Candidates for mayor of Minneapolis squared off Wednesday in the first forum of the election campaign, laying out six rough visions for what's needed from the mayor of Minnesota's largest city.

Held before a crowd of about 200 at Calvary Baptist Church in south Minneapolis, the event was hosted by Council Member Lisa Bender.

The candidates are Mayor Betsy Hodges, Council Member Jacob Frey, civil rights attorney Nekima Levy-Pounds, former head of the Hennepin Theatre Trust Tom Hoch, state Rep. Raymond Dehn and filmmaker Aswar Rahman.

Differences emerged in matters of emphasis. Hodges argued for her role as dogged champion of the details that move the city toward a more equitable future, and Frey made the case for himself as a "visible" mayor who will rally support to get things done.

Levy-Pounds called for wholesale change at City Hall and an overhaul of the Minneapolis Police Department. Hoch said the city suffers from a lack of ambitious ideas. Dehn said the focus must be on reducing economic disparities, and Rahman, the outsider candidate, blasted the city's "wasteful" budget and "underperforming" police department.

Hodges said she has followed through on her promise to promote growth for everyone. She mentioned a 20-year parks and streets deal, and her efforts to make public safety a partnership between police and the community.

"That is difficult and transformational work," she said. "It means you have to get in there every day and do the hard work of transformational change. It's not about headlines, it's about outcomes."

Frey, who is widely viewed as Hodges' toughest challenger, said the city can end homelessness in five years, become the greenest city in America and defeat its affordable housing crisis. The key, he said, is a mayor who can rally support to get things done.

"We need a very visible and present mayor, someone who is willing to lead, build a coalition on the council, work with the independent school and the park boards, and ultimately get results," he said. "Not rhetoric, not lip service — results."

Levy-Pounds, former president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said the city needs a change at City Hall if it is to solve its disparities. "We all do better when we all do better, and it's time for our city to start demonstrating that for every single resident in the city of Minneapolis, and not just those in the upper echelon," she said. "I believe I can usher in the change and make us a national leader in equity and justice for all."

Hoch, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, called for Minneapolis to create events like Austin's SXSW that put the city on the map.

"I am running to be the mayor of Minneapolis because I believe we are losing our momentum. We are falling behind," Hoch said. "When I look at a Boulder, an Indianapolis, an Austin, these are cities thinking big and acting big."

Dehn, a fourth-generation North Sider, said it's great that Minneapolis is near the top of many lists for best city, but the focus must be on spreading those benefits more widely.

"We're also at the top of the largest disparities between white people and people of color and indigenous folks," he said. "That doesn't happen by accident, and it won't change just by accident. We need to work hard to make those changes."

And Rahman, the youngest of the six candidates, focused on what he considers an out-of-control city budget. "Anyone who looked at the budget as closely as I did would also be running for mayor, because that thing is a mess," he said. "The mayor in the city of Minneapolis has two main responsibilities, the police and the budget, and those are exactly the two places where we have severely underperformed the last three years."

The discussion was full of quick responses and no sparring between candidates. They found much to agree on: opposition to a state law that would preempt local labor ordinances, a desire to remove Kmart to restore Nicollet Avenue, a need for more cheap housing, defense of Minneapolis as a sanctuary city from President Donald Trump, expansion of bike lanes, and the importance of a more diverse police force.

On the minimum wage, which should come before the City Council this summer, Rahman opposes an increase. Levy-Pounds and Dehn said they were for a $15 minimum wage without a carve-out for tipped workers. Hodges is against a carve-out for tipped workers, but not advocating for $15. Frey and Hoch said they would wait until the city's minimum wage listening sessions end before they stake out a firm position.

Precinct caucuses, where delegates are selected who will make DFL endorsements, are April 4. The election is in November.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405