Minneapolis ushered in a new mayor for the first time in 12 years Thursday when Betsy Hodges took office, pledging to focus on the city's young people.
Hodges, a former City Council member, succeeded Mayor R.T. Rybak as the city's 47th mayor before a crowd of children, city staff, activists and politicians gathered in a converted Northeast warehouse. Seven new council members will be sworn in Monday at a formal inauguration, completing the most significant City Hall leadership change since 2002.
"Thank you to the people of Minneapolis for trusting me with this leadership and trusting me to take us into the future of the city, all of us together," Hodges said in brief remarks — she will deliver an inaugural address on Monday.
Hodges will be working with a new and largely untested City Council as they grapple with controversial development issues, including a $200 million streetcar line, the Southwest Corridor light rail and the massive Downtown East project. The city is finally on solid financial footing but its new leaders will be debating competing needs and demands within the city's $1.1 billion budget.
On Thursday, the new mayor thanked Rybak for charting a course that has benefited the city. Rybak did not address the crowd, but posed for a photo on stage and congratulated Hodges on Twitter. He also assured his online followers he would continue tweeting mini-poems: "My Mayor job/is outta time/But I can still/Busta rhyme."
Thursday's event also kicked off a 10-day tour that will touch on a new topic each day, ranging from transportation to winter tourism.
Joined by her step-grandchildren, Hodges directed her first remarks to a group of children in front of the stage. "Do you pledge to help make Minneapolis a great city?" she asked the children, who responded in unison: "Yes, Mayor Hodges!" She then asked them to encourage people to be kind to one another.
"It is not lost on me, and it is not a coincidence, that the first people to call me mayor are the kids of the city," she said to the room.
"These kids have what we want. They have what we want all kids in the city of Minneapolis to have: adults here caring about them, protecting them, thinking about their health and their success and their futures, their happiness and their place in the world," Hodges said.
The room was full of city officials, council members and other local politicians. Council President Barb Johnson, who says she has the votes to continue as president, praised Hodges' theme of working with children.
"That's where the challenges are in our city, and we're making sure that everybody is a part of the city," she said.
Addressing the city's educational achievement gaps will require coordination with the independently elected school board. Minneapolis Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, who was at the swearing-in Thursday, said she met formally with Hodges in December.
Johnson said that in addition to encouraging more parents to get their children into quality early childhood education centers, the city can help improve school attendance. "That means telling businesses that … kids should not be going to stores during the [school] day," Johnson said.
Richard Mammen, a school board member, said coordination surrounding mental health services is also important — city and county governments assist the schools with mental health services.
Hodges said her first steps on education will be to assemble a "cradle-to-K" cabinet to expand prenatal programs and ensure children have resources they need.
"We need to be able to work together to make sure it's a seamless transition for kids in and out of school, and that they're getting what they need everywhere they go," Hodges said in an interview.