At Minneapolis City Hall under at least the last two administrations, the mayor’s office has been largely closed to the City Council.
Mayoral staff can use their key cards to drop in freely on any of the 13 council members, but most council members don’t have access to the mayor’s wing. Mayor-elect Jacob Frey pledges to change that.
“I want all council members to have access to the mayor’s office, just like the mayor’s office has access to the council chambers,” he said.
Frey, a 36-year-old lawyer and council member, defeated Mayor Betsy Hodges and 14 other challengers in Tuesday’s election with a promise to be a more visible leader and champion of Minneapolis. It was the highest-turnout city election since 1981, and residents voted in five new council members — pushing the council further to the left.
When the new city government takes office in January, affordable housing and some combination of police reform and stronger public safety will be among the top orders of business.
But first, Frey said he must repair fractured relationships and build trust with the left side of the Minneapolis DFL that fought his election. Those calls to “mend wounds” are echoed by most at City Hall, where already stark divisions deepened during the election contest of the past 10 months.
Council Member-elect Jeremiah Ellison, who defeated incumbent Blong Yang in the Fifth Ward in north Minneapolis, said small-business growth in his ward, renters’ rights and environmental justice are his policy priorities, but his immediate concern is a more collegial atmosphere at City Hall.
“Before we even get to policy, we need to make sure that there’s a really collaborative and professional culture within City Hall, where the council doesn’t feel at odds with the mayor and vice versa,” Ellison said.
Frey will be watched carefully in coming months by council members who opposed his election.
Council Member Lisa Bender, who easily won re-election, campaigned hard for Hodges and supported several council challengers against incumbents, two of whom — Barb Johnson and Yang — lost. Bender said it was “resounding progressive victory” in the council races.
“Jacob was making the case to people that he has progressive values and would be a progressive mayor,” Bender said, “but I think he needs to gain the trust of everyone from regular residents to council members to progressive organizations and institutions that he will govern that way.”
Frey’s first test will be the 2018 budget, Bender said. Hodges’ proposed budget includes, for instance, adding community liaisons to the police department, an idea proposed by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo as an alternative to adding more sworn police officers.
Frey said during the campaign that he would hire more police officers to patrol downtown, better enforce truancy and curfew laws, increase surveillance and improve lighting in the Warehouse District.
“If you run on police reform and then immediately cut your new police chief’s proposal for change, I would have questions about how the promises are going to be fulfilled in the next term,” Bender said.
Frey said he will “dive into the budget in coming weeks,” and maintained the city need not choose between public safety and police accountability.
“They are dependent on one another. I believe that very strongly and I hope others will come on board, but I’m not ruling with an iron fist,” he said. “We’re going to work together.”
He said he fully supports Arradondo, who was appointed by Hodges in July, and plans to sit down with him soon. “I want to listen to him,” Frey said.
Minneapolis is now a majority renter city. Rising rents were central in the campaign, and there is broad agreement among Frey, incumbents and incoming council members that affordable housing will be on the agenda in early 2018.
Frey’s plan during the campaign was to push for higher housing density across the city and to create a permanent source of funding for low-income housing by setting aside a percentage of tax revenue from increases in some properties’ value. He said Thursday he’s open to other ideas.
Bender and Council Member-elect Jeremy Schroeder said they will focus on the city’s comprehensive plan, which will be revisited in the spring. Ellison said he’ll be focused on renters’ rights.
“That’s a big, huge topic and it’s just a matter of figuring out how we tackle it,” Bender said.
Jonathan Weinhagen, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Frey has a big job ahead with the Super Bowl coming in February.
“It really is our opportunity to show the world what a great place Minneapolis-St. Paul is,” Weinhagen said. “From his position as mayor, he has the opportunity to amplify that.”
Frey stopped by his campaign headquarters Thursday between a quick meeting at the United Labor Center and another meeting to discuss his transition to the mayor’s office. He said he called all 13 next-term council members that day.
Frey handed out his cellphone number freely on the campaign trail and said he received “thousands of messages” and phone calls. It became too much to deal with, and he was forced to give up his phone to a staffer.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who endorsed Frey, said the mayor-elect will have to step back from the personal interaction and start to think and act more strategically.
“Jacob’s brand has been as a unifier,” Palmisano said. “But to do that he’s going to have to ratchet back the personal contact and focus on the big picture.”