What appeared to be a muddled mayoral and City Council campaign in Minneapolis gave way to surprisingly clear themes in Tuesday’s election. Voters embraced urbanism, diversity, generational change as they elected a new mayor and seven new members of the 13-member council.
City Council Ways and Means chair Betsy Hodges emerged with a commanding first-choice lead in an overcrowded 35-candidate mayoral field whose final results were still being derived at this writing. Her strong showing relied on a smart campaign that caught the spirit of the electorate while still hewing close to the policy trajectory set by Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is stepping down after three terms.
Hodges, 44, offered youthful vigor, gender diversity (she will be the city’s second female mayor), fiscal discipline, and new approaches to improving schools and transit. As this page’s endorsement editorial argued, she has shown a willingness to stand up to special interests.
She also promised to nurture the healthy regional cooperation that developed during the tenures of both Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who won an impressive 78 percent of the vote Tuesday in his bid for a third term. Hodges is a past president of the Minnesota League of Cities; Coleman supported her mayoral candidacy.
Though a DFLer, Hodges was not the favorite of the DFL machine that has long dominated city politics — and that may have been to her advantage. The party made no formal endorsement, but big labor and a number of longtime DFL luminaries lined up behind the second-place finisher in the first-choice mayoral balloting, Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner and former DFL Party state chair. Andrew amassed the race’s largest campaign war chest as well.
But big money and credentials involving the word “former” evidently did not impress city voters. Former City Council presidents Jackie Cherryhomes and Dan Cohen were also spurned, as were three incumbent council members who were denied DFL endorsement last spring — the youngest of whom is 53. Their replacements — Jacob Frey in the Third Ward, Abdi Warsame in the Sixth and Lisa Bender in the 10th — are, respectively, 32, 35 and 35. The campaigns of all three were fueled by young adult volunteers whom we hope will stay engaged in city governance.
Minneapolis voters evinced little interest in reviving the city’s moribund Republican Party. Cam Winton, an unendorsed Republican who filed for mayor with the label “independent, responsible, inclusive,” captured fewer than 10 percent of first-choice votes. Green Party candidates for Park Board and several City Council seats fared better. But all but one of the 10 council candidates who were declared winners Wednesday are DFLers.
The newly elected council members may lack partisan diversity, but they bring richly varied personal backgrounds that reflect the changing Minneapolis population. If leads in first-choice balloting are confirmed as second choices are sorted and tabulated, likely today, the 2014 City Council will include new members born in East Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The new member elected to the St. Paul school board Tuesday, Chue Vue, is also a Hmong immigrant with an impressive background as both a scientist and an attorney.
Also put to a rigorous test Tuesday was ranked-choice voting, which was introduced in Minneapolis in 2009 and received mostly favorable marks this year, even as the formal counting continued in a deliberate manner on Wednesday. Predictions of confusion and delay at the polls were not borne out. Minneapolis voters turned out in moderate numbers, in keeping with previous city elections, and turned in only slightly more spoiled ballots than typically occurs.
The Minneapolis candidate filing fee needs a boost to deter recreational candidacies in future elections. St. Paul should hasten the postelection sorting of ranked ballots; waiting until Monday for that exercise in the seven-candidate First Ward special election seems unduly tardy. But the overall experience with RCV in both Twin Cities should encourage advocates elsewhere in Minnesota.
Tuesday’s Minneapolis winners will need all the assets they can muster as they take the city’s reins in a period of rapid change, as this page’s “Growing Minneapolis” pre-election series described. More diversity, an aging population, wider income inequality, and intense competition with other metropolitan regions for talent and investment will challenge city policymakers. The contentious Southwest Corridor light-rail project needs resolution soon, with no popular options available. A new City Hall coalition of support for downtown Minneapolis vitality will be needed as several dependable downtown boosters leave office. Politicians who opposed city financing for a new home for the Minnesota Vikings will now be charged with making the best of that deal. City officials who told voters they could help improve the city’s schools, even though they lack control over them, will now be pressed to deliver.
For both the winners and the city they will serve, the clarity of Tuesday’s election results is a gift. May they use it well.