By Harry Colbert, Jr.
In 2013, just 23.5 percent of Ward 5 voters in Minneapolis turned out to elect its next city councilperson.
With the low turnout and a field of four candidates, Blong Yang emerged victorious, capturing just 1,475 of the final votes. Now the incumbent, Yang could again benefit from low voter turnout, as traditionally, incumbents fare better in low turnout elections. At least two of Yang’s challengers say they are working hard to reach out to traditional and nontraditional voters between now and Nov. 7 – something they say Yang has not been willing to do.
Both Jeremiah Ellison and Raeisha Williams, candidates seeking to unseat Yang, say the incumbent has been missing in action when it comes to being accessible to his constituents – both citing not having a regular office within the ward and his refusal to take part in serval town halls and debates in the ward that is in the heart of North Minneapolis.
“The 5th Ward deserves someone who is accessible and engaged,” said artist, activist and DFL-endorsed candidate, Ellison. “In other parts of the city, city councilmembers have regular meetings, open office hours, etc. We don’t have any of that (with Yang).”
According to Williams, it was Yang’s lack of accountability to his constituents that spurred her decision to run.
I had decided four months prior to the killing of Jamar Clark (the killing of an unarmed African-American by Minneapolis police that prompted weeks of mass protests) to run for the seat,” said Williams, who was at the time the communications chair for the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP. “It was because of my direct interactions with Blong Yang.”
Williams said it became apparent to her that Yang was more concerned with big money builders and corporate types than he was with the residents of the ward.
“I felt he had a lot of outside influence, especially builders and developers, and he wasn’t listening to the voices of the people he was supposed to be representing,” said Williams.
Ellison said Yang seems to be tone-deaf to the concerns of the residents of the 5th and to the values of the DFL, which he sought endorsement.
“When you look at progressive values … $15 minimum wage, voting against funding for language services for Hmong and Somali residents, voting against increased funding for the office of equity and inclusion … there’s not a lot of evidence that he stands with DFL values,” said Ellison.
Ellison and Williams, who were both prominent protesters following the killing of Clark, said Yang was absent there too, and when he did show, he sided with the police, not the people calling for justice.
The two seeking to be the next councilperson of the 5th Ward say voter turnout is key if either of them are to prevail.
“Having a healthy and engaged voting population is important for any community,” said Ellison. “Going up against an incumbent is always a steep hill, but in this election, it’s about engaging new voices and getting them inspired and excited about this race.”
“We’ve got to get people engaged,” said Williams. “Local politics affects our daily lives in so many ways. When we talk about police reform, affordable housing and employment, we have to have someone in City Hall who truly represents the people who elected that person to serve.”
Insight News made multiple attempts to reach Yang for this report, but those attempts were unsuccessful.