Editorial endorsement: Betsy Hodges for Minneapolis mayor

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 26, 2013 - 4:32 PM

Budget experience, independence help her stand out in the 35-candidate field.

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With relatively low unemployment, largely stable neighborhoods and positive trends in public safety, Minneapolis is the envy of many large U.S. cities.

The state’s economic and cultural hub has been well-served by three-term Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is not seeking re-election Nov. 5. Through force of personality and boundless energy, Rybak has overcome a weak mayor system and has provided forward-looking, fiscally responsible leadership. He will be missed at City Hall.

In some respects, what Minneapolis needs from its next mayor is more of the same as it benefits from a recovering U.S. economy and a more city-friendly Legislature.

But as the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s recent “Growing Minneapolis” series argued, the next mayor and City Council should reject a status quo approach. A truly great 21st-century city must have a fully developed transit system, a birth-to-graduation emphasis on academic achievement for all youths, and housing and job opportunities for young and old, regardless of the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they live.

In a 35-person field that lacks the perfect candidate to address those challenges, Betsy Hodges wins our endorsement based on her City Council record of responsible fiscal leadership, her willingness to take on special interests on behalf of taxpayers, and her potential to grow into the civic cheerleader role that came naturally to Rybak.

Hodges, 44, grew up in Minnetonka and earned her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She was working at a New Mexico home for the mentally ill in 1992 when three Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, and the event sparked her interest in racial inequalities and public service. That led her to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned a master’s degree in sociology before returning to Minnesota in the late 1990s.

Hodges won her first four-year term on the Minneapolis City Council in 2005, and not long after started work on what would become her most notable accomplishment: reform of fiscally irresponsible pension funds in the face of a fierce counterattack by the powerful police and firefighter unions. The reforms saved city taxpayers from $20 million in potential property tax increases in 2012 but were politically costly for Hodges when mayoral endorsements were handed out. Taking on special interest groups has never bothered Hodges — an attribute that helps her stand out in the field of top mayoral contenders.

Hodges challenged the Fire Department after learning that firefighters were calling in sick more often on summer weekends. And she took a lead role in the budget-driven but controversial restructuring of the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

As budget chair, Hodges has made enemies while helping Rybak put the city on sound financial footing despite the recession and cuts in state aid. Taxpaying voters should be glad she did.

Hodges is aligned with this page on the need for improved transit, including streetcars and enhanced bus service, as a driver of economic development citywide. As mayor, she’d play a key role in deciding the future of the Southwest Corridor light-rail project.

Although the school board operates independently from City Hall, Hodges says that as mayor she would seek to build consensus around the increasingly desperate need to close the city’s achievement gap, and she puts the right emphasis on early childhood development and prenatal health programs with her proposed “Cradle-to-K” cabinet. She’s talked generally about longer school days, more flexibility for administrators in teacher labor agreements, and support for reforms proposed by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

Hodges doesn’t promise lower property taxes, but her record suggests she’ll be a strong steward of city resources and taxpayer dollars.

Hodges also promises to be aggressive in using technology to enhance public safety and would seek more accountability in hiring, training and disciplining cops. In a recent meeting with the Editorial Board, she acknowledged that the police union contract makes it too difficult to fire bad cops.

Hodges differed from this page and was one of six council “no” votes on the Vikings stadium deal. Once the project won council and legislative approval, however, she asked to serve on the Stadium Implementation Committee because she recognizes that Downtown East represents a “huge opportunity” for the city.

We would have liked to hear more specifics from Hodges on her citywide vision, and we have concerns about her skills in building consensus.

But her experience as president of the Minnesota League of Cities — as well as her working relationship with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who has endorsed her — suggests that Hodges recognizes the critical role Minneapolis plays regionally and statewide.

• • •

The Editorial Board is offering first, second and third choices in the city’s ranked-choice mayoral election.

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  • EDITOR’S NOTE

    Over the past several weeks, members of the Star Tribune Editorial Board met with more than 50 candidates who will be on the Nov. 5 ballot in mayoral, City Council, school board, Park Board, and Board of Estimate and Taxation races in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We’re endorsing candidates in 19 contested races in the two cities, and we offered our opinion on the charter amendment initiative in Minneapolis. The endorsements represent only the views of the Editorial Board, based on its own candidate interviews and reporting. News reporters and editors are not involved in making endorsement decisions. As always, we welcome your opinions. Send letters to the editor to opinion@startribune.com.

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