Mayoral candidates AJ Awed, Jacob Frey, Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad attacked each other's political records and plans for the future of Minneapolis in a heated debate Friday, just 10 days before Election Day.
Incumbent Frey defended his performance amid the "unprecedented, unpredictable" challenges of COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and economic contraction. He underscored his consistent opposition to defunding police when other public officials have waffled on their positions.
Challengers goaded Frey to show how he has improved the culture of the department since Floyd's murder and the subsequent unrest, which caused half a billion dollars of damage to businesses owned largely by people of color.
"We as a city have not seen accountability for any officer, we have not seen an after-action review of what happened during that time, so we can actually figure out how to do better because unfortunately in Minneapolis, we need to be prepared for police killing someone in our city and what happens after," said Knuth, a former state legislator who runs a climate consulting business.
"This is incredibly rich coming from someone who literally voted to gut civilian oversight … now it's a critical point of her platform," Frey hit back at Knuth, who as a legislator voted to eliminate a civilian review panel's power to sustain complaints against officers and discipline them. He also slammed her vote to subsidize U.S. Bank stadium with taxpayer money.
The candidates met Friday on TPT's "Almanac" with Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer to debate the main points of their divergent agendas. Starting with the Minneapolis DFL caucus in April, they've sparred on several stages this year, each trying to stand out amid a crowded field of 17 hopefuls. "Almanac" determined the four invited were the season's front-runners for the city's top spot.
Knuth and Nezhad, who are voting "yes" on the public safety ballot measure to remove minimum staffing requirements for police, have also made a pact to starve Frey of votes by urging their supporters not to rank the mayor at all on their ranked-choice ballots.
Nezhad is an activist with Reclaim the Block, which co-organized the critical Powderhorn Park pledge by nine sitting council members to dismantle the Police Department last year. In previous years, Reclaim the Block has also lobbied the council to cut $45 million from policing.
Nezhad was the top vote-getter in the DFL endorsement process, followed by Frey.
"I was talking with neighbors around George Floyd Square yesterday and they said, 'We feel like the city has abandoned us,' " she said in the debate. "They're hearing gunshots in their alley all the time and I asked them, 'When you see folks, who is it?' And they said, 'It's always kids, it's always young kids.' "
Nezhad mostly abstained from going on the offensive, focusing on describing what she wants out of a new department of public safety, including more violence intervention programs for youth that don't involve police.
Awed, a court mediator and top campaign fundraiser, has promised to preserve the Police Department and increase its budget to hire higher quality officers to work alongside mental health providers.
"This is supposed to be a very long conversation, tailored to be really giving dignity and giving respect and equality to communities of color," he said, swiping at activist organizations and council members who committed to ending the Police Department without a citywide engagement process, whom he called "performative progressives." "Instead ... what we're having is a forcing of policies, having bickering about trust and redemption, and we're honestly not doing the work of the people."
Awed and Frey support the government structure ballot measure that would concentrate the mayor's authority over chartered city departments. Nezhad and Knuth oppose it.
All four candidates have said they will vote for the rent stabilization ballot measure, with Frey equivocating that while he believes the City Council should have the authority to legislate policies that impose caps on private rentals, he does not personally support rent control.
WCCO will host another mayoral debate on Monday.
Nate Atkins, Troy Benjegerdes, Bob Carney Jr., Clint Conner, Christopher David, Mark Globus, Marcus Harcus, Paul E. Johnson, Doug Nelson, Jerrell Perry, Laverne Turner, Kevin Ward and Mike Winter are also on the ballot for mayor.
See the Star Tribune's voter guide to learn more about the candidates in their own words: startribune.com/mplsvoterguide.