Activists among crowd gathered at ceremony for council members, new mayor.
The first meeting of the new Minneapolis City Council was muffled by chants of “Let the people speak!” from activists seeking an end to racial disparities, an issue the city’s new leaders promised Monday to address.
In her inaugural speech after she and the council members were sworn in, Mayor Betsy Hodges said her chief goal will be to ensure that members of all racial groups thrive in Minneapolis.
“When we get that right, we will become a beacon for the entire country,” she told a crowd packed into the City Hall rotunda.
After her speech, council members went to the chambers for their first meeting and immediately got into a debate about whether the activists should be allowed in the meeting. At times, the debate could barely be heard over the crowd’s chants outside the chamber.
New Council Member Alondra Cano made a motion to allow them to give 15 minutes of public testimony. Long-term council President Barb Johnson opposed the motion, saying that allowing public comment at such a meeting was against normal rules of order.
In the end, Cano’s motion failed even though the council voted 7-6 in favor of it — nine votes were needed to pass.
At her inaugural address, Hodges said that after years of belt-tightening and property tax hikes, the city must be fiscally prudent as the economy improves.
“We still have tough choices to make. To be more than great, as we run the city well, we must continue to keep a firm hand on the tiller,” she said.
Hodges also stressed her goal of growing the city’s population to 500,000 — it is now about 392,000. She said the greatest residential density should be built along transit corridors.
Her speech showed “an injection of new energy” into the city’s longtime priorities, said Jeremy Hanson Willis, the director of the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development. “She made it very clear what is expected of us.”
As the crowd dispersed after the ceremony and her address, about 50 activists seized the steps and began singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” beside a banner reading “Equity now/ One Mpls vs. the 1%” with references to a $15 minimum wage and affordable housing.
Hodges briefly joined them on the steps and sang before returning to greet more well-wishers.
“I think this is a respectful celebration of the kinds of values that we’ve been talking about all year,” she said. “This isn’t a disturbance as much as it is a celebration, and good for them.”
Beneath the clamor was a general sense of unity about incoming city leaders’ priorities for closing disparities in jobs and education among whites and blacks.
The organizer of the protest, Anthony Newby of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, voiced support for Hodges’ priorities after the inauguration ceremony.
“We expect she’ll do it; we know she’ll do it,” Newby said of Hodges’ vows to close racial gaps.
They may face some resistance on one of their most specific demands, however: imposing a citywide minimum wage of $15.