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Four takeaways from the Minneapolis DFL’s mayoral endorsement process 

What happened, and what it could mean for the general election. 

A week after the Minneapolis DFL hosted virtual ward conventions for City Council elections came the forum featuring candidates for mayor. Because of the pandemic, the entire Minneapolis DFL endorsement process was done online. Here, four takeaways from the party’s endorsements process and what it could mean for the November elections:

Another ‘no endorsement’

The DFL — the only political party that matters in Minneapolis mayoral politics — only endorses candidates who receive at least 60 percent of the vote in the final round of ranked choice voting. 

Sheila Nezhad
Sheila Nezhad
No Minneapolis mayoral candidate has cleared that 60 percent mark since R.T. Rybak in 2009, the city’s first election to use instant runoff voting, and no candidate has secured the endorsement in a truly contested race since 1979. Coming closest this year was challenger Sheila Nezhad, an activist and community organizer who tallied 53 percent of the vote. Current Mayor Jacob Frey got 40 percent in the final round of voting.

The results were somewhat reminiscent of the last time the city chose a mayor. In 2017, then incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges was unable to muster as much support as two challengers, Raymond Dehn and then-Council Member Frey, and none of the candidates received the endorsement. Back then, Dehn got 32 percent of the vote, Frey 27 percent, and Hodges 24 percent. In the general election that November, Frey prevailed over Dehn after five rounds of ranked choice tabulations with 57.2 percent of the vote.

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Maybe it’s not such a great gig

It could be good to be governor or senator these days. Mayor? Maybe not so much. The job is now considered one of the worst in all of politics, as blame for the pandemic and issues with policing and crime have tended to fall on cities’ most high-profile public officials. That’s not just in Minneapolis. First-term mayors in both Seattle and Atlanta have decided not to seek re-election this year, while Pittsburgh’s two-term mayor recently lost his reelection bid in that city’s Democratic primary. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
The nature of the job was likely one factor in why this year’s crop of challengers is smaller than in previous elections, despite Frey’s potential vulnerability, and largely devoid of candidates with extensive electoral experience. Among the four challengers seeking the DFL endorsement — Kate Knuth, Nezhad, Philip Sturm and AJ Awed — only Knuth, a former state representative, had previously won elected office.

All candidates for mayor were critical of the police. But there are big differences in their views on the future of traditional law enforcement. 

In the candidate forum, all candidates used forceful language in condemning police violence against communities of color, especially the murder of Floyd. But most stopped short of suggesting the city would be better off without police.

“The city needs a both/and approach,” said Frey. “This is where I differ from some of the candidates in this race,” saying he believes the city should invest in a “comprehensive approach” that commits funding for police as well as alternative safety systems. 

AJ Awed, currently the co-executive director of the Cedar Riverside Community Council, said in order to rebuild trust between “Black and brown communities” and the city, there needs to be a “transformative” change to Minneapolis police. “That doesn’t mean that our city does not need police,” he said. “That is a function of government. Law enforcement is gonna be here to stay.”

Knuth noted that of course Black communities and communities of color don’t trust police because police actively harm communities of color.”  Citing the higher rate at which Black motorists are pulled over for pretext stops, she suggested that traffic enforcement could be undertaken by another city department or by an entirely new public safety division. “The mayor has authority here and could be making progress here and we haven’t seen it.”

Kate Knuth
Kate for Mpls
Kate Knuth
Nezhad, a policy organizer for Reclaim the Block, one of the main organizations seeking to shift resources away from the police, has gone further, advocating eliminating the Minneapolis Police Department and focusing on prevention and addressing root causes of violence. “To me, it seems more far fetched to believe that we are one or two tweaks away from getting reform right after trying it for seven decades than to think that we can build safety with less racial violence through unarmed crisis responders, restorative justice, and meeting people’s basic needs,” she said. 

Frey also differed with challengers on rent control (mostly)

Knuth said she is on board with changing the city charter to allow for rent control. Awed, whose main issue was rent control in his losing bid to win the Ward 6 council seat last year, said he strongly supports rent control. 

Nezhad too supports rent control, and Sturm said he is for rent control in “some form.” 

AJ Awed
AJ Awed
“We know that rent stabilization can work, it has a long track record in many other cities and we know that it doesn’t destroy markets,” he said.

Among those seeking the endorsement, only Frey was opposed. “Most every major economist throughout the world has concluded that it hamstrings mobility and supply and it ultimately leads to increased prices,” he said. “They’ve concluded that it has not been effective, and I listen to experts.” 

Still, Frey said he is open to considering policy crafted by council. “But, as a formal policy has not yet been put forward, I will review the Minneapolis language before making a final decision,” said Frey. “That’s what we should always be doing.”

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