Minneapolis Mayor-elect Jacob Frey ducked out of a City Council meeting earlier this month and left City Hall with his new entourage — a recently hired aide and a cop trying out for the job as Frey’s permanent security detail.
The trio hopped into a city-owned blue Ford Escape and, with the officer behind the wheel, eased across the river to a groundbreaking in Northeast. After Betsy Hodges leaves office next week, the giant black mayoral Chevy Tahoe will be his to use, though he’s not sure he wants it.
Three days before he takes office as the city’s 48th mayor, the 36-year-old Frey is already realizing he may have to give up some habits.
“I run or bike to 80 percent of my meetings, especially in the warmer months, so what’s that going to look like?” he said. “I literally run a lot, and it looks kind of weird and I’m in a suit, but if I’m just going from here to there I like to be as efficient as possible.”
The weight of the office is already settling on Frey.
Frey and the rest of the City Council voted to raise pay for themselves and the mayor with no public discussion in December, a process he regretted immediately. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo briefed Frey by telephone when officers shot a man inside City Hall last week. Minneapolis faces a housing affordability crisis that Frey has promised to address, and he will be the face of the city as a worldwide audience turns its attention to the Super Bowl. Behind the scenes, he must help mend a broken relationship between the mayor’s office and the City Council.
His transition team led by former Mayor R.T. Rybak is focused on building a mayor’s office that can make good decisions quickly. To do that, Frey is learning to submit to his gatekeepers, those who run his schedule and control who he talks to, when and for how long.
“I’m a very accessible person, perhaps overly so,” he said. “One of the most important things with any administration is who gets on the calendar. If I’m meeting all with one group and not with another group, I’m probably going to develop an opinion that’s in line with this one group.”
He’s mostly unplugged from social media since the election, which he says has made him more productive — and happier. He’ll have to figure out how much to travel; the mayor is constantly being invited to conferences out of town.
“I’ve barely left the city in the last year,” he said.
Frey is reading “The Gatekeepers,” a 2017 book about White House chiefs of staff and how the structures they put in place have shaped American history. His staff is making flow charts, interviewing job candidates and worrying about how to guard the mayor-elect’s time. Chief of staff Joe Radinovich, who’s been dressed for months in jeans and sweaters, got measured for new clothes.
The transition team, which Frey said is “putting together the boilerplate through which I can make good and informed and engaged decisions quickly,” is co-chaired by Rybak, Northside Achievement Zone leader Sondra Samuels and Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.
As a City Council member, Frey said his goal was to spend 40 percent of his time on “affirmative work” — pushing a policy agenda. His goal as mayor will be to spend 60 percent of his time on affirmative work, and his three top policy priorities are affordable housing, community-police relations and economic inclusion.
Frey said everyone on the new City Council thinks the lack of affordable housing — his first concern as mayor — is a problem that needs to be solved. But the city needs to get better at accomplishing what it sets out to do, he said. Reorganizing the mayor’s office, the city coordinator’s office and the way city department heads and the mayor’s office work together are what he, his staff and transition team are sorting out now.
“There’s values and then there’s execution,” he said. “While I do believe that the city of Minneapolis as an enterprise has very strong values, at times we’ve had the sharpness of a spoon, and we’d like to slice that spoon into an arrowhead.”
Frey and his wife, Sarah Clarke, a lobbyist who’s studying law at night at Mitchell Hamline, are figuring out how to juggle packed schedules, and thinking about having children. They try to grab dinner together every night, and more people stop to speak with them since the election.
“The biggest difference is that it just takes us a while to get anywhere,” Clarke said.
Clarke said that even though she’s had her fill of impromptu discussions of manhole covers or potholes in public, she doesn’t want her husband to be less accessible as mayor.
“That’s something I love about Jacob,” she said. “As his wife, definitely it’s annoying sometimes. But I hope he can keep doing it.”
Frey said he’s had a good concept of what he’s getting into, but he was struck by the briefing he received about the succession of responsibility at City Hall if he were to be incapacitated.
“That’s not something I was briefed on as a council member, let’s put it that way,” Frey said. “Of course there are little tidbits that take a bit to get used to, but this is my dream job. I asked for it.”
Frey’s mayoral staff is mostly hired, and he’s keeping a full schedule. One morning he introduced the new council member in his ward, Steve Fletcher, to constituents over kolaches and coffee at Kramarczuk’s. Another morning he gave a speech honoring outgoing Council Member Blong Yang at City Hall, and looked on as Hodges was honored as well.
Then he left for the groundbreaking for a 26-story apartment building in his neighborhood, on Hennepin Avenue East. Earthmovers and bulldozers growled by as Frey stepped into a heated tent full of well-dressed people and 11 shovels with bronze-colored spades stuck in a pile of loose dirt.
Frey shook hands and laughed, gave a quick speech — he said he kicked some kids off the construction site a few nights ago — and then lined up with several others to wear hard hats and scoop spadefuls of soil into the air for the cameras.
“One, two, three,” he said, helping to synchronize the shovel action.
“Leadership!” someone cracked.