The Samuels-Johnson Lee Race: A Litmus Test of Clout and Credibility

Most of the time when two candidates go at each other, their disagreement is over philosophy, perspective, or evolving events fluid enough to leave wiggle room for subsequent spin. But during Thursday night's 5th Ward candidate forum at the Minneapolis Urban League, city council contenders Natalie Johnson Lee and Don Samuels engaged in a stubborn, protracted dispute over the specifics of what will soon be a cut-and-dried fact, creating a rare situation where voters will be able to determine who is right and who is wrong.

The issue involves the race and ethnicity of the police officers Minneapolis is hiring from Detroit to bolster their ranks. During Thursday's debate, Samuels insisted that all 14 cops, who were laid off in Motown, are people of color. Johnson Lee insisted with equal vigor that they were not, at one point saying that there were 20 cops coming and that aside from "one female and one Latino" there were no cops of color.

In part, this issue is about policy, because Johnson Lee says the reason she does not support the hiring of these out-of-town cops is because they do not improve the diversity of the MPD. If she's right about their ethnic makeup, she has a good point; if she's wrong, it's a fairly significant faux pas. But the same is true of Samuels. If he's applauding the hiring of a bunch of out-of-town cops who are almost entirely white males, there's egg on his face.

But this dispute is also about the quality of the clout and connections each politician wields. Samuels has made a campaign issue out of his cordial relationship with Mayor R.T. Rybak, stating that Johnson Lee's combative relations with Rybak have hurt her ability to get things done for the ward. Thus, one would think Samuels would have reliable information on the cops Rybak's hand-picked police chief is bringing to the city. But Johnson Lee also has her allies and sources, which presumably would include many members of the black police officers association within the MPD, and their spokesperson, community activist Ron Edwards.

Wherever the candidates are getting their information, each one seemed utterly convinced on Thursday that he/she was right and the other was wrong. We'll try to post definitive numbers as to the composition of the Detroit contingent headed to the MPD.

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