My name is Abu Nayeem aka the Frogman. I’m a Saint Paul resident, proud Frogtown advocate, community organizer, programmer, and I’m running for mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota for the 2021 election. My campaign is about giving voice to the disenfranchised, and empowering citizens. My campaign priorities is public safety, citizen agency, community organizing , and digital infrastructure. For a quick summary of my vision of Saint Paul and public safety position, read my campaign literature.
My campaign will make a commitment to door-knock in every Saint Paul neighborhood!
Incumbent, Mayor Carter is a skilled career politician. He has avoided public controversy, bolstered his legacy, though at the expense of the marginalized citizens, public safety, and the overall health of the city as I will explain in this introductory essay/report. In this essay, I will be doing a deep dive on public safety as this is our top concern. I challenge YOU, the citizen, to read this opening essay and have conversations with friends and neighbors about the disenfranchisement of citizens and how can we do better as a city. The campaign’s guiding communication principles are:
Principle #1: “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game”
This phrase, in this context, highlights that we should not focus on the individual, Mayor Carter, but the electoral system and the power bestowed onto the mayor. Focus on the underlying system, and not the individual.
Principle #2: “Yes, and….” or the abundance mindset
At the leadership level, the abundance mindset is that there are enough resources in the community to go around, and it requires leaders to encourage citizen initiative, and give resources for them to succeed. For our campaign:
- We recognize politics/resources is not a zero-sum game
- We recognize that all citizens, including local law enforcement, deserve dignity and respect
- We recognize there are current programs that are working well, some that need to be improved upon, and others that should be discontinued
- We recognize we don’t need to invent the wheel and can support existing partners and organizations
- We recognize that citizens have talents/gift/interest/time that they can offer. We want to support citizens and encourage them to engage with each other to form a vibrant and organic community
Who am I?
I’m a programmer, data scientist, community organizer, public servant, and Frogtown local superhero. I have a masters of science in Agricultural & Resource Economics from UC Berkeley. I’m the former Education Data Analyst for South Washington County Schools, and founder/programmer of the Saint Paul Open Data Initiative, in which I take open source data and create community data reports, including a 2017 Mayoral voting report. In 2019, I ran for St. Paul City Council for Ward 1, and received over 500 votes in a competitive race.
Since then, I have organized for the 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and was an election judge for Ramsey county for over a month. I’ve become a full-fledged grassroots community organizer leading several initiatives including lead organizer for the Frogtown Cleanup Squad, Midway Cleanup Squad, and Frogtown Fireworks Response Squad. I’ve done some political organizing in addressing the rising catalytic converters thefts throughout the city. I have created a petition that received 1600 signatures that led to a virtual town hall meeting bringing citizens and state legislators together. In summary, public service is my passion and I’m well educated to be the mayor of Saint Paul.
Who are the disenfranchised?
The disenfranchised voters are citizens that do not vote and/or not civically engaged because they are disillusioned by the political process. To find the magnitude, we can use voting data from the last mayoral election in 2017, a fairly competitive election, to determine the numbers.
From the table on the right, about 2 out of 3 registered voters did not vote in the 2017 mayoral election! The voting base is disproportionately in west Saint Paul (not location) over east Saint Paul. For example, Ward 3 comprises 24% of the total vote which is more than Ward 6 & 7 combined (18%). From the neighborhood spatial distribution map below, most Saint Paul citizens can recognize that the voting base is in wealthy neighborhoods, while the disenfranchised are clustered in marginalized communities with higher concentration of poverty and crime.
Disenfranchisement can be broken down into two categories. First, we have the structurally disenfranchised, who are non-politically active citizens that do not vote because their concerns and needs have been consistently ignored. When I ran for St. Paul city council for Ward 1, I door-knocked in under-represented/ poor communities and learned that many disenfranchised voters were frustrated that their pleas for public safety; i.e. victims of crime, have been ignored for years. This is reinforced after the civil unrest, where violent crimes and shootings have skyrocketed, while the Carter administration has been unresponsive to their safety needs. Hardening these citizens even further.
Second, we have the politically disenfranchised, who are citizens that hold a minority position and want to engage, but have no traction. In 2019, there was an upsurge of grassroots activism and city council candidates challenging the status quo centering around the trash referendum. The trash referendum served as a proxy, to challenge the Carter administration, and for good reason. The Carter administration denied access to a legal referendum, which was defeated in court, and then lied to citizens on the consequences and the options available if the “No Vote” was passed. Furthermore, the Carter administration took a public position on the issue, and funded the “Vote Yes” campaign. You can read my former position. Ultimately, the trash referendum failed to pass, leading to citizens feeling defeated and disillusioned by the political process. Hardening these citizens even further.
How does the system perpetuate disenfranchisement?
