A growing chorus of local politicians is encouraging Minneapolis residents to leave Jacob Frey off their ballots, as they seek to unseat the mayor whose public safety stances they oppose but without any agreement on who should replace him.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, announced outside City Hall Monday that she is endorsing challengers Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad.
"I'm asking you not to rank our current mayor," Omar said. "Both of these women are qualified and passionate. One of them would make an excellent leader for Minneapolis, and both of them would be a better fit for the city than the current mayor."
The congresswoman's remarks come at a time when the organizations leaning furthest left are waging social media campaigns and launching ads encouraging voters not to re-elect Frey. The November elections have become a referendum on Frey's track record on policing, not only in the mayor's race but also fights over the future of the city's Police Department and how to divide power in City Hall.
Frey's campaign on Monday sought to project confidence and said he, too, is working on "building the coalition necessary to create meaningful progress through the unprecedented challenges of our times."
"As we head into the November election, we've gathered support from state and federal lawmakers, local officials and every union that's endorsed in the mayoral race," campaign manager Joe Radinovich said in a statement. "When the votes come in, we are confident that we'll show strong support in every corner of this city."
Frey opposes a charter amendment seeking to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, saying he fears it would dilute accountability for officers by granting the council more sway over police. Many of the organizations encouraging people not to vote for Frey support that measure and oppose one granting the mayor more authority over the city's daily operations.
Frey became mayor in 2018 after unseating Betsy Hodges, whose own campaign had been weakened after the police killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Frey's first campaign called for increased police accountability — something Omar highlighted in her own endorsement message. She and others who are encouraging people not to rank the mayor have said they believe he should have done more to rein in the police department before George Floyd's murder.
Parts of Omar's endorsement echoed a letter released last week by seven DFL lawmakers who encouraged people to select a new mayor who would use "the levers of power in City Hall" to do more to end racial disparities and improve public safety.
The letter was signed by: Sens. Scott Dibble and Omar Fateh and Reps. Esther Agbaje, Jim Davnie, Aisha Gomez, Emma Greenman and Hodan Hassan. Unlike Omar, though, they stopped short of endorsing anyone.
"We represent different communities within Minneapolis and we support different candidates for mayor," the group wrote. "But we are coming together today to say that our city needs a new direction and that begins with electing a new mayor on Nov. 2."
The effort to encourage people to rank anyone but Frey has put some challengers in the awkward position of running both against each other for mayor and together in the effort to unseat the incumbent. Nezhad declined to comment on that dynamic Monday.
Knuth said she thinks ranked-choice voting will allow their strategy to prevail. "It's clear the city is ready for a new mayor, and I think we're unified in that," she said, adding: "What we're hearing at the doors is reflected in the polling with his approval rating, and so I'm not worried about splitting the vote."
A Star Tribune/Kare 11/MPR/Frontline poll conducted last month found about 35% of likely voters had a favorable opinion of Frey, compared to 50% in August of 2020. The poll didn't ask voters to evaluate others on the ballot.
The mayor has strong Democratic supporters of his own. His list of endorsements includes, among others: Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. It also includes a new political committee called All of Mpls, which launched a six-figure fundraising campaign this summer and is beginning its own ad blitz encouraging voters to re-elect the mayor. New campaign disclosure forms that will shed more light on spending are due next week.
Star Tribune reporter Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.