Mayoral candidate Aswar Rahman wants to invest millions into MCTC students

Photo credit: J.D. Duggan

Aswar Rahman, “the bulldog for the people,” is hoping to win the mayoral slot in Minneapolis, and plans to give $10 million to MCTC if he succeeds.

“No one who wants to break the cycle of poverty in their family will be denied the opportunity to do so,” he said about his proposed investment.

Rahman is a lesser known figure in the race. He’s a current business owner and filmmaker, rather than a politician. He’s up against some stiff competition which includes Mayor Betsy Hodges, city council member Jacob Frey, and Black Lives Matter activist and accredited law professor Nekima Levy-Pounds.

Of the attention that Rahman has drawn, most of it could be attributed to his unusual campaigning methods.

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Rahman referred to himself as "the bulldog for the people" at a mayoral forum on climate change hosted at Open Book in Downtown Minneapolis. Photo credit: J.D. Duggan

Among these atypical methods, one has included his campaign truck– a large cargo truck that was parked around Minneapolis with Rahman’s face plastered on the side, along with the slogan “invest in the people.”

According to Rahman, the truck had a variety of purposes. The inside had a set up resembling a living room, which allowed Minneapolis residents to meet him. His campaign crew also used it to give out free water around the city on hot summer days.

He gained some notoriety when City Pages published one of his press releases that led with him addressing the media and his expected lack of coverage.

“Yo, you fourth estate residing, fedora with a piece of paper wearing, fast typing, poor diet having, paper-nerds… I’m running for Mayor and you should cover it.”

Rahman’s economic plan stated on his website specifically mentions MCTC, where he plans to give $10 million to the school’s Low Income Enrollment Programs, or TRIO.

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Rahman said that a $15 minimum wage would hurt businesses owned by people of color and called the ordinance “ham-fisted political opportunism” at a mayoral forum in June. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

TRIO has five outreach programs that support students who are disadvantaged: Educational Outreach Program, Starting Point, Educational Talent Search, High School Upward Bound and Veterans Upward Bound. Multiple TRIO programs are currently in financial danger at the hands of the U.S Department of Education.

The funding for the TRIO programs, which comes from the U.S. Education Department, totals over $766,000 over a five year period. He believes if the city were to make a much larger investment, it would eventually bring in more money to the city, since graduates would be earning a higher income.

Rahman also expressed how out of TRIO’s 1700 annual applicants, only 200 are accepted due to lack of funding.

“Anyone who can’t see the connection between 1500 students getting rejected every year on the basis of income, and the continuing cycle of poverty in Minneapolis is– that’s just dumb thinking,” he said.

When asked where he would acquire the $10 million, he mentioned that we may already have the funds to do it, but they are just not being put in that direction.

“This city has a $1.5 billion budget every year and we keep spending it in directions that in no way make it easier for new communities in Minneapolis to start building wealth,” Rahman said.

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Rahman criticizes Mayor Hodges for rising property taxes over the last year, noting that they’ve gone up twice within her term. Photo credit: Benjamin Pecka

Rahman made reference to a time that Mayor Hodges proposed an $11 million expenditure for convention center renovations– in stark contrast to the suggestions of an advisory committee that recommended against the investment. This proposal was widely criticized.

Rahman called MCTC the connector of a great city that still faces poverty, and thinks that funneling funds to the school would benefit the population significantly.

“[Minneapolis is] this beautiful city that’s doing so well in so many respects, but somehow still manages to have one of the highest poverty rates in the country. MCTC is the connector between [this] contradiction and the truth.”

The requirements to enroll at MCTC are minimal and the school offers plenty of remedial classes for students who are not yet ready for college-level classes. Along with being more affordable, the school is one of the most accessible in the metro area.

Although Rahman admitted to starting with a pilot plan and only investing $3-5 million a year at first, he is committed to eventually reaching the full $10 million.

“Hell or high water, four years of effort, that is the one thing I’ll make sure I achieve,” he said.

“When it comes down to it, it builds wealth in communities that haven’t had wealth. The average Native American, the average Black family, the average Somali family earns 20,000 dollars in Minneapolis. The average white family earns 60,000 [dollars]. That’s two different worlds,” Rahman said.

In 2015, the poverty rate in Minneapolis was over 25 percent. Minnesota is also ranked one of the worst in the nation when it comes to racial equality.

“Most of those families are led by single mothers like mine, most of those families are families of color like mine,” Rahman said.

Residents who are under 18 are majority minority in Minneapolis. More than half of MCTC students are of a minority background. However, Rahman doesn’t see that reflected in Minneapolis’s political scene.

He said “I try to figure out if I am the one minority in the room, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in rooms of exceptional power and wealth and I am the one in there. And this city is 40 percent minority.”

Rahman hopes to change this inequity by running for office himself.

The mayoral candidate also puts a focus on the police force in Minneapolis. In his public safety plan, he describes how two recent deaths (Philando Castile and Justine Damond) at the hands of police officers is reason to be concerned over the the conditions of policing methods.

To combat incidences like these, Rahman proposes changing the way officers recruit.

“Why not start cultivating genuine connections with the community where the officer actually grew up in that neighborhood,” he said when describing his plans to set up police awareness campaigns in local schools.

His goal is to get more Minneapolis youth interested in the profession, and growing a police force from within, pointing to the numbers.

Only 5 percent of Minneapolis’s police officers are living in the communities they are serving, compared to an average 40 percent for the rest of the country’s large police forces, which can contribute to an “occupying mindset.”

So who is Aswar Rahman and where did he come from?

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At a mayoral climate change forum in June, Rahman said that Minneapolis has the money, but lacks the political will to push for clean energy. Photo credit: J.D. Duggan

Aswar Rahman immigrated from Bangladesh with his family when he was six years old. His mother, a single parent, managed to open her own Indian clothing store in Minneapolis. While his mother worked 16 hour days, Rahman attended school. Although he did not finish high school, he said that he was able to start at the University of Minnesota at 16 years old and graduate at 19.

After college Rahman went into film. He started two of his own businesses that he still runs today. Cineapolis, a film studio based right here in the city, and Eloquent Minneapolis which focuses on web design.

He also said he worked on former Mayor Ryback’s youth policy which aimed to get third graders thinking about college as well as working on crime prevention for the police department.

When asked why MCTC students should vote for him, he said this about his proposed investment: “I am the only one even talking about [helping to fund MCTC]. I am the only one that comes close. And not only that, I am the only one who has a feasible plan that would make sure that the benefit they’re getting by attending MCTC is accessible to people who are less fortunate than them.”

If you are interested in knowing more about Aswar Rahman, he is participating in a mayoral forum at MCTC on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m.

The Minneapolis mayoral election will be held on Nov. 7. For more information on how to vote, you can visit vote.minneapolismn.gov.

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