Instead of placing the individual responsibility, i.e. shame, on disenfranchised citizens to go vote, we should focus on how the electoral process further erodes their confidence. Let’s go back to the phrase
“Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game”
The game is about winning. The winner gets the rewards, perks, power, and fame. The loser is marked with public shame. Any elected official is rewarded for crushing the spirit of his political opponents with an increased chance of re-election. This is why partisan bullying behavior is frequent. At the campaign level, suppose that I reach out to the disenfranchised, this is a “losing strategy” because I have limited resources/time and the payoff is low. At the other end, the incumbent mayor may have the resources, time, and money to reach out to disenfranchised voters, though the result may backfire, where they may vote for his opponent. In summary, the game is rigged against the disenfranchised. As long as the disenfranchised are a political minority, they will be a permanent underclass.
Question to Citizen: Do you want to maintain the system of governance that further disenfranchises residents, including the most vulnerable, even though you “benefit” from it?
Priority #1 : Public Safety [Click for Detail Platform]
My platform is to reform the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD), which includes supporting community-based alternatives, funding the police, police accountability, and improving relations between citizens and SPPD. I believe all citizens, workers, including law enforcement, deserve dignity and mutual respect. The platform overview is provided below.
Before we go on, I wanna communicate to you, the reader, an effective way to process this information and communicate this topic effectively so you can have productive conversations rather than shout matches with your neighbors and friends. I have published a video going over this. In addition, I grew up in over-policed environment of NYC during the height of Muslim discrimination, and had serious trauma around police, but overcame it, you can read my trauma story.
- Establish Common Ground: We can all agree with the sentiment that we want to live in a society that less policing is necessary.
- Reframe the Question: The question, “should we defund the police”, invokes an emotional response to both the respondent and listener. Immediately hearing yes/no, we can either support and/or completely dismiss what they have to say. Instead reframe it, “WHEN should we defund the police?”. This question now focuses on the conditions needed to transition effectively. Many liberal cities have prematurely defunding the police at the detriment of disenfranchised citizens, the police department, and they are now scrambling to fund the police.
- Yes AND… Framework: We can pursue alternatives to policing AND fund policing. Instead of citizens butting heads, we are working together.
Claim: Disenfranchised communities are most likely victims of crime
When I ran for city council for Ward 1 in 2019 and talked to residents, I noticed a general trend
- Citizens that experience less crime want less policing
- Disenfranchised citizens that experience crime on a regular basis want same/more policing
Since the majority of the voter base reside in low-crime density areas, there is push for less policing and reducing police budget despite significant increase in violent crime.
Question to Citizen: Is it fair to disregard the safety needs of disenfranchised citizens who are most impacted by policing staffing needs?
You would expect most people to say no, but, in practice, you will be surprised by the mental gymnastics and paternalism that privileged citizens express to speak on behalf of disenfranchised communities. I encouraged my critics to come join me and meet the residents themselves (Of course, they declined because it requires integrity to say it to someone’s face).
Mayor Carter’s Priorities / Actions
During Mayor Carter’s tenure, he prioritize the needs of his constituency over the safety needs of disenfranchised citizens. Mayor’s Carter approach to public safety focuses on long-term factors of crime/poverty, which I, and his constituency can agree upon. However, he is funding these initiatives by reallocating/ underfunding the SPPD, which is also desired amongst his constituency.
Despite the historical number of homicides and shootings for the last two years, leading to a further under-resourced police department, and access to supplementary $166 million federal funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), mayor Carter is firmly committed to not fund the police. Since his constituency does not experience the consequences of increased crime (red dot on graph) there are no political consequences of his action. Furthermore, mayor Carter (and other politicians) publicly speak out against violence, when the violent incidents occur where the voting base reside and/or directly related to their legacy. Just a reminder
“Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game”
Mayor Carter’s Public Safety Platform Overview
Mayor Carter has been funding police alternatives, by underfunding (or “defunding”) the SPPD, which leads to under-resourced and under-staffed police departments as demonstrated by excess overtime for officers, and longer response times that disproportionately harm disenfranchised citizens. On September 1st, 2021, SPPD Chief Todd Axtell gave a budget presentation to the city council requesting more funds because a $3.7 million attrition led to staffing shortages. Mayor Carter is committed to spend $40 million of federal money for the new Office of Neighborhood Safety, which has no concrete plans on how to address their goals of replacing officers with social workers (or equivalent). Finally, Carter is not taking active steps in improving the relationship between citizens and the SPPD making the city susceptible to another civil unrest, and having challenges to get citizens to join the SPPD
Abu’s Public Safety Platform Overview
Abu’s Approach: My public safety approach takes a “Yes, and” approach where policing alternatives and the SPPD is funded, but more importantly it is a collaborative relationship, not antagonistic. I provide a solid proposal on how non-officers can address low-priority calls by having citizens choose the appropriate staff to assist them. In addition, I will be implementing a policy where patrol officers get 30% paid time engaging the community within their district. This is how you bridge the empathy gap! Furthermore, I will increase funding of the Civilian Review Board and enact police liability insurance for the SPPD, which will remove taxpayers liability of lawsuits, remove highly liable officers, and can serve as an external mechanism to assure police department is adequately staffed. Read complete platform here.
