A couple of months ago, Jeff Hayden appeared to have it made. The African American candidate for the Eighth Ward Minneapolis City Council seat had his neighborhood bona fides and the endorsements of several current council members and two former mayors. Heading into the citywide primary on September 13, most folks in south-central Minneapolis figured Hayden would have an easy time finishing as one of the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election.
But Hayden, who works as a housing coordinator for people with mental health issues, wasn't running in the increasingly nonwhite Eighth Ward of the last 15 years. Thanks to redistricting, Hayden's ward suddenly included part of the Kingfield neighborhood--a white, relatively well-to-do enclave on the west side of I-35W, between 36th and 42nd streets. Lo and behold, Hayden came in third in the primary, and two white women, Marie Hauser and Elizabeth Glidden, will vie to represent the ward after Election Day in November.
"This race was determined the day ward boundaries were drawn," says Sean Wherley, Hayden's campaign manager, referring to the new city precinct maps that were approved in 2002. "One of the more striking things about it is that this is the first time [in 20 years] that a white person will represent what has become a 'majority-minority' ward."
It's increasingly evident that redistricting--by which Minneapolis redraws its ward boundaries every 10 years from census data--is the real "spoiler" story of the 2005 Minneapolis elections. The effects of redrawn boundaries in the Eighth Ward (one of two districts in the city where black voters have historically dominated at the polls) are subtle, but still smack of political shenanigans. In 1984, Sharon Sayles Belton, an African American, was elected to the Minneapolis City Council from the Eighth.The ward was teetering toward being one of the few areas of Minneapolis where whites were a minority. In 1993, Sayles Belton became the first black and first woman to be elected mayor of the city. Her successor in the Eighth Ward, Brian Herron, was also African American. Never before had Minneapolis seen such black representation in City Hall.
But by 2001, Sayles Belton had lost a reelection campaign and Herron had left office in a bribery scandal. That year Robert Lilligren, an openly gay American Indian, was elected to fill Herron's seat--adding up to a run of 21 years of minority representation in the ward. And then redistricting came.
"Here's the strategy behind this," says Wherley, who is white and lives in Kingfield. "The powers that be saw the boundaries and saw an increasingly nonwhite ward. Subconsciously or consciously, they saw a chance for a white leader."
The old Eighth Ward and the new one have roughly the same number of people, around 29,500. Estimates of the current nonwhite population percentage range from 52 to 59 percent. Because the census breaks down areas by its own tracts and not by wards, it's not entirely clear whether this reflects an increase or a decrease. (When Kingfield was added to the Eighth, the ward also lost a significant chunk of real estate east of the interstate to 11th Avenue South, between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street--where many poor minorities have lived for decades.)
What is clear is that the ward is now radically altered and divided. According to 2000 census data, the percentage of people in the Kingfield area who are described as "white alone" is 85 to 95 percent. In some parts of the Central neighborhood, across the highway to Powderhorn Park, that figure is as low as 8 percent. In some parts of the ward, blacks make up 66 percent of the population; in other parts Latinos make up as much as 34 percent. In the heart of the ward, as much as 43 percent of the population live in poverty; on the west side in some tracts of the Kingfield neighborhood, the median household income is as much as $63,000 a year.
Because of this disparity, Wherley and others fear Glidden and Hauser will be ill-equipped to serve the needs of constituents so unlike themselves. Hauser is 58, a first-term Park Board member, and a nurse who has lived in Central for 25 years. She is, she says, acutely aware of the needs of minority residents--her neighbors--in the ward. Glidden, on the other hand, is 37, a civil rights lawyer who has lived in Kingfield for 11 years. She points to the relationships she's built in the immigrant community as an example of her leadership traits.
But if the primary held last month is any indication, their messages won't necessarily be resonating with black voters. Primary turnout this year was about a third of its 2001 level in some predominantly black precincts. Some chalk that up to a scattered field, and others point to a lack of participation from black leadership. Sayles Belton, Herron, and the area's state representative, Neva Walker, did little to help Hayden, according to most accounts. (Others have pointed out that Hayden was often too consumed with work to campaign as hard as Hauser or Glidden--both of whom scaled back their day jobs.) By contrast, the precincts in Kingfield, just two of ten in the ward, boasted 47 percent of the overall voter turnout.
"I'll be honest, there's a piece of me that's sad about the primary," says Walker, who is black. "It seems that the only way you can get representation as a person of color is to have a large concentration of African American voters, and the new ward changed that."
But Walker seems most upset over the low black turnout at the polls. Though she makes a point of "not getting involved in other people's races," Walker says that she didn't do the things she usually does--passing out flyers, door-knocking, attending community meetings--to get out the vote: "I didn't do my job. I'll point the finger at me before I point it at anybody."
Walker says now that Glidden and Hauser are going to have their work cut out for them trying to navigate the terrain of the ward, citing racial profiling and police brutality as two issues that come up regularly in the heart of the ward, and not at all on the other side of the highway. "Whoever wins is going to have to balance class, race, and geography," Walker concludes. "It's the Eighth Ward."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.