After delivering his previous State of the City speeches in a theater and a laboratory, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imagined speaking this year from a city park amid food trucks, music and all of the other signs of summer’s arrival.
Instead, with the coronavirus pandemic changing everything in the city, he spoke early Wednesday to a camera set up in his nearly empty office in City Hall. It was the first time that a Minneapolis mayor delivered the speech via a prerecorded video instead of to a live audience.
For Frey, it marked another time that the pandemic had forced the gregarious politician to forgo a public event filled with people for the safer but lonely virtual message.
“Hi, Minneapolis,” he said. “I know. This is pretty weird for me, too.”
He warned residents that there would be difficult times ahead. The virus has killed at least 55 people in the city and changed daily life for nearly everyone. With businesses closed or operating remotely, downtown is nearly deserted, and the city predicts revenue could plunge by as much as $200 million. The city now faces a budget crunch that will prevent it from being able to meet many needs during the crisis.
Between the stark reminders of the virus’ impact, Frey also sought to provide some measure of hope that the city would recover and could, in the process, work with other leaders on major issues such as climate change, inequality, public health and immigration.
“A new normal, at times drastically different from the old normal, lies ahead,” he said.
“To be clear, there’s nothing normal about the new normal, other than the fact that we’ll need to embrace it.”
Summer activities will be placed on hold as the city encourages physical distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Rather than pushing major policy changes, the city will focus on providing basic services such as clean water and police protection.
In the past Frey has used the annual speech to call for changes in policing. This year, he praised officers and firefighters for “responding courageously to calls for help, even with new and unforeseen challenges ever-present in the line of duty.”
In prior years, he’s spoken about the need to expand affordable housing. This year, he focused on the city’s emergency rental assistance program, which received more than five times the number of applications it could fulfill.
“Confronting these limitations is heart-wrenching,” Frey said, as he repeated calls for the state and federal governments to supply more aid to cities.
“We can’t do this without you,” he said, “but you also can’t do this without us.”
In this new landscape, city officials are governing and planning differently than in recent, more stable years. The tension between covering people’s immediate needs and planning for the long term is especially acute in the crisis, Frey said.
This year, it’s extra personal. When he and his wife, Sarah Clarke, found out they were expecting their first child — due in September — they began talking about the climate in 50 years, the schools where they would enroll their child and how to pass along good values.
“All these questions, all this planning for the future, now needs to wait for action in the present,” Frey said. “We won’t be judged by remote plans. The measure — years and decades from now — will be what we did to make the future possible, for as many as possible.”