Candidate Questionnaire Response: Mary Ann Quiroz, Ward 7

Mary Ann Quiroz is running for City Council in Ward 7. Learn more about her at https://www.quirozfortheeastside.com

What is your vision for safety and wellness rooted in St. Paul communities? As a city councilmember, what concrete steps would you take to support that vision? And who else would you work with to advance that vision?

I believe that we can build community wealth through using arts and culture as a vehicle for reimagining new possibilities for public safety and what keeping our neighborhoods safe looks like beyond traditional methods of policing. We must advocate for the holistic health of our city by investing in community-led public safety programs, but also equitable and deeply affordable housing, accessible transit, and clean energy. I will work in partnership elected leaders as well as community stakeholders to advance this.

What alternatives to policing, arrest, criminal prosecution and incarceration would you work to support? How would you work to reduce the dramatic racial disparities and impacts of these systems?

We must invest in community-driven public safety programs and reimagine what public safety looks like beyond traditional methods of policing. I will advocate for increased cultural competency and de-escalation trainings, as well as the divestment of the St. Paul Police budget so we can reinvest those resources into back into community programs. Ultimately I support the demilitarization of police officers when in-community. I will also advocate for the city to invest in the dispatch of trained mental health professionals and social workers when responding to mental health crisis situations or calls of domestic abuse. I will stand up for our undocumented neighbors and support the City of St. Paul separation ordinance with ICE and hold federal immigration authorities accountable to this policy.

Many people who are routinely impacted by policing come from our most impoverished and disenfranchised communities, and due to systemic inequities, they are comparatively disconnected from the levers of power. How would you work to elevate the experience and insight of directly impacted community members so they can have the same impact on shaping policy as well-funded advocacy organizations?

I was asked several times to step up and run for this seat by friends, family, and community members because of my vision and lived experiences. My community keeps me rooted and I will bring with me the voices of our Eastside neighbors to City Hall, especially those who have been historically kept out of the decision making process. The East Side of Saint Paul has the lowest voter turnout in the entire city and is one of the lowest in the country. We are organizing to increase engagement throughout our Ward by mobilizing as many new folks to attend precinct caucuses for the first time, especially youth and communities of color. When in office, I will continue to lead with community and create spaces for dialogue and discussion so everyone has the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas in order to have an impact on the policy-making process. I am also running as an immigrant woman of color in the hopes of inspiring youth in my community so they realize that anyone can lead and run for office.

In partnership with the community-first safety initiative, and with leadership support from the city council, St. Paul residents have advanced the idea of a community cabinet on safety, wellness and justice. How would you support this cabinet to ensure it has lasting and meaningful input?

I intend to move the City away from traditional methods of policing and public safety, so I fully support a community cabinet on safety, wellness and justice and will work with community members to ensure that the cabinet becomes a reality. Communities are in tune with their needs and already have the assets to develop solutions — we just need to create the spaces for communities to generate these ideas around public safety and then support those ideas financially. As a Council we can divest funds from the St. Paul Police Department and reinvest those resources directly back into the community and programs such as the cabinet on safety, wellness and justice.

What is your knowledge of or experience with restorative justice and restorative practices? How might St. Paul become a restorative city?

My husband Sergio and I co-founded the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center in 2015, which is a space dedicated to building, supporting, and cultivating opportunities for Indigenous peoples and communities of color through cultural arts and activism. My organizing philosophy which I’ve developed through my work at the center will inform the way in which I govern. We always use restorative justice practices when resolving conflict at the center as well as in the community. Restorative justice means that we are always creating spaces and opportunities for growth, while listening and learning from one another. St. Paul can be a restorative city by providing these opportunities for growth by offering second chances. We can do this by banning the box on rental applications and providing incentives to small businesses for hiring community members who have been through the criminal justice system. The city must also offer frequent spaces for dialogue in order to learn from organizers and community members who are already advocating for restorative justice practices in other settings

What specific steps would you take to build stability in areas hard-hit by poverty, unemployment, and housing insecurity?

We need to build intergenerational wealth in our communities through the vehicle of arts and culture as well as becoming the developers of our own communities. My husband and I founded the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center to preserve and celebrate our heritage and to create a space from which indigenous folks, people of color and underrepresented communities could produce art — and I want to continue this intergenerational wealth-building at the city-wide level. I also want to work with locally-owned businesses — especially those owned by indigenous folks, people of color, immigrants and refugees, women and LGBTQ folks — to create and invest in accessible pathways and opportunities for them to own the buildings out of which they operate.

