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Minneapolis mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges Q-A: ‘We need to come together and move forward’

“As we are pursuing economic growth and economic development, we have to make sure it happens with and by and for everyone.”

Betsy Hodges, first elected to the City Council in 2005, represents the Linden Hills neighborhood in the southwest corner of Minneapolis.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of interviews with seven candidates for Minneapolis mayor. Only those who have filed with the Hennepin County Elections Department to form a campaign finance committee have been interviewed. The interviews will run in alphabetical order. At the bottom of this article, you can find a short list of high-profile supporters (where provided by the candidate).


Betsy Hodges, first elected to the City Council in 2005, represents the Linden Hills neighborhood in the southwest corner of Minneapolis.

She chairs the council’s Ways & Means/Budget Committee.

Hodges, 43, is the current president of the Minnesota League of Cities.

In this series of edited interviews, mayoral candidates were asked to introduce themselves to voters and respond to some basic questions.

MinnPost:  You chair a very important City Council committee. Why walk away from that to run for mayor?

Betsy Hodges: Minneapolis is at a big decision point. We are at a crossroads in the city. We are at a place where we have to decide who we are as a people and who we want to be as a community. We have to make that decision together.

We have just weathered well a recession. We have weathered well 15 years of budget cuts at the state level, and we have responded to that with openness and transparency. The city is on excellent footing. I’m proud to have been part of that.

But now is the time we need to decide how we’re going to move forward. We need to make sure we build on those successes to become a unified Minneapolis.

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MP:  How would you go forward?

BH:  As we are pursuing economic growth and economic development, we have to make sure it happens with and by and for everyone. That everyone gets opportunity. That everyone aspires to excellence so we can promote that in everything we do.  That our transit reaches every corner of the city. That job growth is in every neighborhood. That every neighborhood is a safe neighborhood for people to walk down the streets. We get to unify ourselves as a city moving forward.

Those are questions that a mayor asks and answers more than an individual council members asks and answers. Those are about the big term vision of the city and how we get all of the ships sailing in the same direction.

The great thing is, in Minneapolis we don’t have to reinvent ourselves. We are a great city. We are standing on a firm foundation, but we have to make a decision.

When the economy opens up, there will be a lot of temptation to do things that get us away from the principles that have guided us so well for the last 12 years.

People are going to be tempted to lose sight of the principles that have made us such a strong city throughout the turbulence of the last 10 or 12 years. If we do that, we are going to lose the foundation on which we have built everything else.

MP:  Describe those principles.

BH:  The budget principles, most notably, to make sure we keep our budget out of hot water. That it is a structurally balanced budget, that we have been very clear about the tough choices we’ve made.

I’m proud to have made tough choices that I’ve been very open about and taken responsibility for. In part, because those tough choices put us in a unique and excellent position to take advantage of the economic recovery that is happening.

Minneapolis is as well, or better set, as any city in the country to really bloom and grow as the economy recovers. We need to make sure to do that built on a strong foundation.

MP:  You were an opponent of the football stadium, but you asked to be part of the Stadium Implementation Committee. How do we develop the area around the stadium so it is not surrounded by surface parking?

BH:  I’m the only opponent appointed to the Implementation Committee. The second it became clear that the bill was going to pass and the stadium was coming to the city of Minneapolis, I said, “Let’s make sure it happens as best as possible.”

What we’re doing around the stadium is a good microcosm of what is possible throughout the entire city. I don’t believe that stadiums generate development, but we can use this moment to highlight and bring to the forefront the already existing neighborhood plans and city plans that exist for east downtown.

We’re going to have transit coming there. What kind of development do we want along the transit lines?  We’re going to have increased investment there in housing and in smaller local businesses. How do we encourage that?  How do we appreciate that willingness to invest in the city, and how do we make it easy for people to do that?

Those are neighborhoods. Elliott Park is a downtown neighborhood association. The Mill District is a neighborhood. How do we connect those neighborhoods to one another?  How do we open up the downtown core so it faces those neighborhoods as well as itself?  How do we connect Cedar Riverside to downtown Minneapolis?  How do we get our imagination of downtown across Washington Avenue, and how do we move south?  How do we make sure that the great amenities in Elliott Park are considered part of the larger whole?

