner city neighborhoods.

"I believe that I understand those issues from living in north Minneapolis but I also believe that I understand them firsthand as someone who was raised by a single parent, and knows what it's like to be raised without a father," he says.

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Image Olin Moore

Moore lives in the northeast part of the ward just down the block from a small, but thriving, commercial corridor filled with restaurants, bars, artists' studios and coffeehouses. Moore used to live in a neighborhood across the river in north Minneapolis and he says he's well aware of the differences between the two areas.

"I know that this is a difficult ward to represent," says Moore. "And I know from being a former northsider that sometimes when you live in north Minneapolis you feel like no one is willing to help you out."

Don Samuels, 53,is a neighborhood activist who was quoted widely in news reports in 2000, after a young boy was shot and killed in a park near his home. After a riot broke out a few blocks from his home in 2001, Samuels worked with his neighbors to organize a community group to address crime and livability issues.

Critics say Samuels has focused too much on public safety while ignoring issues of economic development and housing. Issues that may be of greater concern to northeasters whose neighborhoods have less crime. However, Samuels says he is concerned about other issues, including the city's plans to increase housing density.

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Image Don Samuels

"I lived in New York City, so I know that density is not necessarily a bad thing," says Samuels. "But the same density that was a good thing on the upper east side of Manhattan was a disaster on the lower East Side of Manhattan. So it's what kind of density." Samuels immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica in the early '70s. He is a former executive at Hasbro toy company and a self-employed toy designer. Samuels is also an ordained minister. After placing second in the ward primary, Samuels picked up endorsements from several of his former challengers including members of both the Republican and Green parties.

"Now why would two diametrically opposed groups do that? I think it is first of all, because I am able to bring diverse groups of people together," he says.

Seventy-five percent of the north Minneapolis portion of the ward is made up of people of color. Only 25 percent of the northeast Minneapolis part of the ward are people of color. Both candidates say despite the differences, residents share three main concerns: crime, housing and economic development.

"But the way that these issues play out often can be somewhat different in north and northeast," says Jay Clark, who works for the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He is also a former director of the Jordan Area Community Council in north Minneapolis.

Clark says one of the big differences between north and northeast is the level of commercial development.

"For instance there is no major grocery store the size of a cub or a rainbow in north Minneapolis, anywhere," says Clark. "You've got some medium sized grocery stores some of them are having trouble hanging on, whereas in Northeast you have one massive Rainbow already and Cub is trying to find a way in there."

The general election will be held Feb. 3. The new councilmember will replace Joe Biernat, who resigned late last year after being convicted of five felonies, related to free plumbing work he received from a union official.

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