Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges began her second state of the city address Thursday with a poem. It was about how despondency and anguish “breaks off its course.” It was a Swedish poem, read by a Hispanic woman.
Of course it was.
“The eager light streams out,” the poet wrote. “Everything begins to look around. We walk in the sun in hundreds. Each man is a half-open door, leading to a room for everyone.”
It was the perfect preface to a speech that envisioned “One Minneapolis,” combining Hodges’ sum of the past year and her ambitions for the future. Hodges focused on maintaining a robust economy, increasing opportunity for young children, addressing both income disparities and global warming and a general puppies-and-rainbows ethos that could be copied by, or from, the mayors of Portland, Seattle or Berkeley.
What about potholes and gridlock?
The water is shining among the trees.
By now I should know not to expect too much from these ceremonial speeches. They all sound vaguely the same, save for a pet word or phrase.
Remember when St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman used the word “vision” 27 times in one state of the city speech? I don’t either, but it’s on record.
For Hodges, the word was “genius,” (24 times) perhaps the most overused word short of “icon.” Of particular concern was that genius not be “left on the table” in Minneapolis by lack of opportunities. She gave some examples, of which only the La Loma tamales came close to genius for me.
But what do I know? Any genius I may have once possessed was left on the table at the 400 Club back in 1982.
You only have to look back at the state of the city speeches of former mayor R.T. Rybak to see similar themes, including downtown development and knocking down the Lake Street Kmart, to see a pattern.
You can go back much further to find a more troubling recurring theme. Hodges mentioned that Minneapolis is part of “the difficult national conversation about police and community engagement,” a euphemistic way of describing a seemingly intractable problem between police and minorities.
Look back to 2001 to see that Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton called out racial profiling and demanded that “every citizen stopped by the police be treated fairly and with respect.”
How is that working for you, North Side?
I grew up here, so before Hodges took the podium, I constructed a BINGO game (I know, nice job) using the words and phrases I thought she might use in the speech. I nailed nearly two dozen of them, and scored one bingo across five cards, if you let me count “collaborate” for Hodges’ phrase, “partner.”
I missed by predicting she’d say “move the dial” or mention the word “sailboat,” a nod to the dilemma of whether to use one or two sailboats in the city logo, which the City Council debated last week. Maybe we are lucky we have such first-world problems.
In fact, it’s hard to argue with Hodges’ optimism. The city is a much more vibrant, diverse place than when I grew up just a few blocks from the Swedish Institute, where the speech was held. But every study shows it is also less equitable for a growing number of residents. No one believes nice speeches will change that.
I looked around the room for Hodges’ One Minneapolis. It was impressive, with several nationalities representing and even folks from the homeless community. There was something missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Oh, yeah, Republicans! (I recognized one, a former candidate for mayor.)
So I called a couple to see what was missing from the mayor’s speech.
“What is missing is any discussion of priorities or trade-offs,” said Paul Ostrow, former City Council president. “The mayor and City Council are committing significant city resources on a single streetcar line, the park adjacent to the Vikings stadium and on renovations to the Target Center funded exclusively by the city and not the region. … It is difficult to see how any of these decisions will improve basic city services or close the income and racial gaps in the city.”
Cam Winton, a Republican who ran against Hodges, credited her and staff for a plan to cut red tape for entrepreneurs.
“Now it’s time to execute,” Winton said. “Same for body cameras on police officers. Second, Mayor Hodges is wicked smart, so I scratch my head every time I hear her promote the $54 million per mile streetcar line. If we nixed that boondoggle, we’d have the money we need for her other, worthy priorities.”
Back at the institute, Mayor Hodges ended her speech to a standing ovation. People filed out into a beautiful spring afternoon.
We walk in the sun in hundreds. Each man is a half-open door.
Or, depending on your view, a half-closed one.