Anika Bowie is the latest bright-eyed millennial hoping to make a dramatic change in her hometown. Bowie, current vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP, announced on the first day of this month she'd run for St. Paul City Council.
The Ward 1 seat she's seeking covers the Frogtown, Summit-University, Lexington-Hamline and Snelling-Hamline communities, and is among the most racially and economically diverse areas in St. Paul. Bowie wants to unseat Dai Thao, who in 2013 became the first Hmong city council rep in St. Paul history.
Born and raised in the Rondo neighborhood, the young Bowie bagged groceries at Pyramid Market, near Selby and Dale Street. Her community was tightly woven together: She attended jovial family cookouts and basketball tournaments open to everyone who could dribble a ball.
But these fond childhood memories were often fouled by a greater issue plaguing so many of America’s cities. In a mission statement on her campaign website, Bowie says the Rondo neighborhood lost many residents to "drug addiction, gun violence, and prison."
Bowie also felt the strain of racial injustice. After losing her own father to the criminal justice system at a young age, her mother fought during long city council hearings in an attempt to keep their family home. The appeals were rejected, and the Bowie family was ultimately left homeless.
They took refuge in St. Paul libraries and recreation centers. Public transportation and public housing were their way of getting around and getting by, connecting them to family members and friends across the city. Instead of being discouraged by this hardship, Bowie grew committed to restoring her weary community.
She graduated with honors from Central High School in St. Paul, and got a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Hamline University in 2014. Since then, Bowie has served in several public service positions around the Twin Cities, including a spot on the St. Paul Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission and Restore the Vote Minnesota. She also helped spur "Warrant Forgiveness Day" in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, when those holding misdemeanor warrants have the opportunity to clear them without getting arrested.
Bowie's campaign experience includes behind-the-scene roles on Melvin Carter's mayoral campaign, among others. (Carter previously held the Ward 1 seat Bowie is seeking; his departure in 2013 cleared the way for Dai Thao's election.)
“I’ve always been in positions of decision-making and connecting community to government,” she said. “I chose this time to step into [the race] because all of the council seats are opening up.”
Bowie wants to create a justice system that is more community-based and revolves around mental health support and rehabilitation, rather than punishment. She says she wants to revive a vibrant culture within these neighborhoods that contain her friends, former teachers, and family members.
Bowie says Thao, the incumbent council member, doesn't make himself accessible to the neighborhoods he represents. Community members do not always feel comfortable talking to Thao, Bowie says.
Bowie comes into the race as an underdog, given Thao's electoral history: He defeated community activist Trahern Jeen Crews in the 2015 general election handily, with 84 percent of the vote, and in 2017 got 12 percent of the city-wide vote in the mayoral election. Thao's mayoral bid was hurt by news that his campaign manager had essentially sought a bribe from a lobbyist; Thao fired the manager, and Carter eventually won a crowded race with 51 percent of the vote.
Bowie said she’s already seen an outpouring of support in her campaign, and hopes she can carry that momentum all year. Bowie is planning an official campaign launch party at Heritage Tea House, the only black-owned tea house in the Twin Cities, on February 28.