The Minneapolis DFL failed to endorse any candidate for mayor, leaving a wide open election this fall.

Seven candidates, including first-term Mayor Jacob Frey, Sheila Nezhad, Kate Knuth, Phil Sturm and AJ Awed, competed for the party's seal of approval through a virtual format that had drawn criticism recently from some Democrats who said the process was difficult for some to navigate.

After six rounds of ranked-choice balloting, Nezhad finished first with 53% of delegate votes, but failed to secure the 60% needed for endorsement. Frey had led the pack early, but finished second behind Nezhad with 40% of the votes in the final round of balloting.

As the balloting progressed to the end, Knuth, who had received the fewest votes, dropped out. Frey gained 95 votes, while Nezhad finished the night with 370 more delegate votes than the mayor.

More than 88% of delegates voted for endorsements. The Minneapolis DFL has not endorsed a mayoral candidate since 2009, when R.T. Rybak got the nod in his bid for a third term.

With no endorsement for mayor, candidates said they will remain in the race, hoping to win in the Nov. 2 ranked-choice election.

Nezhad, a community organizer who works as a policy analyst for Reclaim the Block, a group that helped lead the push to cut police funding, said her lead over Frey in the endorsement race "is an indication that the people of Minneapolis are ready for big, bold change" and that she is the candidate who can defeat the mayor in the fall.

Frey said a second-place finish in the DFL endorsement process is not new to him and doesn't signal trouble for his campaign. He said he had a smaller coalition of support in 2017 when he came in second among strong contenders in the endorsement race for mayor.

"I think a lot of pundits were ready to write us off, recognizing that I wouldn't be able to spend as much time campaigning, given the demands of the office," Frey said in an interview Thursday. "My time has been spent doing my day job as mayor, but we finished stronger than expected and we are moving into November now with a full head of steam."

Since George Floyd's killing by a Minneapolis police officer, the city has been in the middle of a nationwide racial reckoning that has sparked almost nonstop racial justice protests. The events have raised the stakes in this year's election, when all 13 City Council seats also are up for election, and voters will get a chance to remake city leadership by deciding whether to grant the mayor more power over daily operations of city government.

Amid the national scrutiny of city leadership, Frey's challengers have been slow to come forward this year. When they did, they all tried to contrast themselves from the mayor on police and public safety, the top issues in the election.

The mayor's most active challengers favor defunding the police and replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a new community safety department that doesn't rely solely on law enforcement and prioritizes violence prevention and other alternative approaches, such as mental health. They also support capping how much landlords can charge their tenants.

Nezhad and Knuth, an environmental educator and a former three-term DFL legislator, criticized Frey's safety plan, saying the mayor has prioritized the police over the community. Knuth said Minneapolis residents are looking for answers and urgent action and "people are frustrated by the continued police-centric focus the mayor has taken in terms of public safety."

Nezhad said "the mayor has been meeting violence caused by law enforcement with more law enforcement," in a city with a widespread racial profiling of its communities of color. "I don't think that's the way to properly address police violence," she said. "If we want to build a safer city, we have to invest in solutions."

Frey said he has rejected calls from activists to defund or abolish the police and has offered Minneapolis "a difficult but honest path forward" amid tumultuous times in the city. The mayor said he supports the plan to create a public safety department, but opposes "having the head of public safety or the chief of police report to 14 different people."

"Say what you will about me, I don't take the easy way out," Frey said. "I believe that people want safety beyond policing and alternative responses, and they also want to make sure that police are properly funded."

Minneapolis DFL city delegates also endorsed candidates for the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Park and Recreation Board.

Christa Moseng, an attorney who lives in the Midtown Phillips neighborhood, was endorsed for the Board of Estimate and Taxation where there are two at-large seats up for election. Moseng earned 63% support in the final round of balloting, with about 1,813 total delegate votes over two of her challengers, Steve Brandt and Aaron Zellhoefer, who were also seeking the party's nod.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203