Brooklyn Park is the fourth-largest metro area in the Twin Cities. It’s less than a month until the first Black mayor of the city.
The current Brooklyn Park Mayor Lisa Jacobson will be retiring after serving just one year. Jacobson was elected special election winner for the seat in August, after Jeff Lunde, the former mayor of Brooklyn Park, resigned to take up the position as a Hennepin County commissioner.
Wynfred Russ, a Brooklyn Park Council member, is vying to succeed Jacobson. Hollies Winston, an entrepreneur and former city budget commissioner, is also in the running. Both prioritize addressing crime, but the approaches they propose offer voters a stark contrast.
Wynfred Russell was born in Liberia and moved to the United States to escape the violence of civil war. After living in Brooklyn Park for twenty years, he served on many commissions and was elected to the City Council in 2018. He is the first Black person to be elected to the City Council.
According to Minnesota Compass, nearly 60% of Brooklyn Park’s residents identify as people of color and 25% are immigrants. Russell noticed the disparities in the lives of African immigrants and those living in the community and founded African Career, Education and Resources, an organization that aims to close the gap in economic equity.
Russell was a professor and did research on public health at the University of Minnesota. He also worked two years as a researcher with the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, (CIDRAP), which is headed by Michael Osterholm.
Years later, he returned to Liberia as the leader of an 18-member team that was sent to respond to the Ebola outbreak. He was then sent to Nigeria to contain the polio epidemic for a few years before returning to the U.S.
Russell stated that his background in public health has been a major influence on his council time, including the policies he has created and the issues he advocated for. This includes improving bike lanes and trails to encourage physical activity. It also addresses social determinants such as housing and economic stability.
Hollies Winston received his political science degree at Northwestern University. He then started his own company as a personal coach before returning to school to earn a Master of Business Administration at the University of Minnesota. He worked at several Fortune 500 companies while also volunteering for various political and community groups.
Winston founded a youth mentoring program and then a company called Guaranteed America, which advocates for small business owners. It oversees a $18 million fund to support small businesses owned and managed by veterans, women, and people of colour.
Winston described his family’s history and said that his grandparents fled racial violence in Jim Crow South. They moved to Chicago where they were able to attend good schools, college, and pursue successful careers. He stated that he had looked at Brooklyn Park but didn’t see the same opportunities for his children, which led him to run for office.
He said, “Knowing I’m the beneficiary of people having these chances and taking advantage of them,” that he felt that the next generation should have the same opportunities. Brooklyn Park is not offering those opportunities.”
According to data from Brooklyn Park, there has been no significant increase in crime over recent years. Both candidates have described it as one the most pressing issues facing the city, echoing the concerns of residents in the area and city officials.
Russell stated that part of the solution to crime prevention in the city is full support and adequate resources. The new chief of the police department in August was Mark Bruley. He has been with the department since 1995.
He said that Brooklyn Park Police was not Minneapolis Police and it wasn’t Brooklyn Center Police. “We have a great police department that is well run, well-resourced, and all we need is to support them in their work to stop the crime coming to Brooklyn Park span>
Supporting law enforcement also includes looking at how offenders get prosecuted. He said that in order to stop people who have committed crimes from being released “slap on their wrist” only to go on to commit more, it is important to reform the prosecution strategy.
Both candidates agree that programming is needed for the city’s youth. However, Winston, Russell’s opponent said that he could advocate for how offenders should be prosecuted. As a solution to crime prevention, the mayor should focus on the relationship between residents in the city and officers.
He claimed that he was a part of establishing a program in one of the biggest housing developments in the city that advocates for residents. The police visit the complex once a week to meet with residents and have events with them.
Russell, the mayor of Russell, stated that he would increase funding for such models so that residents feel comfortable reporting to police crime trends they have noticed, which officers can then address.
He said that it’s not as simple as setting up youth programming. To connect children to the various youth resources .”
Winston stated that he believes the fact that Brooklyn Park was able to elect an African-American mayor is a sign of democracy. Although a large percentage of its residents are African-American, a candidate must represent all the residents of the city to win.
“I think that would be the historic nature of it.” I believe that it would be its historic nature span>
Russell, the first Black person elected on the City Council, stated that he understands the importance of possibly becoming the city’s first Black mayor. He stressed however that the barrier should not be broken for the sake of breaking it.
He said that it was crucial for us not to see it as a novelty. “It’s more than just about electing Black people, it’s about electing Black people who have the experience to do this span>