[HPN] Mayor tells it as she sees it!

William Tinker wtinker@fcgnetworks.net
Fri, 11 Feb 2000 13:57:10 -0500


 Star Tribune Newspaper

 Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton declared Thursday that she is
 troubled" to be presiding over a city in which "horrific" levels of
 educational failure and poverty among people of color coexist with
 increasing prosperity for many.

 Delivering her seventh annual State of the City address to an overflow
 audience at Plymouth Congregational Church in south Minneapolis, she began
 with a series of upbeat congratulations for a host of successes, describing
 1999 as "a great year for Minneapolis."

 But then she turned somber.

 "I am deeply troubled by the continuing disparity between our booming
 economy and the levels of poverty continuing to grip communities of color,"
 she said.

 "Our city has the highest rate of poverty for people of color amongst the
 most populous metropolitan areas in the country, and while unemployment in
 Minneapolis overall is at an all-time low, unemployment in communities of
 color hovers between 14 and 45 percent.

 "This is absolutely unacceptable!"

 As for the news this week that 40 percent of the American Indian seniors in
 the Minneapolis schools and 45 percent of black seniors have yet to pass
 state's basic skills test needed for a diploma, she said:

 "This is horrific! If these young people can't master basic reading and
 skills and graduate, their path to successful adulthood is threatened, and
 many of them will fall down."

 In an informal session with City Council members earlier this week,
 Minneapolis Superintendent Carol Johnson described the same figures as
 "devastating" and "scary," though the district does expect a good many of
 the students to pass in the next few months.

 The mayor depicted the city as one in which some people are doing
 beautifully while others, such as those in need of affordable housing, are
 experiencing a crisis, with shelters overflowing.

 Downtown Minneapolis is in the midst of a $2 billion building boom, she
 said, which will draw 34,000 more workers there to eat and shop and which
 will yield nearly $8 million annually in taxes. Housing development on the
 riverfront "is so hot it's sizzling," she said, with nearly $20 million
 worth of projects underway or done even before the Guthrie Theater's
 proposed relocation there.

 In August, she announced, the famed troupe Cirque du Soleil will bring its
 big top to the riverfront for the first time. Not far away, she expects the
 state's first light-rail line to open in a few years, leading to "millions
 of square feet of new commercial development and at least 50,000 new jobs."

 Most important, she said, crime is finally easing up. Reports of serious
 crime have dropped to the lowest point since 1979, and the homicide toll is
 at its lowest point in more than a decade.

 "Five years ago we felt terrorized by the rising tide of gangs, drugs,
 assaults and homicide," she said. "We took a bold stand and refused to let
 thugs and thieves destroy our quality of life. We fought back -- hard --
 together we have turned the tide."

 The future

 A number of additional things need to happen in the city, she said:

 The city needs a new central library. "This will happen," she promised.
 "We will do it this time."

 Some neighborhoods "continue to be plagued by street-level drug dealing,
 theft and violence. We still have a long way to go." One step that needs to
 be taken, she said, is for legislators to approve an integrated computer
 system for criminal justice so that offenders don't get lost in the

 People need to volunteer to help young children learn to read before their
 frustrations grow too high. She gave a phone number -- 612-617-7806 -- for
 residents to call to get involved.

 More affordable housing is needed, and the city is "laying the foundation
 to start several new affordable housing projects."

 Airport noise plagues parts of the city, and she hopes to work with
 citizen groups to find "bold new strategies [to] address long-term airport

 Citizens are getting fed up with blighted and graffiti-covered buildings
 that no one bothers to fix up. "We must eliminate the blight of problem
 properties promptly and aggressively!"