Minneapolis City Council members unanimously selected Andrea Jenkins as their president on Monday, a historic decision as she becomes the first openly transgender, Black woman to take the post.
Yet a 8-5 vote to elect Linea Palmisano as vice president previewed the ideological differences that the council — which includes seven newcomers — will have to navigate as the city continues to reckon with the aftermath of George Floyd's killing and the economic hardships exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Minneapolis leaders said they plan to take up the challenges of public safety and policing, rent control and housing insecurity as the city continues to grapple with its longstanding inequities.
In remarks after the vote, Jenkins highlighted the racial, religious and generational diversity of the council, which for the first time includes a majority people of color. And she emphasized the importance of collaborating as they seek to serve residents trying to heal from the trauma of the past two years.
"We represent a diversity of thought, of ideas and solutions to the most pressing issues of our time," Jenkins said.
"We have a whole lot of work to do," she said.
Jenkins' words hit on a common theme Monday as elected officials and their guests reflected on the challenges ahead as the city moves past a divisive election and begins a new political term. The day began with an inaugural ceremony featuring a speech by Mayor Jacob Frey. A short while later, council members held their first meeting of the year.
Frey begins his second term with more power than any other mayor in modern memory. Voters in November approved a change that designated him as the "chief executive" for most city departments and prohibited council members from interfering with those powers.
Many political observers will be watching to see how Frey and council members navigate those new dynamics and whether they can avoid the political feuds that sometimes have slowed progress inside City Hall.
The vote for Jenkins was unanimous, but the vote for vice president was not. Five council members wanted Elliott Payne to serve as vice president. Many of the people who supported Payne said they appreciated his positions on issues like racial justice and rent control.
"We are in a moment right now where we have seven members of this council, a majority of this council, that are new like me and learning how to lead in this moment," said Council Member Aisha Chughtai, "and I think it really matters that we continue in the tradition that we have on this council of bringing in first-time council members into leadership."
Eight council members supported Palmisano. Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw said Palmisano collaborated with her while Vetaw served on the Park & Recreation Board, even when she didn't have to do so. Vetaw said Palmisano was also the first to reach out after the election to ask how she could support her work and the needs of her constituents.
"She's open to the idea of listening and learning from others in my ward as well, and I've physically seen her in my ward working and talking to people and that means a great deal to me as the new elected council member," Vetaw said.
Palmisano said she didn't expect the vote on her vice presidency to be unanimous and "that's all right. We can still come up with a shared agenda. We can disagree, but it's how we disagree and stay in the conversation that is what is incredibly important to me."
"Retreating to alliances that says we are always in opposition to one another based on a party or using labels, that is harming our government," Palmisano said, adding that she believed that mentality was "unequitable" and "un-American" and "I will fight it."
The council members will serve two-year terms and will come up for election again in 2023, leaving them with a shorter time than usual to advance their agendas before political races kick off again. That change, approved by voters in 2020, was designed to help the city comply with a state law aimed at ensuring that council members represent wards that reflect changing census demographics. Those ward lines are currently being redrawn. Frey, who ran in a citywide race, will serve a four-year term.
The City Council includes six incumbent members and seven newcomers. Returning to office are: Jenkins, Palmisano, Jeremiah Ellison, Jamal Osman, Lisa Goodman and Andrew Johnson. Beginning their first terms are: Payne, Chughtai, Vetaw, Robin Wonsley Worlobah, Michael Rainville, Jason Chavez and Emily Koski.
On the campaign trail, the council members sometimes took starkly different views on key issues. Eight of the incoming council members supported the proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, though some did so with the caveat that they believed police would be a crucial part of a new public safety agency.
They divided, too, on the issue of rent control. Five council members — Payne, Wonsley Worlobah, Ellison, Chavez and Chughtai — want to create a policy similar to St. Paul's in Minneapolis and have publicly expressed support for a 3% cap on rent hikes, though they would allow for inflation.
But the majority of the City Council want to design a policy that protects vulnerable tenants but that doesn't suppress the supply and upkeep of affordable housing over time. The mayor, meanwhile, opposes rent control and the council would need nine votes to override any veto.
Frey on Monday urged the council members to put politics behind them. His 25-minute speech, offered during an inaugural ceremony in the Convention Center Monday morning, sought to set the tone for a new term and establish priorities for the coming years.
"Importantly now, the politics of this last year, they are behind us and they are over. The hard work of governing lies ahead," the mayor said.
"We are all individual pieces of something greater than ourselves," the mayor said. "The sum of our parts is a powerful force that keeps people safe, keeps the water running and keeps the trains moving." Residents, workers and visitors, he said, "are counting on all of us because public service, it is a team effort, and if there is anything that you take away from this speech, it is that people are counting on us to work together."
Staff Writer Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.