Council Member Jacob Frey, who promised to be a cheerleader for Minneapolis, jumped out to the lead Tuesday in the race for mayor, winning the most first-choice votes.

But the final results are not yet certain; it may take a day or two for election workers to tally second- and third-choice votes. Turnout was the strongest in at least 25 years for a municipal election.

Mayor Betsy Hodges, who has never lost an election, ranked third in the tally of first-choice votes.

The mayoral race was dominated by calls for police accountability and for the city to narrow its racial economic disparities, address concerns about downtown safety and somehow make housing more affordable. Hodges argued the important work to solve these problems was underway. Her opponents, including Frey, state Rep. Raymond Dehn, Tom Hoch and Nekima Levy-Pounds, disagreed.

Frey arrived at his election night party at a restaurant on University Avenue to an applauding crowd a half-hour after polls closed, and walked the room hugging supporters. He said he was proud of his campaign, his wife and himself for working hard and for enduring political attacks along the way.

He was criticized as "too young, too ambitious and not from here," he said. He responded that he was 36 years old, that he moved to Minneapolis because he loves it and he believes "ambition for the city is a damn good thing."

His pitch since January was that he would use the bully pulpit of the mayor's office and his willingness to compromise to build coalitions and get things done. Shortly after 10 p.m., he stood atop the bar and, stopping short of declaring victory, said things were looking good for his campaign. He complimented his opponents for running "extraordinary" campaigns — "they are very good people," he said — and said he hoped for more inclusivity and respect at City Hall.

"We need bridge builders," he said.

Minneapolis runs ranked-choice elections, meaning voters can rank up to three picks for each office. If no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is dropped and votes for that person are reallocated to other candidates according to the second-choice votes on those ballots. This process repeats until one candidate wins a majority.

(See Minneapolis election results here.)

After Frey, who won 25 percent of first-choice votes, the next four candidates were in a tight battle late Tuesday, with Hoch in second, followed closely by Hodges, Dehn and Levy-Pounds.

As those numbers flashed on the wall, Hodges arrived at the Gandhi Mahal restaurant just off East Lake Street around 9:30 p.m. to applause from supporters. A guitarist played Bob Marley's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright."

"The thing we know right now is that the numbers don't look great for me," Hodges said. "We also know we have ranked-choice voting."

In a two-minute speech, she thanked supporters, family and staff. She said she planned to keep watching as results are tallied, but signaled that she didn't expect the situation to shift in her favor.

"This has been an incredible conversation — and it's not done — but this has been an incredible conversation about the future of our city," she said.

Immediately after her speech, she left. The crowd thinned, someone turned off the projector flashing results on the wall, and the music stopped.

Hoch, the former head of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, promised to solve downtown crime and promote economic growth, and spent $462,000 of his own money on a campaign that relied heavily on mailers and television advertising.

Inside his campaign headquarters, a former gas station off University Avenue near the U, he shook hands and greeted supporters just after polls closed.

"I feel like we ran a really great campaign," he said as his husband, Mark Addicks, carried coolers of beer and vodka into the party.

"The expenditures of my time and my resources to help move our city forward was worth it," he said, adding that if he loses: "I'll just find another way to benefit our city."

Waiting for the numbers

Dehn, the choice of many progressives, finished first in the balloting at the Minneapolis DFL convention in July, but struggled to translate party insider support to broader-based appeal.

"We put forward a vision for the future of the city of Minneapolis and we believe that it not only resonated with voters, it was similar to the things that they were thinking about," Dehn said on Tuesday night from a campaign party at Du Nord Craft Spirits in south Minneapolis.

Several Dehn supporters lingered at the distillery, and said they hoped he would benefit when Levy-Pounds' votes are reallocated as results are tabulated. Both candidates strongly support police reform.

Levy-Pounds, a dynamic speaker who has led protests and marches for victims of police shootings across the Twin Cities, ran a bare-bones campaign but commanded attention at candidate forums and on social media with her blunt calls for a "paradigm shift" in the way the city runs its police department and seeks to address racial economic disparities.

She said her campaign brought urgency to those issues and showed that someone can run for office without heavy fundraising or the help of the party's power brokers. She did not seek the Minneapolis DFL's endorsement.

"I feel that we succeeded regardless of the outcome," Levy-Pounds said Tuesday night from her campaign headquarters on West Broadway in north Minneapolis. "I think we changed the game in a lot of ways. No major candidate for mayor, as far as I know, has as publicly bucked the establishment system."

Star Tribune staff writers Erin Golden, Kelly Smith and Andy Mannix contributed to this report.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405