Minneapolis is by no means a city in distress. But a sense that persistent problems are festering rather than being forcefully addressed afflicts the place that sets the pace for prosperity in Minnesota and the Twin Cities region.
In recent years, opportunities to acquire new civic assets and strengthen old alliances have been squandered; key constituencies say they have been excluded from decisionmaking; an uptick in violence threatens the vitality of the city’s showplace, its downtown; rising housing costs are eroding the sense that Minneapolis is a place where all are welcome and can succeed.
How to break through that malaise? Voters can start by electing a new mayor. We recommend first-choice votes for Jacob Frey in the Nov. 7 ranked-choice mayoral election.
Minneapolitans expect their mayor to both sell and run the city. But government’s structure in Minneapolis denies the mayor access to many of the levers of power that his or her counterparts control in other large cities. That means that doing the job well requires extraordinary interpersonal skills. A successful mayor must be able to both project a compelling vision outside City Hall and form the alliances inside that can make a vision real.
Among the 16 contenders for mayor, Frey seems best able to do both. At age 36 and still serving his first term, he is a gifted communicator who has stood out on the City Council as both a leading voice and a consensus-builder. A native of northern Virginia, Frey speaks about Minneapolis with the passion of a young-adult convert. He first came to Minneapolis to race as a professional runner and says he fell in love with the city he discovered.
An attorney who practiced both civil rights and business law before serving the Third Ward, Frey has sought to bridge a divide that has emerged between the business community and advocates for social justice. At a time when compromise is out of vogue — but is more necessary than ever — Frey worked to find middle ground on labor standards for private employers. He led a successful push to add two years to the phase-in period for a $15 minimum wage for small businesses. He spoke out early against a city requirement about employee scheduling that would have been disruptive and costly to many businesses, helping to waylay that proposal — even as he supported citywide standards of paid sick and safe time for workers.
Representing a ward that includes much of downtown, Frey agrees with us that more assurance of public safety is critical to the vitality of the region’s economic headquarters. Here, too, he seeks a balance between more effective measures to prevent violence and more accountable and community-oriented policing. His 25-point plan for public safety is the work of a candidate who takes policy formation seriously, does not shrink from complexity and is eager to enlist allies in making change.
Frey’s relative youth — only Hubert Humphrey and Al Hofstede were younger new Minneapolis mayors — is an asset as he seeks to engage a citizenry whose median age is under 32 and a City Council in the throes of generational change. He’s aware of how urban living preferences are shifting and is eager to keep Minneapolis ahead of the curve. He’s mindful of the potential of technological advances such as self-driving cars to be both a challenge and an opportunity to a city largely designed in the late 19th century. He projects an energetic image for a city that will be competing nationally and globally for young talent in the next decade.
He’s rightfully proud of his support for a building boom in his ward — and rightfully annoyed that Minneapolis lost the opportunity to be home to a new Major League Soccer stadium, now being built in St. Paul. A rebuff in the mayor’s office to a request for tax abatement sent team owners (a group that includes the owner of this newspaper, Glen Taylor) into the arms of a more eager mayor, St. Paul’s Chris Coleman. Frey tried to keep a Minneapolis option alive as prospects dimmed. He argues — correctly, we think — that a different mayoral approach would have produced a different result.
Four years ago, we acknowledge, our choice was different. In 2013, the Star Tribune Editorial Board recommended the election of Mayor Betsy Hodges on the strength of her attention to fiscal management and social justice, and in the hope that she would “grow into the civic cheerleader role that came naturally” to her three-term predecessor, R.T. Rybak.
Hodges has indeed helped keep the city’s books balanced and has called consistently for racial justice. The 20-year plan for improvements in streets and parks that was engineered on her watch does the mayor credit. So do the measured steps she took to tamp down additional violence in the aftermath of the tragic death of Jamar Clark at the hands of police in November 2015.
But Hodges, 48, has struggled in both selling the city and building the working partnerships required to run it not just adequately, but well. By her own admission, building strong relationships with other elected officials has not been a priority. That choice has diminished her effectiveness, both as an advocate for the city with state and county governments and in her own City Hall, where she was slow to rally council support to replace a police chief in whom she had lost confidence.
Hodges’ ties with the city’s business community are particularly strained. Business owners complain not only about the policy options Hodges pursued, but also her inattention to their concerns about public safety, transportation and more. Those complaints have created an opening for a pro-business mayoral candidate, and Tom Hoch has stepped up his campaign to fill that bill. On the ranked-choice ballot, we’d make him our second choice.
Hoch, 62, is the founder and, for 15 years, was the CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust; he’s also a past chair of the Downtown Council. He has never held public office. But he has worked in and around government for much of his life. He’s well-versed in housing policy as a former deputy director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. He’s also a former teacher, keen to be known as “the education mayor” and to better connect the city’s public schools with its arts community.
He would bring to the mayor’s office an appealing vision of a city that works with entrepreneurs and established businesses who seek to build an inclusive economy. But because he is so allied with business interests, Hoch may be handicapped in establishing the other community alliances that a mayor needs to be effective. And because he has never held elective office, his ability to forge compromise in a political arena is untested.
We opted not to make a third choice among the remaining 14 candidates. We’re grateful to all six of the candidates who met with us in person in recent weeks to describe their candidacies — Frey, Hoch, Hodges, state Rep. Raymond Dehn, former University of St. Thomas law Prof. Nekima Levy-Pounds and political newcomer Aswar Rahman.
Each of them is bringing ideas to the fore that deserve notice. For example, we think Dehn, 60, an architect and three-term DFLer representing the city’s North Side and downtown in the state House, went too far when he called for disarming some police officers. But his argument that excessive militarization has become a barrier to community trust in the Minneapolis Police Department bears consideration by the next mayor.
Levy-Pounds, 41, has consulted with other cities on how to establish effective approaches to community policing; her expertise should be tapped in Minneapolis. Rahman, 23, is pressing for more cost-efficiency in city government in order to rein in property taxes.
But none of them appear ready and able to both sell the city and forge the alliances that would allow them to run the city well. Jacob Frey does.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board met with more than 50 candidates who will be on the ballot in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Nov. 7 and is publishing endorsements through Oct. 31. We focused on the mayoral races, the school board election in St. Paul and what are expected to be the most competitive Minneapolis City Council races.
It’s our hope that our endorsements, whether you agree with them or not, will make you more interested in doing your own research, and in voting.
The endorsements represent the views of the Editorial Board based on these candidate interviews and other reporting. News reporters and editors are not involved in the process.
For additional information about the candidates, including links to their websites, news stories and an explanation of ranked-choice voting, go to the Star Tribune’s 2017 Minneapolis and St. Paul voters guide at http://strib.mn/2yJxgmk. To read all of our endorsements, go to http://startribune.com/2017endorsements. For greater detail on how the opinion pages are produced, see our guide at http://strib.mn/2dVc1T2/.
As always, send your feedback in letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. We especially welcome letters from readers who disagree with our choices and want to make a constructive case for another candidate.