Why the Minneapolis Political Establishment Is Scared of Ginger Jentzen

The socialist city council candidate is running on a platform of rent control and reducing inequality—and she’s massively outraising her opponents.

David Duhalde

Ginger Jentzen is running as an open socialist for city council in Minneapolis' Third Ward. (Vote Ginger Jentzen/ Facebook)

In many ways, Gin­ger Jentzen’s race for city coun­cil in Min­neapo­lis’ Third Ward encap­su­lates the cur­rent hopes of the polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion, as well as the road­blocks it faces. The long­time organizer’s cam­paign has brought togeth­er pro­gres­sive unions, social­ist orga­ni­za­tions, grass­roots vol­un­teers and their allies across the city. Mean­while, big busi­ness and the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment are open­ly mobi­liz­ing against Jentzen and the pro­gres­sive agen­da she’s run­ning on.

"My campaign is focused on making Minneapolis affordable for all and building on the $15 campaign to make the city serve the interests of working people."

A for­mer ser­vice work­er and exec­u­tive direc­tor of 15 Now — an orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to rais­ing work­ers’ wages — Jentzen, who is run­ning on the Social­ist Alter­na­tive tick­et, has been endorsed by both her par­ty and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA). Social­ist Alter­na­tive is a Trot­sky­ist par­ty that endorsed Jill Stein for pres­i­dent in 2016. In June, fol­low­ing years of orga­niz­ing by groups includ­ing 15 Now, Min­neapo­lis passed a $15 min­i­mum wage, to be phased in over the next sev­en years. 

Despite refus­ing to accept cor­po­rate mon­ey, Jentzen has out­raised her three oppo­nents — two Democ­rats and a Green Par­ty can­di­date — by his­toric num­bers, rak­ing in over $140,000 as of mid-Octo­ber, and is now the tar­get of an out­side spend­ing spree by busi­ness inter­ests. These cor­po­rate inter­ests are seek­ing to com­bat her efforts to fight for afford­able hous­ing in a work­ing-class dis­trict that in recent years has seen a dra­mat­ic shift from home­own­ers to renters.

In a fundrais­ing e‑mail, Steve Cramer, pres­i­dent of the Down­town Coun­cil, Jonathan Wein­hagen, pres­i­dent of the Min­neapo­lis Cham­ber of Com­merce, and Kevin Lewis, pres­i­dent of the Build­ing Own­ers and Man­agers Asso­ci­a­tion, wrote, If you thought it was impos­si­ble for a com­mit­ted Social­ist to run on a plat­form of rent con­trol and estab­lish­ing a munic­i­pal income tax to pay for social engi­neer­ing … meet: Gin­ger Jentzen,” who they described as a lead­ing can­di­date” in the Third Ward.

Ahead of the Novem­ber 7 elec­tion, Jentzen talked with In These Times about the most impor­tant issues affect­ing vot­ers in her dis­trict, how her race demon­strates the old-fash­ioned bat­tle between cap­i­tal and work­ers, and the new oppor­tu­ni­ties for social­ists of dif­fer­ent stripes to bridge move­ment and elec­toral work.

Duhalde: What inspired you to run?

Jentzen: I think my can­di­da­cy flows some­what nat­u­ral­ly from the 15 Now cam­paign and how we end­ed up win­ning. We built a real­ly pow­er­ful move­ment and orga­nized a coalition.

My cam­paign is focused on mak­ing Min­neapo­lis afford­able for all and build­ing on the $15 cam­paign to make the city serve the inter­ests of work­ing peo­ple. My expe­ri­ence has been that move­ments haven’t been wel­comed by City Hall. I’ve seen hur­dle after hur­dle put for­ward by the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment here.

It was real­ly a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence to see what we could achieve through build­ing a move­ment that was actu­al­ly engag­ing com­mu­ni­ties all across Min­neapo­lis. We’ve been iden­ti­fied as a city that has some of the stark­est racial and eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ties in the coun­try, with enor­mous wealth gaps between black and white residents.

