Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges flew to Los Angeles four days after Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s shooting death for a campaign fundraiser, a trip her opponents pounced on Wednesday in the wake of Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s ouster and a delay from Hodges in releasing her 2018 budget.
Hodges appeared at the Wilshire Country Club with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on July 19 for the fundraiser, she confirmed on Facebook Wednesday afternoon following media inquiries.
The fundraiser took place two days before council members called for Harteau’s firing and the chief stepped down, in part because of the withering criticism she took for being out of town in the aftermath of Damond’s shooting by a police officer, which happened on July 15.
“During the 27 total hours that I was traveling, I spent most of my time dealing with the aftermath of the terrible shooting of Justine Damond, just as I had almost every moment since the shooting happened,” Hodges said. “I had been ready and willing to cancel my flight, and only that morning made the decision that my physical presence in Minneapolis was not required for this brief period.”
The revelation confirmed that for a full business day after Damond’s shooting, with public outcry near its height, neither the city’s mayor nor its police chief were in Minneapolis. Hodges flew out of Minneapolis the morning of the fundraiser and returned just before noon the next day. Harteau returned from vacation in Colorado the same night Hodges attended the fundraiser.
But Hodges said that while she was traveling, she spoke with neighbors, council members, school district officials, and community leaders in Minneapolis, including in the East African community.
She also worked with her staff and the police to coordinate communication and checked in on the process for filing complaints against police officers, she said.
“I did exactly the same work I would have done had I stayed in Minneapolis,” Hodges said. “And during those 27 hours, I also spent a few hours at a campaign event.”
Harteau resigned under pressure just over a day after Hodges returned from California, and Hodges nominated Medaria Arradondo to be the new chief. Arradondo was confirmed last week.
Hodges’ challengers in the mayoral race moved swiftly Wednesday to condemn her trip.
“The mayor heads the police department,” Council Member Jacob Frey said. “Flying to Los Angeles to campaign at the Wilshire Country Club in the middle of a crisis shows that priorities are completely misplaced.”
Tom Hoch, who is also challenging Hodges, said the trip undercuts Hodges’ argument that she didn’t have time to complete the 2018 budget by Aug. 15. A procedural battle over the timing of Hodges’ budget release — mayors have delayed their budgets in past years after public safety crises — will play out in a court hearing Friday.
“Though it is true that Minneapolis has seen a challenging few weeks, this is no excuse for the mayor to fail to perform her responsibilities under the city charter,” Hoch said. “It’s even less justifiable when the mayor chooses to maintain a robust campaign schedule, including an apparent fundraising event in California, when she should have been compiling the city budget.”
The fundraiser at the country club just south of Hollywood was billed in the invitation as an evening of “lefse and kale wraps, kombucha tasting with Garrison Keillor and an artisan-crafted hot dish featuring organic, locally sourced tofu.” According to campaign finance reports, Hodges raised $10,150 from California addresses between July 17 and July 25.
“What my opponents don’t understand about being mayor is that you have to be able to do many things at once, like lead a city and govern through a crisis while campaigning for re-election,” Hodges said. “The notion that I should do nothing to promote my record as mayor while the men running against me, who do not have the responsibilities I do, should be free to raise unlimited amounts is ridiculous.”
Frey also held a fundraiser on July 18 in downtown Minneapolis at the RBC Plaza and raised $22,345 over three days, according to campaign finance reports.
And Hodges is not the only mayoral candidate raising money outside of Minnesota. Hoch has raised thousands of dollars from donors in California and Texas this year. Frey doesn’t list the addresses of donors in his online campaign finance reporting.
Hoch and Frey have both raised more money than Hodges, a fact she pointed out in her Facebook statement, arguing that Frey’s use of $177,000 he raised as a council member was “cynical” and “unethical.” Frey’s use of the money was OK’d by the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board. Hodges also pointed out that Hoch has “funded just over half of his campaign so far with his own personal wealth.”
“Yet these same opponents are peddling outrage that I would attend a fundraiser for my campaign,” Hodges said.