Why should you vote "no" on the "strong mayor" amendment?
Because it's a power grab by affluent white elites, dressed up in the language of good governance ("Vote 'yes' on 'strong mayor' question," editorial, Oct. 3). And I say this as a member of the affluent white elite from Linden Hills.
Look, I'm an old political activist and nerd, so I've been hearing the strong mayor vs. strong council argument ever since I moved to Minneapolis 32 years ago. I've usually been agnostic: each model comes with its virtues and vices.
But this year, this particular "strong mayor" proposal strikes me as a way to make sure the famous "Golden Crescent" of Minneapolis voters keeps its long-held lock on power and keeps the city centered on the needs of its whitest, wealthiest residents.
The Golden Crescent is the swath of affluent, older white voters who live in southwest Minneapolis, Kenwood and downtown. They vote and donate abundantly. The Golden Crescent also used to include more working-class white people in northeast Minneapolis. But then all those avocado-toast eating, Bernie-loving, drowning-in-college-debt, socialist millennials moved to northeast, reducing the crescent's geographic boundaries.
But the Golden Crescent still dominates citywide elections.
Here's how it works: Minneapolis is divided into 13 wards. Each has about the same population. But voter turnout varies hugely. For example, I live in the upscale 13th Ward. In the last City Council races in 2017, we turned out something like 12,000 voters — which is triple the 4,000 or so voters who showed up in the Fifth Ward on the north side. This pattern is repeated in other wealthy white wards and other poor wards.
Under our current form of "strong council" government, the 13th Ward has the same level of representation as the Fifth Ward — even though we produced triple the number of voters. But under a "strong mayor," who would wield large new powers won in citywide mayoral elections, higher turnout districts would have far more clout than lower turnout neighborhoods.
If the whole city looked like 13th Ward — mostly middle-class-to-affluent, somewhat older white voters — the whole "strong mayor" vs. "strong council" question probably wouldn't matter. It would just be another interesting debate about good governance. Heck, I might even vote for it.
But the whole city doesn't look like the Golden Crescent. The city demographics are changing — which is also why city elections this year are so reactive. When people — yes, even liberal DFLers — fight to make sure power stays skewed to wealthy white people, they tend to run toxic, fearmongering campaigns that feel … geez, what a coincidence … almost Trumpian.
According to most current U.S. Census data, about 64% of total Minneapolis residents are white; 20% are Black; 10% are Latino and the rest are a mix of Asian, Indigenous and biracial people. But when you look at the next generation coming up, people under age 18, it's the reverse. Only 36% of that population is solely white; 32% are Black, 17% are Latino and the rest are a mix of Asian, Indigenous and biracial people.
Our other divide is generational. People over 65 make up only 10% of the Minneapolis population but vote in far bigger proportions. People under 18 make up 26% of the population and can't vote.
Which is why I think the strong mayor amendment is the most radical, dangerous thing on the ballot. It would take power and representation away from poorer neighborhoods, from people of color and younger people, and give even more power to affluent older, white voters — all in the supposed cause of good government. If it passes, it will make the city less democratic. Which, I fear, in the long run, will make it more unstable. Especially if we're still stuck with our same model of policing.
The police appear to be our most dysfunctional city department and weirdly enough, the only one currently operating under a "strong mayor" model.
And speaking of weird, in my 32 years of living in Minneapolis, I never heard all this pearl-clutching lamentation over the 14-bosses problem when it came to the fire department, the health department, public works and so forth, all of which are controlled by a "strong council" government.
Nope, it was only after those nine City Council members stood at the stage in Powderhorn Park after George Floyd was murdered and vowed to restructure and replace police with a department of public safety that suddenly the 14-boss problem became such a huge deal.
Let's be frank — the unofficial, historic mission of the Minneapolis police has been to protect white bodies and white property by dominating, controlling and harassing Black bodies. That's the quiet part that people in the Golden Crescent don't like to say aloud or think about too much.
So when those nine council members vowed to change the cops, the Golden Crescent went ballistic. Affluent white people could feel the demographic changes that are looming. They want to lock in their power and keep the city — especially policing — centered around their needs and comfort.
Would a strong mayor form of government be more efficient? Maybe. It probably depends on who is mayor. But in governance, just as in other key relationships — family, faith, work — some efficiencies come with a dark side.
In this case, a strong mayor system is an elite white power grab. If you want a stable, healthy city, vote it down.
Lynnell Mickelsen lives in Minneapolis.