The Agenda

Transformative Minneapolis candidates seek election to city council

Three Victory Fund candidates are hoping to change the fact that there are no openly LGBTQ members of the Minneapolis City Council in this year’s election.

Andrea Jenkins has lived and worked in Minneapolis for over 20 years. She’s an oral historian, a poet, a former senior policy aide and, most importantly, an advocate for Ward 8.

Most recently, Andrea became the first Oral Historian for the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota. In this capacity, she has helped collect more than 100 stories of transgender and gender non-conforming people and she hopes to collect at least another 100 over the next three years. This is one of the broadest efforts to collect stories from these communities. Andrea has recorded the stories of a wide range of voices within the transgender community, including those of people with disabilities, people of color and undocumented immigrants.

Andrea is such a good listener in part because of her work for 12 years as an aide for council members in this district. She assisted with the development of a fine arts center, a community-building project to address racial healing and understanding and convening Minneapolis’ Trans*Equity Summit. Both as an advocate and an aide, she brought the community together to listen to their concerns and find equitable solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Andrea is also an award-winning poet and performer featured in several publications, including her own book of poetry. She’s earned grants from several different foundations and has performed in venues across the country.

Andrea will be the first openly trans person elected to a major city’s council.

She recently told the Twin City Daily Planet:

“It’s more than just having a seat at the table. It’s having a seat at the table and being able to speak to power. It’s about being present, and people knowing you will speak out against injustices. That alone will sometimes limit the number of injustices that happen.”

Along with Andrea, in North Minneapolis, Phillipe Cunningham is also running to become the first trans person elected to a major city’s council.  A former special education teacher from Illinois, Phillipe came to Minneapolis after transitioning, noting it was the first time he felt at home.

After diving into local activism, Phillipe was appointed to Minneapolis’ Youth Violence Prevention Executive Committee. He was subsequently promoted to a senior policy aide for the mayor on youth issues, education, racial equity and LGBTQ rights. Phillipe has helped secure funding for gender-inclusive restrooms in every city facility and create a trans-specific policy for the Minneapolis Police Department.

Minneapolis’ Ward 4 is very diverse, with 57 percent people of color. The average household income is significantly lower than the city average and the ward faces challenges with crime and policing. Phillipe wants to focus on developing Ward 4’s strengths by bringing the community together to build on its strengths.

“Right now, we are being governed from a deficit perspective,” Phillipe says. “[People say] ‘we need to be fixed, there are things that are wrong, and things are just desolate and bad.’ Whereas governing from an asset or strength-based perspective takes gems and builds them up.”

Also running for Minneapolis City Council is Jillia Passenda, a progressive queer woman and Victory Fund candidate.

“I learned from a really early age that you have to fight for justice – for your neighbors and your communities – oftentimes against institutions where your voice may not be at the table,” Jillia said of when talking about a rally her mom brought her to when she was a child. Jillia first became involved in activism and politics during the Occupy movement in the wake of the Great Recession. The group’s organizing resulted in passage of the Minnesota Homeowners Bill of Rights, which set in place protections for families against predatory lenders.

During the next few years she dived into activism for a range of issues with similar results. In 2012, she began work on rezoning for urban farming in Minneapolis. She joined and currently serves on the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council. She joined OutFront Minnesota in 2013 in the fight for marriage equality and for Minnesota’s comprehensive anti-bullying bill. Here she met her partner, Monica Meyer, who is the group’s executive director.

Jillia got her start in electoral politics in summer of 2015 when she joined Ilhan Omar’s campaign for Minnesota State Representative. Ilhan, the first Somali-American woman elected to a state legislature, defeated the longest-serving representative in the primary and easily won the general election. Ilhan’s election deeply influenced Jillia’s decision to run for office.

As a council member, Jillia will be a proactive leader and work with the community to create solutions to the most important problems facing Minneapolis.

All three candidates are up for election November 7.