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Two Minneapolis City Council incumbents defeated in election defined by debate over policing, public safety

LaTrisha Vetaw crushed Council Member Phillipe Cunningham in north Minneapolis’ Ward 4, while Emily Koski handily beat Jeremy Schroeder in south Minneapolis’ Ward 11. 

Minneapolis voters ousted at least two incumbent council members Tuesday in an election that largely hinged on the future of policing after the murder of George Floyd and how best to address rising violent crime in the city.

LaTrisha Vetaw
LaTrisha Vetaw for Ward 4
LaTrisha Vetaw
Candidates who opposed the failed public safety charter amendment — which would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety and eliminated a requirement for the city to have a minimum number of police officers — appeared to have leads in several key wards.

LaTrisha Vetaw, a member of the Minneapolis Parks Board, defeated Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, winning nearly 61 percent of first-choice votes in the Northside’s Ward 4. Emily Koski won 58 percent of first place votes to Council Member Jeremy Schroeder’s 30 percent in the south Minneapolis Ward 11.

Both Vetaw and Koski opposed the public safety charter amendment, while Cunningham and Schroeder both supported it. “The main issue, and the only issue, was safety,” Vetaw said about her council race Tuesday. “We all felt like we were silenced when council members got up on the stage in Powderhorn and said they were going to defund and dismantle police,” she added, referencing the June 2020 rally where nine members of the city council pledged to “end policing as we know it.” 

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In Ward 3, which includes part of downtown and Northeast Minneapolis, incumbent Steve Fletcher trailed Michael Rainville 45 percent to 39 percent in first place votes, which was not enough to secure a victory for Rainville after the first round of balloting. Fletcher supported the public safety amendment while Rainville opposed it. Under Minneapolis’ ranked-choice voting system, candidates win outright if they get more than 50 percent of first-choice votes. 

In Ward 5 on the Northside, Jeremiah Ellison, a supporter of the policing ballot question, had 32 percent of first-round votes as of Tuesday night and led opponents Kristel Porter and Victor Martinez, both of whom opposed the policing ballot measure. Porter and Martinez each got just under 25 percent of first-round votes, meaning the final outcome is still in question.

Emily Koski
Emily Koski for Minneapolis
Emily Koski
Candidates who opposed Question 2 weren’t successful everywhere in the city, though. 

In the Northeast’s Ward 1, incumbent Kevin Reich opposed the public safety charter amendment. But as of late Tuesday night, he was trailing Elliott Payne 48 percent to 43 percent. Payne, a consultant who formerly worked in the city’s Office of Performance and Innovation, criticized Reich for not pledging to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.

Jason Chavez, a Democratic Socialist candidate in Ward 9, where Floyd was killed and where many of the businesses damaged in the aftermath of his death are located, won by a wide margin over Mickey Moore. Chavez, a Minnesota House aide, supported the policing ballot measure while Moore did not. Chavez will replace Alondra Cano, who did not seek re-election. 

Chavez said Tuesday night he plans in office to focus on people without stable housing and to create a “public safety system that centers people, reduces the gun violence in our ward and makes sure that we stop both community violence and police violence that impacts our community members here in our ward.”

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Despite the public safety measure being voted down, Chavez said there was a “decisive victory” in Ward 9 — which also includes where police killed Dolal Idd in December of 2020 — for changing policing and investing more in alternative methods of public safety and gun violence prevention.

Jason Chavez
Jason Chavez for Ward 9
Jason Chavez
“I do support redirecting funds from our current system of policing to address concerns,” Chavez said. “I don’t think police know how to answer every single situation that they’re tasked to do. I don’t think sending the police to an encampment is an effective method to help our unhoused.”

In another notable race, the second-longest tenured council member, Green Party candidate Cam Gordon, was in third place in the first round of votes, garnering just 26 percent of the vote. DFLer Yusra Arab was in second with 28 percent of top votes while DFLer and Democratic Socialist Robin Wonsley Worlobah led the field with 29 percent of votes. Gordon and Worlobah supported the public-safety question while Arab opposed it. The outcome of that race will be determined Wednesday. If Gordon loses his Ward 2 seat, the area will have a new council representative for the first time since 2006.

Some incumbents win on first round votes

The last two Minneapolis city elections — in 2013 and 2017 — brought sweeping changes to the council as progressive candidates won open seats or ousted more moderate incumbents. There were seven new council members in 2013, and another five in 2017.

It’s too soon to get a full picture of the next council because ranked-choice votes are still being tabulated. Full results won’t be available until Wednesday in several wards, such as Ward 5, which Ellison currently represents. 

Despite the shift against some incumbents, other current members breezed to re-election. The council’s longest tenured member, Lisa Goodman, won re-election in Ward 7 with 62 percent of the vote on the first ballot. In Ward 8, incumbent Andrea Jenkins won re-election with 85 percent of the first ballot vote, defeating challenger Bob Sullentrop.

Council member Linea Palmisano
Council member Linea Palmisano
In Ward 12, Andrew Johnson won re-election with 65 percent of the first-round vote, defeating Nancy Ford. And in Ward 13, Linea Palmisano won with 66 percent of the vote.

In Ward 6, Jamal Osman — who won a half term during a special election last year — won with 60 percent of the first-ballot vote to hold off challenger Abdirizak Bihi.

In the council races, some candidates also split over the other two charter amendments: one that would allow the council to pass a rent control measure; and another that would implement a “strong mayor”-type system of government, taking some control over city functions from the council. Voters approved both. 

But the debate over policing was a major influence in most races. The eventual outcome of the council races and the charter amendments will determine the direction of city policy for the next two years, when all members are up again for reelection because of redistricting after the 2020 Census.

Nine members of the council stood on stage at Powderhorn Park last year to pledge support for dismantling police: Cunningham, Bender, Fletcher, Schroeder, Ellison, Johnson, Gordon, Cano and Jenkins. It takes nine council members to override a mayoral veto. 

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Cano and Jenkins, however, have since backed away from that position and tend to be swing votes along with Osman when it comes to policing issues, such as staff and funding levels. This contingent sometimes joins the group that consistently votes in opposition to shrinking the police force or budget, and who did not join the Powderhorn nine: Reich, Palmisano and Goodman.

Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
While the city would have retained many police officers even if the public safety ballot measure passed, it would have given the council far more power over the department and could have led to fewer officers. Supporters said public safety would be boosted by increased spending in other areas of the social safety net, such as mental health care. A September poll sponsored by the Star Tribune, MPR News, Frontline and KARE 11 found 55 percent of 800 Minneapolis voters didn’t want to reduce the size of the police force, and 75 percent of Black voters opposed cutting officers.

“What I think we’re hearing across the city is that they want to make sure that we are doing multiple things at the same time,” said Koski, who is the daughter of former mayor Al Hofstede. “We are reforming our police department, but we’re also supporting our communities with efforts beyond just policing … it’s not choosing between just having mental health support or a police department.”

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Andrew Johnson won in Ward 12, not Ward 11.