Brooklyn Park City Council member Wynfred Russell is running for mayor. He was the first one to file, making him the most prominent candidate yet in the race to succeed former Mayor Jeff Lunde. A special election will be held on April 13 if only a maximum of two candidates file. Should more than two file to run, then April 13 will be a primary election day to narrow the field to two candidates that will be on the ballot during an Aug. 10 special election.
Russell is serving his first term in the council representing the West District, a seat he won in 2018 after his second try. In his first attempt to join the council in 2012, he lost by just five votes, an experience other aspirants for office have used to warn supporters against complacency when it comes to voting.
Liberian-born Russell came to the United States as a refugee student on a scholarship. He received a masters in international and global studies from Northern Michigan University upon which the University of Minnesota recruited him to work as a public health researcher at the university’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), which was founded by Dr. Michael Osterholm.
That was over 15 years ago. Little did he know that his life will take a different turn than he had envisioned. Upon arriving in Minnesota, he settled in New Brighton and started his life in academia. A devout Methodist, he immediately had to look for a church home and started attending United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Park.
“Attending church there is what sparked my involvement in local issues,” Russell said. “The city wanted to demolish Huntington Pointe and the pastor was asking me if I was involved in stopping it.”
Huntington Pointe was a 306-unit apartment complex on Brooklyn Boulevard that the city, under pressure from residents tired of numerous police calls to the site, acquired in 2007 and demolished in 2008 to make way for what it said was to be affordable housing. 300 families were displaced in the process.
“This is twelve years later and nothing has been built there until now,” a visibly frustrated Russell says.
The city succeeded in demolishing Huntington Pointe but not the spirit of activism that they had awakened in the young university researcher. He moved from New Brighton to Brooklyn Park to be closer to “where I can be more effective.” He lives in the Candlewood neighborhood.
That activism culminated in his election in 2018 to the city council. Regarding his first elected position, Russell wants one more thing — to be elected mayor of his adopted city.
In a wide-ranging interview with Mshale on his candidacy, Russell said he’s running because he believes with more than 56% of the city being people of color “it is about time we have someone of color in the mayoral seat” that understands how the system works.
If elected, he said he would work to be a bridge builder between the diverse communities that make up Brooklyn Park. “Not only am I a policy maker as a councilmember, but I am on the ground and I have worked with different coalitions of people and understand the effects of what we do as elected officials,” said Russell.
Russell’s top issue is economic development, which he says would involve two goals: “working closely with small businesses but especially microbusinesses and changing the culture of how the city looks at economic development.”
On the first goal, Russell says the city should be proactive in working with microbusinesses, and should find a balance on how it caters to the small businesses and big business. He wants the city to be equally accommodating to small business as it is to big business that come calling for help, saying the small businesses in the city “are the backbone of our community.”
“If you go to Brooklyn Blvd. & Zane next to the AutoZone, there are a lot of small microbusinesses, a lot of them owned by women, who is looking out for them?” Russell asks rhetorically.
Russell’s other top issue is affordable housing. “We need more affordable housing stock in Brooklyn Park,” he said. “There are large families paying over $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, we need to do something about that as a city.”
Public safety is likely to be a top issue for all candidates running for mayor in the city but Russell says he looks at the issue from a “holistic perspective.”
When talking about public safety, Russell says he doe not just mean police. He said there are many issues that affect public safety including whether people have a place to stay and if they have jobs. “If we address the issues of affordable housing and are good at how we approach economic development and public health, then public safety should be an issue we can address well,” said Russell.