In terms of housing, I want to identify funding streams to support and subsidize culturally relevant cooperative housing for our youth and elders, in particular. I will advocate for rent regulation and penalizing management companies that continually raise the rent on their tenants without providing basic amenities and upkeep of their buildings. I will also support and continue to fund day centers and shelters that serve our neighbors and community members experiencing homeless. We also need a living wage commensurate to inflation and the cost of living and need to invest in local businesses directly to support them so they can pay their employees a living wage, and I will support small business owners as St. Paul begins to transition to $15 over the next few years.

What do you know about the recently dissolved Joint Powers Agreement to share data to flag Ramsey County students as “at-risk”? What lessons do you think officials should take away from the political process that created the Joint Powers Agreement data-sharing plan?

In 2018 the City of St. Paul, St. Paul Public Schools, and Ramsey County created the Joint Powers Agreement to share data with one another in order to “better support students deemed at risk” of falling into the criminal justice system. I am relieved that this agreement has been dissolved. The Joint Powers Agreement inevitibly allowed racial bias and discrimination to collect data, and violated the trust and privacy of our children and families. Our elected officials should take away the lesson that our community members hold truth in what our city needs. We can all collaborate to reimagine community-driven solutions while ensuring that we aren’t marginalizing a community group when crafting policy.

What specific steps will you take to end the school to prison pipeline for St. Paul youth? What can you as a city councilmember do to create more opportunities for youth to thrive?

Through my work as the co-founder of the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center, as well as an After School Program Coordinator with Saint Paul Public Schools I have worked firsthand with youth who have already been impacted by the system, especially youth of color. I will work with my allies on the St. Paul School Board to limit the presence of school resource officers and invest those resources into being able to hire more licensed social workers on-sight. Additionally, we must invest in community led arts and culture initiatives and our recreation centers on the Eastside and continue to cultivate after school enrichment opportunities for our youth.

How should the city of St. Paul welcome and support people returning to neighborhoods from jail or prison, or living on probation? What steps would you take to make housing more accessible to people with criminal convictions?

I will always apply a restorative justice lens to my policymaking at City Hall, especially when working on initiatives related to welcoming our neighbors back to our community after leaving jail or prison. In order to make housing more accessible to people with criminal records we must “ban the box” on all rental applications city-wide, invest in transitional housing, and support and subsidize cooperative housing.

What is a person, place, book, experience, or film that has especially influenced your vision of community-first public safety and your dreams about what’s possible for community-first public safety in St. Paul?

From a young age my mother has been a role model and has significantly influenced my perspective on the issue of policing and what that meant for our family of immigrants and people of color. I quickly learned that we were not viewed equally within the criminal justice system and many other institutions in our community. At the same time, I began to explore my heritage and culture through art, which led to my community activism and organizing work. In my community we reimagined what public safety could look like beyond traditional methods of policing and I carry these lived experiences with me every day and will continue to do so at City Hall.

What informs your decision-making process when it comes to community issues? Can you share a story about a specific time when you had to decide where you stood on a difficult community issue, or when you had to decide what kind of action you should take on an issue? How did you arrive at the decision you did?

I make decisions by listening to my community and prioritizing the voices of those most marginalized. At Indigenous Roots we have held several mediated dialogue sessions to address conflict within our dance group and have had to make difficult decisions on how to best address these issues while always applying a lens of restorative justice and cultural competency. We always create these opportunities for dialogue while recognizing the importance of mediation and space for healing for those most impacted by the issue.

What does co-governance look like to you? How have you implemented that vision of co-governance in your own life and work? How would you work to scale up that vision in city government?

Co-governance means that we are creating spaces for community members, especially those who have been historically marginalized, to share their stories and influence the decision making process by providing personal narrative for the policies we are working to create. Indigenous Roots Cultural Art Center is governed by a collective model and we all make decisions together. I hope to continue the principles of this model through my work at City Hall. We can do this by hosting regular office hours in-community, prioritizing outreach to communities and neighborhoods that have been historically marginalized, creating spaces for dialogue on policy issues, and mobilizing our coalition to hold their elected officials accountable.