The major municipal elections in Minneapolis have wrapped up and the City Council has a new batch of members for the new term. Political junkies looking for their fix in Minnesota won’t have much to follow for the first few months of the year, save for the special election to fill Third District Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman’s seat. Commissioner Dorfman announced her decision not to run last November and has since taken an executive position with the homeless advocacy organization St. Stephen’s Human Services. Several candidates have announced their plans to run for her seat including Ben Schweigert, attorney with Hennepin County (see here for coverage of a recent forum with four of the candidates). Your Examiner was honored to speak with Mr. Schweigert to discuss his previous experience and some of the issues he hopes to tackle if elected.
Mr. Schweigert attended Central High School in St. Paul and went on to attend Swarthmore College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He furthered his education at the University of Michigan, where he gained both a law degree and a Master’s in Public Policy. After law school, he worked in New York City as a clerk to a federal Appeals Judge and also worked as an associate with the law firm of Davis, Polk & Wardwell. Here the candidate said he “tested the upper bounds of time spent on pro bono work” by helping illegal immigrants gain asylum and helping immigrant restaurant workers gain their rightful wages. Mr. Schweigert is currently a prosecutor with Hennepin County. He describes his dual roles here as “prosecuting white collar crime and serving as the Office’s legislative liaison.” Mr. Schweigert also serves as a fellow with the non-profit group Minnesota 2020.
When asked what the county’s role is in local government issues. Mr. Schweigert said that it plays a “big role.” He described some of the most important issues under the county’s purvey as transportation, social services, environmental protection, public safety and infrastructure. He also noted that Hennepin County has the largest budget outside the state of Minnesota itself.
Asked to delve more into his transportation ideas, the candidate said a priority was that the system ensures “healthier neighborhoods and the planet.” He stated that he wanted to make it “easier to use cars less.” He spoke of the need for a better overall transit system, “better bus and light rail” services and more “walkable neighborhoods.” He spoke of the need to “encourage people to take care of tasks in their own neighborhood” and to create better “bike infrastructure, including bike lanes.”
The next question dealt with his campaign’s proposal for a living wage in Hennepin County. Mr. Schweigert first described the “inequality” in the county as a “moral challenge.” He said there were some “concrete things the county can do” in this area. Regarding recent proposals at the Minnesota State Legislature for a state minimum wage of $9.50, he described that as “still a poverty wage.” He spoke of how Hennepin County can use its leverage over businesses to ensure that any contract work is done with a living wage. Regarding specifics, he said he sees it applying to anyone making “130% of the poverty line,” and “110% for those receiving benefits.”
The next question had to do with the ever contentious Southwest Light Rail. Mr. Schweigert described this as an “important project” and said it was important to “expand the network” of light rail in the area. He stressed the need to forge agreement among the various local governments on some important issues: “protecting the lakes, mitigation, and reducing the impact of communities along the line.” He seeks to “broaden the conversation” among the cities on the line to discuss their commitments beyond the Southwest Light Rail project.
The final question concerned Commissioner Dorfman’s tenure on the Hennepin County Board. Mr. Schweigert said he thought Ms. Dorfman was a “great leader” and a “great representative” of the area. He spoke highly of her work to combat sex trafficking in the county, and said her work on ending homelessness was an “inspiration.” The candidate said he hopes he can continue “carrying forward the great work she has done.”
Ben Schweigert is running for the seat vacated by current Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. Click here to read an interview with another candidate for the seat, Anne Mavity, and here for another interview with candidate Marion Greene. And stay tuned to the Examiner for more coverage of the 2014 elections in Minnesota.