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Jensen pressed to remove mall images from ad

Mercado Central's board say they didn't authorize Republican candidate to film campaign ad inside their marketplace.

MINNEAPOLIS — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen has been asked to remove images of an iconic Latino mall from one of his campaign ads.

The Mercado Central on East Lake Street is run by a cooperative that is politically neutral. The Mercado president and other members of the governing board say nobody asked for permission to film a campaign ad there.

"Our customers may see this ad and believe that we are taking sides in an election, which is against our rules," Isis Gastelum, who runs a clothing store in the Mercado and serves as board president, told KARE.

"We, as a cooperative Mercado Central, are nonpartisan. We’re not partisan, we’re neutral."

In the ad, Jensen and a young Latina woman named Alondra are seen walking on the sidewalk outside the Mercado Central and then walking through the interior spaces of the mall. The Mercado Central's board, working through business attorney Miluska Novota, asked the Jensen campaign to delete the scenes that customers would recognize as the Mercado.

"The Mercado Central has 39 different businesses, with 39 different opinions. We can't take sides. We have to remain neutral," Lisette Moraga, a Mercado Central employee, told KARE.

Moraga said anyone wishing to film a commercial inside the market would need to get advance permission, the same way someone would need permission to film an ad or news report inside places like the Mall of America in Bloomington or the Galleria in Edina.

"We are open to the public, but we're privately owned," Enrique Garcia Salazar, the owner of La Loma Tamales, told KARE.  

Garcia Salazar and his wife Noelia opened their shop in 1999, the same year Mercado Central opened on 1515 Lake Street East. He said that he doesn't recognize the young woman in the ad and wasn't aware anyone filmed anything in the mall until the ad popped up on social media.

"Everybody’s welcome, but if they want to film something they’ve got to ask for permission."

The Jensen campaign didn’t respond Friday to requests for comments on the controversy.

The campaign is running both Spanish and English versions of the ad, which features a young woman named Alondra saying she's a lifelong Democrat from south Minneapolis who is voting for the Republican Jensen. 

She tells viewers that incumbent Democrat Gov. Time Walz abandoned the Lake Street corridor during the riots of 2020, and "after this, Tim Walz didn't even bother to show up." The riots followed the murder George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by then-Officer Derek Chauvin.

Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, who heads Unidos Minnesota, disagrees with the premise of the ad, saying there was immediate outreach by the governor's staff while the rioting was taking place.

"The lieutenant governor was here the day after the uprising. There was no press, she didn’t make a political scene of it," Gonzalez Avalos recalled.

Avalos's organization is an upstairs tenant at the Mercado Central, but she made it clear she wasn't speaking on behalf of the cooperative. 

"Lieutenant Governor Flanagan came here the next morning when many of us were sleep deprived, trying to make sense on how to clean up and what was next for the corridor. She was right here in our parking lot."

Walz toured the destruction on Lake Street just days after the Minnesota National Guard brought the rioting under control. Since then, he has visited the corridor multiple times and hosted meetings at the Mercado Central with business owners and other stakeholders.

Garcia Salazar of La Loma Tamales said that his business and several others inside the Mercado have received grants from the state to help with the recovery, which was also happening in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

Isis Gastelum said that Walz's appearances at the Mercado both before and after the riots were done in his official role of governor, showing support for the merchants, celebrating Mexican Independence Day and the 20th anniversary of the Mercado.

Governor Walz's responses to the riots will continue to be a major theme for Jensen, who has repeatedly asserted Minneapolis burned because "Walz froze" and delayed deploying the National Guard, acting on the advice of his "leftist" constituency.

Walz has pointed out that the Guard members are citizens in private jobs, that need time to assemble with their units and prepare for a mission.  Mayor Jacob Frey has stated he asked Gov. Walz to bring in the National Guard May 27, a day before the city felt compelled to surrender the 3rd Police Precinct.

Officers from the Minnesota State Patrol, DNR and other state agencies were already on the ground across the Twin Cities by then working in support of local police, but they were outnumbered.

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