Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo isn't on the ballot, but he's become a central figure in the first municipal elections since George Floyd's killing by police.
His photo appears in ads and fliers. His name comes up in almost every debate. Arguments over the ballot question to replace the Police Department often bring in the fate of the popular police chief whose term expires soon.
Arradondo has largely stayed out of the political fray, except for issuing a strong statement hinting at an "unbearable" situation if the amendment passes. But that hasn't stopped others from talking about him.
"It would be dishonest to exclude him from the conversation," said Mayor Jacob Frey, whose own re-election campaign has highlighted some of the chief's work.
Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political committee that wrote the proposal, says it could give Arradondo more tools to push through change.
"It does seem that opposition really wants to focus quite a bit on Chief Arradondo, and the reality is that this is a policy that does make room for Chief Arradondo to continue in power," said JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for the group.
Arradondo, the city's first Black police chief, took the helm of the department in 2017 amid calls for greater accountability following the police killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Now, nearly 18 months after Floyd's death, the city faces similar calls as it debates how to transform safety.
With the chief now showing a higher approval rating than most elected officials, some campaigns are focusing their messaging on him. As of last month, 55% of likely Minneapolis voters gave Arradondo a favorable rating, compared with 35% for Frey and 28% to the City Council, according to a Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11/FRONTLINE poll.
Arradondo's supporters said he's shown a greater willingness to hear out community members — even the department's staunchest critics — than most of his predecessors. They note that he once sued the department for racial discrimination (and won), that he fired the officers charged in Floyd's death, and that he testified against ex-officer Derek Chauvin during the murder trial. Some of them run community groups that collaborated with Arradondo to reduce violence following Floyd's killing.
"You've got people that's comfortable working with Rondo, and there is nothing in that document that says he'll have a job, and that's why you have the concern," said the Rev. Jerry McAfee, who opposes a plan to replace the Police Department.
Others say they remain confounded as to how so many people can place their faith in the chief and worry about the vote turning into a referendum on him. Some say he's well-intentioned but still a product of the department. They point out that he oversaw the department when officers killed Floyd and that it continues to use force disproportionately on Black residents.
Mel Reeves, an activist and journalist, says that Arradondo's visibility in the mayor's re-election campaign seems like a political ploy.
"I do think that the mayor's probably attaching himself to the police chief, because there's a significant amount of Black people who hold the chief in high regard and they want him to keep his job," Reeves said, adding, "though Rondo has done the Black community no favors."
One political committee, All of Mpls, has been flooding voters' mailboxes with fliers claiming that a proposal to replace the Police Department also "gets rid of Police Chief Arradondo."
In fact, the proposal deletes language from the charter that requires Minneapolis to have a police department and deletes a reference to a police chief. The police chief would still be listed in city ordinances, which the mayor and council could change without further approval from voters.
City Clerk Casey Carl told a community group earlier this fall that, if the proposal passes, he imagines city leaders would also need to remove the department and the chief's position from ordinances to comply with the new charter language and voters' wishes.
Citing those remarks, All of Mpls said it stands by its ads.
"This ballot question eliminates the position of chief of police and its roles and responsibilities. It does not replace them or reassign them elsewhere," said Leili Fatehi, the group's campaign manager. She added: "This is really a feature, not a bug, of their campaign that they keep trying to distance themselves or disavow the very things that their charter amendment actually does to the charter."
A police spokesman said Monday that Arradondo was unavailable to comment for the story. Arradondo broke his silence on the proposal in late August with a statement: "If the current city charter amendment to the reporting structure passes and results in bringing 14 different people into Minneapolis' daily reporting structure, it would not just be confusing — it would be a wholly unbearable position for any law enforcement leader or police chief."
No matter how the vote goes, Arradondo's term ends early next year and he has hasn't said whether he wants another.
Earlier this month, the chief said he hadn't yet discussed that with the mayor or his family. "When the time is appropriate, I certainly will," he said.
Supporters of the proposal say that's more reason to take the focus off the chief.
"The other reality is that Chief Rondo ... has not expressed a commitment to the Department of Public Safety nor to the Minneapolis Police Department for the long term," Bates said. "So, we want to remember that this policy really is about the people of Minneapolis being able to be safe."