Four years ago, Mayor Betsy Hodges cut through the noise of a 35-candidate mayoral race and surged to victory on a pledge to transform Minneapolis into a city that worked better for all of its residents, regardless of their race, wealth or neighborhood.
She mounted a re-election bid this year based on the same messages that had won over so many of the city’s voters. But this time, with a competitive field of challengers on her heels, many of the same people who propelled Hodges into office voted to replace her. On Election Day, she became only the second Minneapolis mayor in the past 40 years to run for a second term and lose. When the votes were all counted, she finished third, behind Council Member Jacob Frey and state Rep. Raymond Dehn.
Supporters and critics of the mayor say she will leave in January with several lasting legacies: launching the city’s successful efforts to raise the minimum wage and mandate sick leave for all workers, making City Hall more diverse and spurring a new focus on racial disparities.
But Hodges also departs to mixed reviews of her handling of several critical moments in the city’s recent history, including two police shootings that drew national attention, sparked repeated protests and revealed chasms in the mayor’s relationships with other city leaders.
“I think Betsy Hodges has a lot to be proud of,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who said Hodges was her first choice in this year’s election. “I think we are seeing, though, that the residents said with their votes that they were looking for something different, or more.”
Hodges has not given interviews since the election, and declined a request for comment. On election night, she appeared for less than five minutes at her campaign party before thanking her supporters and heading out the door.
Setting the terms
Some of the people who have closely tracked Hodges’ time in office and her run for re-election say they’re still trying to make sense of the election results and the factors that shaped them.
Hodges garnered the largest numbers of her first-choice votes from neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis, which she formerly represented on the City Council, and in the southeast Minneapolis neighborhoods that line the Mississippi River. In both of those areas, however, her vote count lagged behind Frey — and challenger Tom Hoch took more votes in Hodges’ former council ward.
Other candidates outpaced Hodges in first- and second-choice votes overall, though she had more third-choice votes than other candidates in nearly every corner of the city.
State Sen. Scott Dibble, a DFLer who represents southwest Minneapolis and a longtime Hodges backer, said few people had a good handle on how the mayoral race would play out. He said voters in the city tend to be interested and engaged in local politics and government — and were especially so this year as many sought to challenge political shifts in the federal and state government.
Dibble said Hodges’ persistence in talking about racial disparities — from proposals on wages and workplace benefits to adding city staff positions focused on equity — helped set the tone for this year’s mayoral race. How much the candidates pledged to do to erase racial and economic divides became one of the most frequently discussed issues of the election.
“Folks running to her left wanted it done more quickly,” Dibble said. “Folks running to the right wanted to measure the nature of the tone and the specifics.”
For Hodges, however, those questions were sometimes a liability. Anthony Newby, executive director of the nonprofit Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said Hodges’ messages on equity resonated with many voters and groups focused on social justice issues in 2013. But some of her most high-profile choices, like shutting down a dayslong occupation outside the Fourth Precinct following the 2015 police shooting of Jamar Clark and her public tussles with former Police Chief Janeé Harteau, left some activists and advocates feeling unsettled about what progress was being made.
“The gaps were outrageously wide when she took office, and then you have these crisis moments where the mayor herself has admitted there were some things that could have happened differently,” he said.
There were also concerns from leaders of Minneapolis’ business community, who pushed back against Hodges’ slate of workplace reforms on wages, sick leave and scheduling. Though the council eventually approved wage and sick-leave ordinances, it was only after a year of heated debate — and some sustained criticism from business owners worried about a growing web of regulations.
Others worried that Hodges wasn’t doing enough to tackle problems with crime downtown. At the end of 2016, those issues came to a head when leaders of Meet Minneapolis, the Downtown Council, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and other groups wrote Hodges a letter, asking for a specific plan. Hodges fired back, saying they were asking for something she’d been working on for years.
Dan McElroy, a leader of Hospitality Minnesota and the Minnesota Restaurant Association, said the majority of his groups’ members supported Frey or Hoch, whom they saw as more business-friendly candidates. He said many business owners were disappointed over Hodges’ shifts on issues like minimum wage and what they saw as her unwillingness to tweak city policies on sick leave, wages and tip credits.
“On some of these things she kind of flipped on us,” McElroy said. “She said she wasn’t supportive of a city minimum wage, only a regional one, and then she changed her mind.”
Now, both backers and critics of the mayor are waiting to see if her successor will follow in Hodges’ footprints or deliberately break from her path.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, a DFLer who represents southwest Minneapolis, didn’t endorse a candidate in the mayor’s race. But he said Hodges began efforts on several issues that deserve to be continued by Frey and others who will lead the city next year. He singled out her work to introduce citywide organics recycling, reduce Minneapolis’ carbon footprint and her efforts on workplace policies that have failed to gain traction at the state and federal levels.
“I hope the new council and mayor will build on that,” Hornstein said. “Racial justice, economic justice and environmental justice are three very critical legacies that we need to put on the table.”