At a debate Monday, the five leading candidates for mayor of Minneapolis kicked off the final week before the election by sharpening their arguments on the campaign’s core issues: racial inequality, policing and the city’s affordable housing crisis.
State Rep. Ray Dehn said he is a police reformer and practical progressive able to work with others. Council Member Jacob Frey pitched himself as a visible mayor who’d form alliances to address crime and a lack of affordable housing. Tom Hoch presented himself as a problem solver who will focus on violent crime and promoting economic vitality. Mayor Betsy Hodges argued that she should be trusted to carry on the work of transforming the city to make it more equitable for people of color. Nekima Levy-Pounds said she is running because she is tired of the status quo and empty promises from the Minneapolis-dominant DFL Party.
The Minnesota Public Radio debate was the 33rd mayoral forum of the campaign, with more to come in the next seven days. Once again, the candidates were hesitant to outline specific proposals.
On affordable housing, there was broad agreement that it is too difficult for lower-income Minneapolis residents to find a place to live.
Frey suggested that the city should devote increases in tax revenue from high-value properties to an affordable housing fund, try to persuade surrounding city and county governments to do the same, and push for more housing across the city. “We do need to increase our housing supply right now and that is through density,” he said.
Hodges said the city already has a plan for affordable housing. She said she pushed for construction of new units on Minnehaha Avenue and she will focus on preservation of existing affordable housing. “It’s much less expensive to preserve a unit of housing than it is to build a new one,” she said.
On policing, Levy-Pounds decried the mayor and Minneapolis Police Department for ignoring civilian oversight recommendations on a body camera policy and for not acting on signs that police were not turning on their body cameras even before the officer who killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond in July failed to record his actions.
“The city leadership, MPD, the mayor’s office all had ample warning that we were heading down the wrong path,” she said.
Frey called for a “rebuttable presumption of misconduct” if cops don’t turn on body cameras.
Asked what the mayor can do to improve the city’s education system, several candidates — most clearly Levy-Pounds — called for the mayor to use the bully pulpit of the office to be an advocate for improving K-12 education.
Dehn called for “full service public schools” with city and county services available to parents of children whose lives are dramatically affected by government services.
“They’re doing it in Brooklyn Center and other locations,” Dehn said.
Hoch said “kids in our city are constituents of the mayor,” a strong school system is essential for the city and he plans to bring the arts community into schools.
“I’ll be the education mayor,” he said.
Asked to offer one new policy or budget item that will help narrow the gap between whites and people of color in Minneapolis, none of the candidates provided one. Hoch said he’d look at the city’s procurement process to make sure more businesses owned by people of color get city contracts. Hodges said she’d work to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses, while Levy-Pounds said she would push for a comprehensive equity plan with goals and measurable outcomes on homelessness, jobs and other indicators.
Moderator Tom Weber asked the five candidates whether they would support Council President Barb Johnson to retain her leadership position if she wins re-election. Dehn, Hoch and Hodges said that decision is up to the council.
Frey said he respects Johnson but that it’s time for a new council president. Levy-Pounds said Johnson’s family has been in power for 40 years, and she hears “a lot of concern” in the community about that.
“I would like to see new City Council leadership,” Levy-Pounds said, but “I would work with her.”