Priority #2: Taxes & Budget [Click for Detail Platform]
Current System: The mayor is the chief executive officer and can draft/shape the city budget, which includes what programs are being implemented. The city council can then approve or reject the budget. For this year, city taxes will be increasing nearly 7%. Most of the increase in tax spending is from $500 million tax developers given to developers for new properties. In general, top-down management is most likely to be mismanaged, less oversight/accountability, expensive, and it’s costly to taxpayers. One example of a poorly designed program is the College Bound Program, which creates a savings fund ($50 per year) for every baby born in Saint Paul till they reach college age. There are a multitude of reasons why this program is ineffective, including
- Doesn’t address immediate poverty
- Funds are not specified to lower-income families, but given to all children
- Parents are limited to a single fund with a low saving rate. (i.e. greater return money market account or certificate of deposit)
- The program does not specify what happens if the family moves in and out of the city? How do they track?
- Create entirely new department with staff maintained by the city
- A long-term liability for decades before an actual payout is determined, and it’s restricted to colleges only
After first year enrollment, only 7% of parents ever signed into their account and only 8 families out of 3089 added additional money. If the decision-makers were the tax-paying citizens (or even city council), this program would never be given the green-light to go ahead. The College Bound program is a symbolic program that has good intention, but poor execution and heavy costs to taxpayers. NOTE: I would transition this program to local credit unions, who are invested in the community and more well-equipped to engage with financial literacy to residents.
I go into details how our taxes are allocated in detailed proposal. To decrease property taxes and/or or keep them low :
- Responsible spending i.e. participatory Budget (get more for less)
- Increased/build mixed commercial/ residential development, which has greater value per acre. Some residential ordinances can change to mixed development through some streets
- Empower local entrepreneurs and incentivize hiring locally by giving subsidy (ex: one dollar subsidized on hourly rate)
- No more spending millions on tax subsidies to developers that don’t need it
My administration also would like to implement a participatory budget where a citizen can distribute a portion of their tax dollars to public proposals and have approval authority. The participatory budget is groundbreaking because it get all citizens involved, independent of electoral cycle, and encourages wealthy citizens to give more if they choose. The following graphic summarizes this:
Priority #3: Community Organizing
How can we organize, engage, and activate citizens, while reaching out to citizens?
Current Approach: The top-down approach to engage community works like this. A massive budget for a community event is created, bare minimum of advertising, self-aggrandizement of local officials, and a photo-op with most of the attendees directly aligned with the politicians. It’s a political spectacle. For “community listening” sessions, people are allowed to express their opinions; though the executive decision has been made in advance; once again, these sessions cost money and it’s a political spectacle. Political spectacles win elections…“Don’t hate the player, hate the game”; Note: annual festivals are fine as long as that is not the primary form of engagement
My Approach: Two years ago, when I ran for city council for , I asked citizens if they felt they belonged in the community. A sense of belonging is not something that is given to you, it is something that you contribute to. The bottom-up approach or grassroots community engagement involves activating citizens and connecting them with each other to create activities, events, and building a community. These events are more intimate, affordable (members pooling resources), and centers around citizens. Door-to-door organizers can reach out to citizens to get them informed, activated, and engage in the community. Our administration will be pursuing asset based community development (ABCD), which draws upon the strengths of local residents and local institutions to build stronger, more sustainable communities. We can use funding from the American Rescue Plan to door-knock the entire city. Here is a video highlighting how residents can lead and transform their communities. Check out this video on ABCD in-action
Priority #4: Digital Infrastructure
How can we build civic engagement tools for the 21st century?
We will be building a digital civic engagement platform that will make citizen engagement, citizen decision-making, and organizing a lot more accessible to all audiences.
One of the first iterations is the “Knock My Block” initiative, which is a block club network that improves public safety and creates a social network for neighbors. The neighborhood is broken down into block clusters. Each cluster has block leaders who are responsible for those residents forming a block club. Residents in the block club can be provided pertinent information if there are dangers, emergencies, and/or public announcement using their desired contact information. In addition, social residents can communicate with each other to form social networks. Unlike social media, these networks are semi-private, so residents can share suspicious behavior with neighbors without being personally attacked for their intentions; and crime notifications are local.
During a potential emergency situation where law enforcement is overwhelmed, such as during the civil unrest, the block networks can provide rapid communication channels to inform residents, mobilize residents to protect their neighborhood and vulnerable residents, and, for post-disaster, the block-level communication channel can be used to aid citizens by connecting them to city resources and/or mutual aid groups. This is part of the Neighborhood Emergency Protection Initiative (NEPI).
Next Steps/ Ways to contribute:
I’m still looking for some experienced campaign folks to help out
- Become a Volunteer/ Join the Campaign!!
- If you are an organization/community leader/ educator that is interested to talk, reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
A city run by superheroes!!???
If we seek to transform our system, we need different types of leaders and mold a system that expands, embraces, and empowers all kinds of people We need to campaign spreading love, compassion, and hope into our community! My superhero ability is empowering others, which means unlocking people’s potential, and amplifying it. It will be meaningful for children and youth to identify and connect with the values/ principles of a real-life hero, and see them in action. Let’s work together to create a community vision that we can all be proud of, while spreading love and joy. This can only be achieved by the participation and contribution of community members/ artists/ leaders. Can you imagine other superheroes running for office, and changing the narrative on how we engage with community and run campaigns!?