Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Thursday announced plans to run for re-election after a tumultuous year that tested his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, George Floyd's death and riots that devastated parts of the city.
"We stepped up through a very difficult time," Frey said, defending his handling of multiple crises. "Was it a tough year in our city and nationally? Absolutely, it was. What we showed very consistently is the kind of steady, determined and collaborative leadership that you need."
Still, some wanted to see more from the mayor. Local activist Sheila Nezhad, who favors defunding police, said she will run against him, and faults the mayor for failing to meet people's needs after Floyd's death.
Minneapolis is in a far different position than it was in 2017, when Frey, then a City Council member, ousted the incumbent mayor, Betsy Hodges.
Early in his term, Frey benefited from the city's strong economy and the positive national attention of the Super Bowl, which was played in 2018 at U.S. Bank Stadium. But a series of crises followed. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic strained city resources, put thousands out of work and exacerbated the city's racial disparities.
While he received praise for his rapid condemnation of the officers who killed George Floyd, Frey faced widespread criticism for the city's response to the rioting that followed, including his decision to abandon the police Third Precinct rather than risk a bloody confrontation.
But challengers have been slow to emerge. Last time, Frey ran in a field of 16 candidates, including the incumbent mayor and a state representative. So far, four people have said they're running, but Nezhad is the only one who responded to Star Tribune inquiries Thursday.
Notably absent from the list are sitting City Council members who, earlier in the term, were eyed as potential competitors. A Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 poll conducted in August found that voters gave Frey a higher approval rating than the council but also said they trusted the City Council to make decisions about the Police Department more than Frey.
Council President Lisa Bender, whose supporters had once envisioned her as a potential Frey challenger, said late last year that she didn't have plans to run for re-election or for any office.
Overall, candidates for city offices appear to be "taking their time this year," said Devin Hogan, chair of the Minneapolis DFL. He attributed that to fatigue from the presidential election and the pandemic.
"I wouldn't be surprised if someone is going to run ... and doesn't declare until the summer," Hogan said. "I wouldn't say that's out of the question."
Candidates aren't required to file paperwork declaring their run until late summer.
Police and public safety issues are expected to be focal points of the campaigns.
Frey quickly became a target for activists who want the Police Department to be abolished or drastically reduced. Shortly after Floyd's death, protesters gathered outside the mayor's home, asked if he would abolish the department, and when he declined, shouted, "Shame, shame, shame!"
Nezhad worked as policy organizer for Reclaim the Block, a group that helped lead the push to cut police funding.
"Neighbors are building connections in ways never seen before and also demanding change to the way our government serves or does not serve people of color in this city," said Nezhad, a woman of color who identifies as queer. "He's not connected to what's happening on the ground and has failed to follow through with the promises he made when he ran for office."
Frey said he has raised funding for affordable housing projects, implemented policies to improve accountability in the Police Department and worked with groups focused on improving economic inclusion.
He has found allies in other activists, including some Black leaders on the North Side, who say they prefer a "both-and" approach to public safety that leaves police budgets largely intact while increasing funding for other violence prevention programs. His early endorsements come from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, among others.
"I told the truth and took tough positions that did not deviate, regardless of who I was talking to," Frey said. "It's that principled approach that you need, because the position of mayor is tough."