Teqen Sjoberg Zéa-Aida discusses his run to represent Ward 7 at Minneapolis City Council

Teqen Sjoberg Zéa-Aida is among the openly LGBTQ individuals aiming to represent Ward 7 at Minneapolis City Council. Teqen ran for this seat before in November 2017.

He is a Public Policy and Leadership Fellow of the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “For 22 years I owned and operated an internationally recognized Model and Talent Agency called Vision Management Group, Inc. (Vision Models est. 1996). I have vast interpersonal, creative, and executive experience which I believe lends itself well to the work of policymaking,” he said.  

PrideIndex does not endorse candidates for election.

Challengers: Lisa Goodman, Nick Kor, and Joanna Diaz 

Website: teqenwardseven.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/TeqSeven612

What he shared with us:

PrideIndex (PI): Why did you decide to run for office?

Teqen Sjoberg Zéa-Aida (TZA): I have lived in Minneapolis since 1994 and have witnessed the slow spiraling of my City into unnecessary chaos and despair. The local Government seems dedicated to an apartheid-style status quo and a non-profit industrial complex that seems to only incubate more problems than it solves. Continual commercial and residential development has led to gentrification and displacement, and based on what’s being built, you would think we had a luxury housing shortage. Massive socioeconomic disparities between whites and BIPOCI Communities have only grown in the last 20 years and now become national headlines. A substance abuse epidemic, a homeless crisis, and poverty exacerbated by Covid-19 and the subsequent violence that has plagued most cities—we are seeing things become more dire. Add the militarization of an already abuse-prone Minneapolis Police Department we find Minneapolis at the top of the “worst of American Cities” list.

Our City has suffered trauma after trauma the most well-known being the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. If the shock of the last two years of civil unrest haven’t been a big enough red flag urging us to take immediate action, I don’t know what more it will take. Governance that only serves the most powerful and their interests is not working. I am running because I believe that it is not too late to change course, and I know I have the experience and cultural competency to bring communities together, create value, and make a difference.

In my opinion, Downtown Minneapolis (and indeed many American Inner Cities) has always been culturally influenced by Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Queer, and differently identifying Black Agents of Change. It is time for Us to lead—to sit at the decision making tables. As a Black LGBTQ+ Community, it is time to leave Our political mark. Lastly, I am running because Black Lives cannot matter without Black political power as an assuror. It is time to pass the baton to the next generation of qualified diverse leadership that also reflects the City’s changed culture and demographics.

PI: What makes you qualified to hold this office?

TZA: For 22 years I owned and operated an internationally recognized Model and Talent Agency called Vision Management Group, Inc. (Vision Models est. 1996). I have vast interpersonal, creative, and executive experience which I believe lends itself well to the work of policymaking. I understand how to work across disparate interests, build programs, track success (or change course) and achieve results. Existing in the small business sector has given me the skill-set, and deep community connections needed to build a creative cohort ready to refresh brand Minneapolis and bring positive change at this pivotal moment. I have decades of experience in creating economic opportunities and fostering excellence in Youth.

I am a 2019-2020 Public Policy and Leadership Fellow of the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. I also have some legal experience after being the principal employee at a local law firm that dealt with insurance claims as a result of sex abuse in the Catholic Church. For several years I have been able to closely observe and engaged City Hall—a privilege many are unable to enjoy due to the prohibitive nature of access to the workings of City Government. As someone coming from the creative private sector, I have substantial experience operating outside of government in the real world. This background will lend itself well to a bureaucracy stuck in its own silo.

Additionally, as an Immigrant Transracial Adoptee who is Black (Afro-Colombian) and who identifies as a same-gender loving HIV+ survivor, I sit at the intersection of many of the challenges policymakers are facing across the country. My lived, and professional experience position me perfectly to be of service to a city torn apart by racial, social, and economic issues left to fester for the last 163 years.

PI: Should you win, what can voters expect from you in this position?

TZA: Should I win, Voters can trust that I will be the very same Teqen they have known from my years in business, philanthropy, and community building. They can trust that I will co-govern with the Community in a way that demonstrates our most common values. I will lead with kindness, prudence, and a natural dedication to diversity and inclusion at the decision making table. I can be expected to keep the economic importance of Minneapolis, and the opportunities of our Inner-City Kids at the center of every project.

Those that know me, have experienced my ability to create spaces in which a diversity of expression can flourish. I look forward to bringing this know-how into City Hall. Having been a 20 year old entrepreneur, I am interested activating the power of Minneapolis’ Downtown Business Community and other partners in fostering innovative small business creation at the Youth level. I understand that supporting a diversity of current and potential local small business is key to the next Minneapolis Miracle. As we move forward doing the work of complex progressive change, I will be reaching out to constituents often in order enrich policy and programming by accessing the abundant business, artistic, and institutional experience that the Ward 7 Community offers.

