By John Abraham-Watne
It’s 2017 and that means off-year municipal elections are heating up here in Minneapolis. After a stunning 2013, in which numerous new candidates were elected to the City Council and Ward 13 CM Betsy Hodges won election as Mayor, an unbelievable amount of change has happened in our fair city. From minimum wage protests to police shootings to stirring defenses of immigrant rights, Minneapolis residents and public officials have seen their share of outcry and engagement. This casts the 2017 elections in stark relief, which once more finds nearly every seat on the Council in a contested race. Readers may recall I spoke with the challenger in the ward in which my wife and I reside (7), Janne Flisrand. This time I decided to talk with the person largely considered the front-runner in the DFL party to take down current Mayor Betsy Hodges, who has struggled this year with multiple political missteps, a fired Police Chief, and various other public woes. That would be Jacob Frey, current Council Member from the Third Ward (see here for the area).
In a phone interview, I asked Jacob why he wanted to get into the race this year, a scant four after he was elected as a first-time Council Member. He told me he thinks the city is in the news for a lot of bad reasons these days, and that we need a “fresh start.” He cited numerous recent issues with Mayor Hodges, including submitting the budget on time.
I then pivoted toward some of his campaign promises: namely, affordable housing. How as Mayor is he going to be able to keep housing prices down for people like my wife and I who want to buy someday? Frey first noted that the city has lost 10,000 affordable housing units, and developer subsidies allow for keeping units affordable for 15-20 years (Frey wants that extended), and then flipped. In a time of heightened concern in the Trump era over lost federal funding, he said that “everyone needs affordable housing.” Frey’s solution is a separate source of funding, a “value capture model.” He thinks the city should determine how much families pay and where to place the housing. I asked Frey why he thinks eliminating parking minimums is important. He said the cost for parking is generally added to the price of a unit, adding about $25,000. Simple economics among younger people is starting to make these go away. Finally I asked about his commitment to ending homelessness within five years. He said this was a “longstanding problem” in Minneapolis but “everyone deserves a home.” A lot of these people are working, Frey said, but can’t afford shelter. It costs three times as much to provide temporary shelter as it does to just give them a home, he said, advocating for a policy that has worked in Denver and elsewhere around the country.
The conversation then moved to climate change, and what the Mayor can do to increase efficiency in the city. Frey said the city’s “zero waste” goal has not been accomplished, and that his “record of getting results” shows he can do more, citing his work getting a fee on air pollution on the North Side. Frey stated the goal of Minneapolis being run by 100% clean energy by 2035, and talked up the need to expand solar on rooftops all across the city, allowing the owners to sell the power back to the grid. He also hopes to completely convert the city’s fleet of vehicles to all-electric during his term.
We then talked about what’s left to be done after the minimum wage fight, which concluded at the Council this year with a vote calling for $15 to be phased in over several years. Frey said it will be important to help people who do have jobs, track employers, and finding job training. He voiced support for more vocational training in schools in trades like welding and coding. He said there are a “record number” of small businesses opening and operating in his ward, and while he was “not crazy about” things like the scheduling ordinance he is prepared to keep supporting workers.
We then turned to our fair city streets, the safety of which has been near and dear to this writer’s heart for some time. Frey first spoke of the crime aspects he deals with in his ward, which he described as a “significant problem.” He said it was the “Mayor’s job” to handle the police just as much as the budget, and called for more community policing, wanting residents to “get to know” their cops by name. This is quite the opposite of how they operate now, Frey said, running to and from 911 calls. He said some areas of the city will need a robust police presence, but that he also hopes to “change the culture” of the force and provide more “accountability.” He worried about times of police misconduct when body cameras are not turned on, arguing this was a provision ignored by Hodges in the policy. Regarding traffic woes in the city (which again are legion) Frey admitted many intersections in the city are “not safe” and called for more bump outs for pedestrians to use.
Finally, with the arrival of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the eminent Prof. Levy-Pounds’ entrance in the race, I had to ask Frey as gently as I could about the issue race is playing in this campaign. He acknowledged that there is often “someone better equipped” to send a certain message than he is as a “white privileged male.” He also acknowledged the need to elevate voices like that, but didn’t say much more.
Finally I asked a question my wife prompted, which was what Frey thinks his legacy should be if he wins the election in November. He stated he wants to see a “city that is united.” He added that is not the case right now, not even in the DFL party. He said the city needs a bridge builder and he hoped his legacy would include more diverse neighborhoods. He hoped more people of all races/religions/genders would live amongst each other after he’s out of office, which I must admit is an admirable, if lofty, goal in this polarized age of politics.
Municipal elections for Mayor and City Council (and other city posts) are November 7th, so get out there and vote. There are obviously a bunch of other candidates running, including current Mayor (and my former Council Member back in the 13th Ward days) Betsy Hodges. I hope to be able to speak with a few of them before the election. Check out the MPLS DFL page for more endorsement information.
John Abraham-Watne is a published author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. He is the author of two novels published by North Star Press. John conducts freelance journalism on local government issues for the news/entertainment website MinnyApple. His work has also appeared in the Southwest Journal and the Hill & Lake Press.