Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey vowed to make his re-election a turning point after a bitterly divisive campaign, pledging Wednesday to focus his attention on public safety, economic inclusion and affordable housing.
The first-term mayor, who led the city during episodes of protest and rioting after the police killing of George Floyd last year, called for unity in working toward police reform during a victory speech outside his campaign headquarters. The direction from voters was clear, he said, after they rejected a proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency.
"All of the work around safety and accountability is complex. None of it you can fix with a hashtag or a slogan or a simplistic answer," Frey said. "I'm hopeful that we will be able to dig in … in a united fashion."
Frey said he assembled a broad coalition of support and in recent weeks had been crisscrossing the city reaching out to voters, including several events aimed at residents of color.
"We had beautifully diverse support from the entire city and, undoubtedly, the backbone of our support came from the North Side, our Black, Somali and Latino voters," Frey said.
He also had strong support from the business community, and some high-profile endorsements including from Gov. Tim Walz and Courteney Ross, who was Floyd's girlfriend.
The announcement that Frey won came Wednesday after two rounds of ranked-choice voting tabulation. Challenger Kate Knuth came in second in the final round, pulling in 38% of votes compared with Frey's 49%.
People around the nation were watching to see whether the city would oust or re-elect Frey, as well as replace its Police Department with a Department of Public Safety. Voters rejected that proposal in a separate question Tuesday, and Frey credits his victory mainly to his consistent opposition to activists' calls to defund and abolish the police.
Frey said he spoke with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Wednesday morning, and the chief was going to discuss with his family whether he wants to continue leading the department.
"We were just texting this morning but it was mainly just congratulations and moving forward with the next steps," Frey said.
Those next steps around policing and public safety will be rolled out in the coming weeks, Frey said, but he warned that it could take at least a couple of months to set up and allow new council members to be sworn in first.
It will include efforts to integrate different approaches to public safety, such as hiring more community-oriented officers, social workers or mental health responders, he said, but added: "I don't want to describe exactly what it will look like yet."
Knuth, a former state legislator and sustainability scholar, had aligned with community organizer Sheila Nezhad in a campaign urging voters not to rank Frey, who they argued had done too little to change policing.
Knuth didn't return calls for comment Wednesday, but said in a statement that she was grateful for the "strong" second-place finish and urged supporters to hold Frey accountable. "We are now finally grappling with the fact that our system of public safety & policing was not designed to keep every person in our community safe," Knuth wrote. "That hard reality does not disappear with these results."
Nezhad, who also didn't return calls for comment, said in a statement to supporters that "we built grassroots power with this campaign, and question 2 expanded the imaginations of hundreds on how we really build safety."
The pack of mayoral hopefuls spent months locked in an expensive fight over who would lead the city at a critical moment. Frey had dramatically outspent his opponents, although Nezhad, Knuth, AJ Awed and Clint Conner had each raised tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the battle for the city's top post.
Now Frey begins a second term with more power than any Minneapolis mayor in recent memory. Voters approved a charter change that designates the mayor as the city's chief executive and prohibits council members from interfering with the mayor's supervision of most departments.
The court-appointed Charter Commission, which crafted the question of whether to grant the mayor more power, argued that the city needed to better define its structure to avoid the kinds of power struggles that had hampered staffers' ability to respond to crises like the coronavirus pandemic and Floyd's killing. Opponents said they feared the change would limit the impact of council members who represent the most diverse wards, which historically often had lower turnout in citywide races.
Frey supported the change. Knuth and Nezhad opposed it.
Political committees waging expensive campaigns over policing also took opposite stances on the question of the mayor's power. A new group called Charter for Change formed specifically to encourage people to vote for the strong-mayor system. It received more than $130,000 in the months leading up to the election, primarily from the Minneapolis Regional Chamber's development fund.
Kathleen O'Brien, a former Minneapolis City Council member who helped form the group, described the election as "historic" and said the debate over the structure of city government has been going on for more than 100 years.
"The voters and the people of Minneapolis did their homework," O'Brien said. "They sorted through the all the issues and voted to strengthen our government."
Frey on Wednesday echoed those sentiments, saying changing the power structure in City Hall is long overdue; he said it's the most significant change coming to Minneapolis.
"Question 1 was probably the most important thing on that entire ballot," he said. "This is indeed a Founding Mothers and Founding Fathers moment right now."
The mayor will immediately have to navigate demands to increase accountability for police on the heels of a decisive vote rejecting a proposal to replace the city's Police Department. The mayor told supporters Tuesday night that his victory will not be a blow to police reform, which he said is happening under his administration and must continue.
"There was this push to defund the police," Frey said. "That movement has been roundly rejected. All of us now can stop with the hashtags and the slogans and the simplicity and say, 'All right, let's all unite around things that we all agree on.' "
Staff writers Liz Navratil, Jessie Van Berkel, Kelly Smith and Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.