PI: What similarities and differences do you see between yourself and your opponent(s)?

TZA: I think we all have a clear idea of what we want Minneapolis to be in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and resulting civil unrest. Some of us want transformative change while others seem to want some variation of the old status quo comforts. Three of us are new-comers. Ms. Goodman is entering her 24th year. The biggest difference is that I am the only Black candidate in our race. I am the only candidate who has owned his own business. I have Family living in the most impacted areas of the City so my concerns are urgent, and real. My identity reflects those Community Members most impacted. Most importantly, I am a candidate with connections to this Community that transcend race, age, class, gender, and socioeconomic status. I can walk into almost any room and find a friend or a commonality. This is crucial as we move forward rebuilding and healing Minneapolis.

Photo Art By Nick Dahlen

PI: What should the city of Minneapolis do to address the issues of the homeless and the underserved?

TZA: It is time for our Community to reorganize our priorities. I believe this starts with recommitting to protecting public housing. We must protect and improve this bedrock of our affordable housing stock. We also need to make sure that precious public dollars go towards supporting the creation of more dignified, and amenity rich deeply affordable housing. It is paramount that this housing be placed along major commercial and transit corridors.

Services like public transportation must first and foremost serve those most in need. In Minneapolis, we also need to hold Hennepin County accountable to utilize their massive budget to shore up the services they are charged with providing. This includes mental and medical health professional response teams, local shelters, and services helping those battling drug and alcohol addiction. We need to activate a broad intergovernmental coalition in order to move us from aspiration to action when it comes to servicing our homeless and disenfranchised Neighbors.

PI: Should you win, what do you plan to do to address the needs of your detractors?

TZA: I will simply ask how I can best serve their needs. I will prove myself through deeds not rhetoric. And —without sacrificing self—I will do my best to become a trusted professional with the best interests of all Community in mind.

PI: What are your suggestions for building a better relationship between the police, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community?

TZA: In Minneapolis we must get in control of our contractual agreement with the Police Federation. If we can do this, we can start to understand and shape how men and women interested in peacekeeping service are recruited and trained. It is imperative that Minneapolis’ Peacekeeping Officers reflect our values and professionally relate to our people.

Looking at safety beyond policing, it will be my duty to reach those Community members labeled as problematic first. I will connect our most impacted to life-saving services or create those services where there are gaps. I am ready to convene Youth and other at-risk Community with established stakeholders, policy makers, Boots-on-the-Ground, and Faith Organizations in order to co-create a new narrative based on our highest common values.

I have proposed the concept of Comfort and Safety Nodes built upon the work of CAHOOTS (Eugene Oregon), and STAR (Denver Colorado). These Nodes will be placed out in the Neighborhoods, and will house co-first response teams comprised of Peacekeeping Officers, Medical and Mental Health Professionals, as well as representatives from the Community, Boots-on-the-Ground, and Faith Based Organizations. The goal is saving lives, and curbing the over-criminalization of our most disenfranchised who often tend to be Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ Community members.

PI: How should the city address funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and education?

TZA: We are experiencing a crisis in Minneapolis. Due to socioeconomic disparities disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ BIPOC Community we are seeing HIV/AIDS infection rates as well as drug and alcohol addiction at alarming levels. It is crucial that the City fund creative pilot programs to address these issues. It is even more important for the City to partner with State and County service providers already charged with funding the bulk of our response to these public health crises. Local Government is perfectly suited to explain local problems and needs to these larger entities and urge them to spend their budgets reducing real-time, real-life challenges. I believe access to supportive housing, intuitive education, and dignified jobs are key. As a Council member, I will also look to work with the regional chemical health organizations and treatment facilities. It is imperative that these services are culturally competent and welcoming to all in need. I can say first hand that there is a lot of work to be done in order to create healing environments that feel safe for our BIPOC Family. Fighting sex-trafficking, while working towards regulated and dignified sex-work policy is central to fighting the spread of the virus, and protecting the lives of Trans Women and our LGBTQ+ Youth. Funding must be matched with education, strategic partnerships, smart prevention initiatives and targeted, supportive policy. My previous work gives me excellent experience in creating, administering and tracking the success of programming and initiatives. It will be important for the City of Minneapolis to continue its engagement in broad intergovernmental responses to these issues and I am ready to do my part. I will work with County and State partners to assure a deeper understanding of the realities facing LGBTQ BIPOC folks engaging in sex-work, living with HIV/AIDS and or battling addiction. I am committed to making sure everyone in our Community has access to the services and care they deserve and need.