Many eyes will be on the candidates vying to succeed outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak, but all 13 council seats are also up for grabs this year in the city's first major test of ranked-choice voting.
University of Minnesota student Kelsey Sievers, at right, listened as Jacob Frey talked to students and recent graduates on Thursday. “It’s a new Minneapolis,” said Frey, who is challenging Council Member Diane Hofstede.
A younger, more diverse City Council could take the helm of Minneapolis next year if campaigns already launching in neighborhoods across the city prevail this fall.
Many eyes will be on the candidates vying to succeed outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak, but all 13 council seats are also up for grabs. The council’s power over the mayor at City Hall means the outcome of those races have broad implications for everything from taxes to construction in Minnesota’s largest city.
Three seats are entirely open because their current occupants are running for mayor. Fierce battles are already underway with incumbents representing Uptown and the central riverfront. Somali candidates are organizing to represent a new south Minneapolis ward heavily populated by East African residents.
“It’s a new Minneapolis,” said attorney Jacob Frey, who is challenging Council Member Diane Hofstede in a ward covering parts of downtown and neighborhoods east of the river. “We’re no longer suburbs in the city. Minneapolis is, I think, getting both younger and is getting more diverse in terms of socioeconomic background, in terms of skin color, you name it.”
This will also be the city’s first major test of ranked-choice voting, which has no primary and asks voters to order their top three choices for the possibility of an instant runoff. (Candidates need to win at least half of the votes to win the election.) Julaine Heit, president of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters, says voters will need to be familiar with all of the candidates — not just one.
“They really have to be much more educated and earlier on so they understand who the candidates are,” said Heit, whose organization is already arranging candidate forums.
Candidates are mobilizing early because some of the most important decisions come months before the election. The conventions to win the DFL endorsement — a major factor in Minneapolis races — take place between April 27 and June 14. Delegates for those conventions will be elected by April 16.
In south Minneapolis, redistricting has created a new Sixth Ward that follows Franklin Avenue and reaches into Cedar-Riverside. Some estimate that about 40 percent of the ward’s residents are of East African heritage. At least one Somali candidate, Abdi Warsame, has announced a run against 11-year incumbent Council Member Robert Lilligren. Another, Sadik Warfa, is mulling a bid.
“We do need a more diverse City Council,” Warsame said. “And the East African community has never had an opportunity where they could have a seat on the council.”
Warsame played a prominent role in last year’s redistricting meetings, advocating for a redrawing of the map to give East Africans — never represented in City Hall politics before — a more favorable chance of winning election. Lilligren is the Goliath in this race, Warsame said last week, “but David sometimes wins.”
Lilligren is no stranger to political challenges — redistricting changes pitted him against a fellow councilman in 2005 — and said he welcomed all opponents.
He added that he has considerable support from the Somali community, which “is very sophisticated politically. I don’t think someone being Somali will be their primary criteria.”
The city’s burgeoning Hispanic population — jumping 37 percent in the last decade — could also finally elect one of its own in the south Minneapolis ward being vacated by Council Member Gary Schiff as he runs for mayor.
Among the candidates is Alondra Cano, a Mexican-American who last year helped organize a City Hall task force to better engage the city’s Latino population and wants to include more of that group in city decisionmaking.
Another competitive race is already underway in Uptown, where booming development and the accompanying traffic snarls and boisterous night life have created tensions about the future of the neighborhood. One-term Council Member Meg Tuthill faces four challengers.
Some of them say they would offer more inclusive leadership than Tuthill and host broader conversations about how new development should look and benefit the community.