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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Troy Barksdale ’23 is on the ballot for City Council

Photo courtesy of Troy Barksdale’s website.

It is easy to tell that Troy Barksdale ’23 grew up studying the great orators. From the smile that spreads through his words as he talks about his passions, to the anger that flares as he discusses Saint Paul’s lack of response to police brutality, Barksdale’s steady yet emotional speech holds gravity, and reveals the passion and expertise that fuel his candidacy for Saint Paul’s City Council. The fifth-year Macalester student, who will graduate in December, is drawing on years of preparation and study as he attempts to assume an office that would allow him to improve the lives of his fellow college students, young Black men and the rest of the Saint Paul community. 

Barksdale’s interest in being an elected figure began young. 

“As cheesy as it sounds, I saw Barack Obama assume the highest office in the land, I saw millions of people chanting ‘Yes we can’, and I internalized that, took it to heart, and I said, ‘Yes I can make a difference,’” Barksdale said. 

The then-seven-year-old Barksdale  began  preparing himself to run for office. 

At first, this preparation took place mostly in his church. At a young age, Barksdale went to church conferences with his mom and served as a delegate, reporting back to his Sunday School and, eventually, the whole congregation. He learned how to present himself confidently and speak well. In the years since, he has practiced public speaking in every possible setting. 

“This is something that anyone who knows me is keenly aware of: I will just break out into speeches in what I deem to be the appropriate moment,” Barksdale said. “To rabblerouse, to inspire, to induce seriousness or jubilation.” 

Barksdale grew up studying and idolizing the great Black orators. As the only Black kid in his elementary school in suburban Massachusetts, these heroes were important, and he internalized their messages and speaking skills. 

“I saw a line from Frederick Douglass down to people like Booker T. and W.E.B. to Martin Luther King and Malcom X. to Barack Obama, and then I saw myself,” Barksdale said.

 He knows that public speaking is one of his great strengths as a candidate. 

“As I got into [speaking], the members of the audience really perked up and didn’t just see me as a 22-year-old … I could see it in their eyes,” Barksdale said about a campaign event. “They were looking at me as a potential councilman.” 

Barksdale’s preparation also involved independent research. As he got older, he researched history, then current events then more niche topics. The geographical scope of his research narrowed too. He began focusing on issues in his town, problems that could be worked on by local elected officials in positions he himself might be able to hold.  

His Macalester experience has prepared him as well. Barksdale is a creative writing major in the English department. He loves reading and writing, from poetry to policy and everything in between. Outside of class, Barksdale has served as a leader on the football team, and will be a leader of the Men of Color Collective this year. 

“I owe a lot of my Macalester experience to ultimately becoming a [creative writing] major. That really defined my personal arc as a student and as a young man trying to find himself at college,” Barksdale said. 

These speaking, research, writing and leadership skills have all helped prepare Barksdale to serve on the City Council, but nothing at Macalester inspired him to run for office more than his “Race, Place, and Space” class, which explores the geography of racism. 

Barksdale had previously been involved in activism and public policy from the summer of 2020 through the spring of 2021, when he helped pass a ballot question in his hometown of Bolton, Mass. with an overwhelming majority. The question established penalties adjacent to those for first-degree murder for police officers who use deadly force against unarmed and restrained citizens. Despite the size of this win, his state representative’s response was just a copy-paste email with her actions on policing in Massachusetts that year—policies that Barksdale could barely call reform. He took a hiatus from policy, disillusioned with how the fervor for reform had died down following the protests of the summer of 2020. However, the “Race, Place, and Space” course that Barksdale took with geography professor Jesse McClelland last semester rekindled his desire to get involved in public policy. He was reminded that public policy was one of his original passions. He noticed that Ward 3’s incumbent councilman, Chris Tolbert, was not running for re-election, and saw an opportunity.

One of the issues that matters most to the renter in the Macalester-Groveland area is housing. Specifically, Barksdale wants to make it easier for Saint Paul residents to enter the housing market through renting. To do this, he wants to heavily reform or completely eliminate rent stabilization.

In Saint Paul, the Rent Stabilization Ordinance caps rent increases at 3% a year in most situations. The purpose of this is to keep rent affordable, however, Barksdale argued that this policy creates a bad situation for Saint Paul renters. The number of apartment permits in the city declined by 45% following the passing of Saint Paul’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Barksdale explained that permits are decreasing because landlords want to make money, and the rent cap makes that harder, so landlords don’t invest.

