Capping nearly 10 straight days of pomp and circumstance, Minneapolis finished the ceremonial installation of its new mayor, Betsy Hodges, with a grand party Saturday night. Billed as “One Minneapolis,” the evening was a jumping-off point for a new era in city government — though not too new, considering the tremendous popularity of former mayor R.T. Rybak’s administration.
Among the homegrown musical acts, ample offerings from local restaurants, poets, politicians, and stilt-walkers was one element never seen before at an inauguration: live and unscripted advice for the new administration presented on stage through improv comedy.
The improv troupe I co-founded, The Theater of Public Policy, hosted Hodges on our show last fall. I interviewed the then-candidate, and our cast of improvisers used her policy prescriptions as inspiration for long-form improv scenes. When her campaign invited us to be part of the inauguration party, we wanted to turn the communication around. We wanted to hear what prescriptions citizens had for their new government. So the cast of The Theater of Public Policy and I navigated the crowded celebration collecting ideas, suggestions and words of caution that we would later present via improvised comedy scenes.
The advice ranged from insightful to thought-provoking to humorous to the so obvious that you would have to be the mayor of Toronto to need it. Here are some of the highlights:
- “Fix Inequality”
The gaps in opportunity, education, and employment between people of color and white citizens in Minneapolis was a huge theme of Hodges’ campaign. Over and over people at the inauguration said they hope/expect the new mayor and council to focus on these issues.
Specific proposals on how city government can tackle these long-festering problems were fewer and farther between. One party attendee offered the directionally confusing advice, “Bear down on (inequality). But go up!” If the new mayor can figure out what that means, then perhaps she is clever enough to figure out solutions to an issue as insoluble as inequality.
- “Improve the bus schedule so Sarah can get rid of her car.”
This was probably the most personalized request of the new mayor and council we heard all night. Yet it reflected a reoccurring theme of transit issues many party attendees shared.
A rising generation of urbanists are looking for a multitude of mobility options and freedom from the tethers of vehicle ownership. Transportation is an issue with many cooks in the kitchen and too little funding to purchase all quality ingredients.
How the new leaders of Minneapolis work with regional partners, Metro Transit, and the state will determine whether this city catches up with transit-friendly cities and whether Sarah can ever get along without her car.
- “Don’t Crowd Surf …”
“… that was R.T.’s thing,” this adviser offered. The attendees did not want Hodges to try to impersonate the former mayor’s colorful personality like a step-parent desperately seeking to fill an absent father’s place. That said, many expressed a desire for the new mayor to put her own coolness on display. If part of a mayor’s job is to be a cheerleader and mascot for her city, the past mayor set a high bar.
Several noted Hodges’ fondness for the classic action film “Die Hard” as a hipster asset. Last year she actually performed in the sketch tribute to the film at the Bryant Lake Bowl, “A Very Die Hard Christmas.” If Hodges wants to solidify her credentials amongst a national audience of lovers of all things vintage and ironic, she should try and get the IDS Tower renamed Nakatomi Plaza.
- “Give Up The Pantsuits”
While offering a female public figure fashion advice is fraught with potential sexism, I thought this particular note would be so obvious as to dodge any push back. The ’80s are long over. We’ve unburdened ourselves of the ugly crutch of shoulder pads. Legs needn’t be lost in drapes of shapeless fabric.
Yet when I brought this to the mayor at the close of Saturday’s festivities, she stood her ground. “I love my pantsuit!” she exclaimed.
I suppose as Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto has taught us, there are worse vices than pantsuits.
Tane Danger is the co-founder and host of The Theater of Public Policy which uses improv comedy theater of unpack and re-imagine big issues and serious questions. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaneDanger.
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