I think if we had some­one from the out­set real­ly lay­ing down a mark­er, and using their posi­tion in the city coun­cil to con­tin­u­ous­ly orga­nize both inside and out­side of City Hall for work­ing com­mu­ni­ties to rep­re­sent them­selves, then I think we poten­tial­ly could have won the $15 wage far soon­er. I aim to put an eye on orga­niz­ing City Hall, mobi­liz­ing around the issues we need to be solved in Min­neapo­lis. Things like rent con­trol, high­er wages and putting pres­sure on devel­op­ers to build afford­able hous­ing. We need all of these things, but they won’t be achieved if we don’t con­tin­u­ous­ly orga­nize and build a move­ment to win them.

Duhalde: Tell me about your district.

Jentzen: This is one of the old­est neigh­bor­hoods in the city of Min­neapo­lis. It cov­ers a lot of work­ing and mid­dle-class home-own­ers in the north­ern part of the ward. It’s also becom­ing increas­ing­ly renter-based, and that’s caus­ing a bit of ten­sion in the ward.

There’s lots of devel­op­ment hap­pen­ing, and much of it is on the lux­u­ry end. There has been a lot of anger grow­ing around the enor­mous influ­ence of big devel­op­ers on City Hall, push­ing a prof­it-dri­ven agen­da. There aren’t enough afford­able hous­ing units to ensure that peo­ple can con­tin­ue to live and work in the city.

Duhalde: What are the main issues in your campaign?

Jentzen: I have made a pub­lic pledge not to accept cor­po­rate, exec­u­tive or big devel­op­er mon­ey while run­ning for office and through my tenure in City Hall. We’ve real­ly been empha­siz­ing the idea that my cam­paign is not for sale. Like Bernie Sanders, I think that you can­not serve two boss­es. You can­not ful­ly rep­re­sent the needs of work­ing peo­ple while you are accept­ing mas­sive dona­tions from big devel­op­ers try­ing to prof­it off of our hous­ing crisis.

At the core of this cam­paign is rais­ing the demands — demands for ten­ant pro­tec­tions, for rent con­trol, to tax big devel­op­ers and to build more afford­able hous­ing. We have also dis­cussed expand­ing pub­lic tran­sit and social ser­vices for peo­ple in need, rather than keep­ing them in fear of depor­ta­tion, home­less­ness and cuts to health­care. We are try­ing to raise the ques­tion of what it would mean to actu­al­ly have a city built around these issues.

Duhalde: Can you talk about the con­nec­tion between move­ment and elec­toral work, and how Social­ist Alter­na­tive and DSA are work­ing togeth­er to sup­port your campaign?

Jentzen: See­ing a can­di­date like Bernie Sanders rais­ing the pro­gram that he did in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and then hav­ing mil­lions of peo­ple, espe­cial­ly young peo­ple, come out to sup­port and build the polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion against the bil­lion­aire class, I think it was an extreme­ly excit­ing prospect for social­ists across the country.

For Social­ist Alter­na­tive and DSA, I think we have to con­tin­ue to build that polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion, rais­ing demands like Medicare for All, and con­crete­ly orga­niz­ing around them through out­reach in work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties, wher­ev­er we have our chapters.

Mem­bers of DSA in the area have played an excel­lent role in rais­ing the pro­file of the cam­paign and hav­ing big­ger dis­cus­sions around Medicare for All. Peo­ple are very much con­cerned with what their health­care is going to look like over the com­ing months and years. I think the best way to fight Trump­care is to build a move­ment for Medicare for All.

I think these types of ini­tia­tives are extreme­ly impor­tant to how we fig­ure out the best way for­ward to com­bat the cor­po­rate agen­da, the Trump agen­da, and both win vic­to­ries and also chal­lenge the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem as a whole. 

David Duhalde is the vice chair of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca Fund, DSA’s sis­ter edu­ca­tion­al non­prof­it. He is the for­mer polit­i­cal direc­tor of Our Rev­o­lu­tion and for­mer deputy direc­tor of DSA.
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