Saint Paul does, however, offer a 20-year rent cap exemption for new buildings. This 2022 amendment to the ordinance was meant to revitalize the construction of new housing, which had fallen between 35-75% since the ordinance was passed, according to Planetizen. However, this exemption incentives landlords to increase rent as much as possible before they are limited by the rent cap, which still hurts renters, Barksdale argued. 

Barksdale also said that rent stabilization causes a lack of market mobility and poor living conditions. The loss of mobility comes about because residents of rent-stabilized buildings feel forced to stay, as they don’t want to move somewhere with a higher rent. As such, it is difficult for people looking for a place to rent to find anything that is open. Further, the buildings in which renters feel pressured to stay may not even be up to the standards of a house that is owned rather than rented, as landlords cannot raise rent to pay for improvements. 

Barksdale wants to approach this situation in a way that he argues would help both landlords and renters. He is proposing an elimination of rent stabilization. He would replace the old policy with incentives, in the form of tax cuts or subsidies, for landlords to carry out capital improvements and maintenance. This would eliminate landlords’ excuse that they didn’t have the funds to improve their properties. Further, these funds would come from the city, rather than from the pockets of renters. 

In making the elimination of rent stabilization a priority, Barksdale has Macalester students in mind. Many of his peers’ rental homes are in bad condition. College students usually stay in their homes for only one year, which gives landlords an extra excuse not to fix up their properties. With the elimination of rent stabilization, Barksdale argued, college students could be living in better conditions for fair prices. 

“We want landlords to treat their rental units as if they were living in them themselves,” Barksdale said.

Another stand-out feature of Barksdale’s campaign is his decision to run as an independent. In his opinion, a legislature needs differing ideas and allegiances in order to have accountability. Further, he said, members of a party have an allegiance to push the agenda of that party, so they can’t fully act on the opinions of themselves and their constituents. 

“As a nonpartisan, my agenda is simply to aid Saint Paul by any means necessary,” Barksdale said. “That’s why I’m talking about tax cuts, that’s why I’m talking about policies that aren’t left or right; they are potential answers.”

It goes deeper than that: Barksdale spoke about the failings of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), which holds power on the City Council and amongst his opponents, to apply proper justice to police officers who murdered young Black men. When a federal decision came back about the murder by police of Cordale Handy in 2017, Mayor Melvin Carter of Saint Paul, a Black man and progressive party member, said that he didn’t understand the decision in the same statement in which he offered condolences to Handy’s family. 

“How are we supposed to trust the police if the council can’t even call them out in the most heinous of circumstances?” Barksdale asked. 

Barksdale encourages college students to vote, not just because he wants to win, but because the issues at stake, such as rent stabilization and a ballot question about sales tax, affect students every day.

To Macalester students specifically, Barksdale has a message: 

“I know Mac students are constantly searching for tangible action,” he said. “I am running to enact and provide exactly what they are looking for. My proposals on the surface might not immediately line up and I don’t have to agree with every Mac student on policy in general. 

“What I want to agree on, what I think we all share in common, is we want to make a difference; that is why we are here,” he continued. “And no matter what we do, we are seeking to make a difference. I am asking my peers to enable me to do my part.” 

This year, Election Day is on  Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. 


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  • J

    JosephOct 12, 2023 at 12:50 pm

    “Further, these funds would come from the city, rather than from the pockets of renters.”

    Does St. Paul have it’s own money press? Why should the overall tax base subsidize rental properties. Barksdale has the right idea regarding the elimination of rent stabilization. (Funny, how this very publication advocated for this bad idea not too long ago).

    Competition makes goods and services less expensive, not government intervention via rent control or subsidies. Barksdale should look into any kind of concentration of ownership of rental properties as a starting point.

  • H

    Henry DendyOct 6, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    Hope he wins….very proud of
    Troy. The future of this country will be.because of the minds and thoughts of young Black men willing to get involved in advocacy, and public policing that effects their communities. These efforts are where our nect generation of National leaders can get the experience of holding public office…. Good Luck Barksdale,
    Uncle Weedy