Those are questions of economic development. Those are questions of neighborhood development. Those are questions of the unity and inclusion among different neighborhoods. Those are exactly the questions we’re asking citywide.

MP:  But what role would you play as mayor?

BH:  We have a hybrid weak mayor/strong mayor system, because while the mayor doesn’t have a vote on the council, the mayor does prepare the budget and present it to the council. And the mayor does have a veto, so within the Charter, there is some power granted to the mayor.

More than that is the power that accrues to the mayor outside of the Charter, the opportunity. Some people call it the bully pulpit, the opportunity to represent the entire city. To have the full vision for the entire city and to share that with our partners is crucial.

One of the questions voters are going to be asking is: What is that vision, and how are you going to make that happen?

There are a couple of things you need as an effective mayor in Minneapolis. One of them is the ability to build strong relationships across any divides that we have. You need to be able to bring people to the table and come to some conclusions.

That’s been a lot of what I’ve done over the last seven years. It’s what I have done as president of the Minnesota League of Cities. It’s what I did when I was working on the library merger. It’s what I’ve done around issues of civil rights, and it’s what I’ve done around the budget. Building those relationships is crucial.

On the other hand, you need to know how to take on a tough fight and win. I’ve done that, too.

I worked on pensions for six years. [The merger of the Minneapolis Employee Retirement Fund with the state Public Employee Retirement Association].  I was told it would never happen. I was told I was ruining my career, but I knew it was the right thing to do and I kept fighting and I won.

We saved the taxpayers of Minneapolis a $20 million bill in 2012. It was a fight worth taking on, and it was a fight I’m glad we won.

You need to have the discernment and judgment to know when it’s time to build a relationship and when it’s time to fight and I’ve done that.

MP:  As we come out of the recession, Minneapolis needs to attract development and jobs. How would you accomplish those two tasks?

BH:  The first thing we need to do we’ve done. We remained a strong city during the recession. We’re poised to take advantage of what’s coming next. And what’s coming next is building Minneapolis from the inside out and the outside in with opportunities.

We want to bring more people here. We want to increase the population in the city. That entails a few things.

It entails making sure we are developing our housing, it entails making sure we are developing our transit, it entails making sure we are bringing jobs here in small and medium businesses as well as thinking about the downtown core.

It means livability. It means having the green spaces we need, having the arts, the creative economy that people cherish so much and elevating that. Those are the things that are going to bring residents here, and they’re going to bring in tourism.

We need education. We need a strong and well-trained workforce as well. We need to make sure those opportunities and that excellence is for everybody, everybody in the city of Minneapolis.

The extent to which we let our divisions remain is the extent to which we’re going to hold ourselves back from the brightest future Minneapolis has. The extent to which we have geographic divides, that we have race and income gaps in schools and employment, is the extent to which we are holding ourselves back.

It’s time to make sure Minneapolis becomes the unified city we were meant to be and that we think we are.

MP:  One of the things that divides us is the achievement gap in our schools where children of color fall behind white children. The mayor is not in charge of schools, but what would you do to close the achievement gap?

BH: That’s one of the challenges — that’s our future workforce. If we lose the hearts and minds and passion of an entire generation of kids, we not only face a moral dilemma, we’re facing an economic dilemma with that because we aren’t going to have the workforce we need for the future. We absolutely have to focus on that.

Now, the city does not govern the schools. The mayor does not govern the schools, but we can be an excellent partner to the schools in a number of ways.

Our Health Department thinks about what happens with families and kids before kids get to school. We have a number of health initiatives that affect the health and capacity of kids to get to school.

We need to make sure people have access to transit and to housing. When kids move around from place to place to place, when they are that mobile, it’s harder for them to learn and study in school.

People are surprised to find out the leadership of the city does not meet as a group on a regular basis. There’s northing that requires the school superintendent and the School Board president, the Park Board superintendent or the Park Board president, the mayor or the City Council to get together and talk about issues of mutual concern.

As mayor, I would pull that group together for meetings to make sure we’re not stepping on each others toes and that we’re working together on behalf of our kids. I can’t require anybody to get together but the invitation will be issued on a regular basis to make sure we’re talking.

The other thing we can do for kids is make sure they have opportunities once they graduate. Make sure we’re keeping as many of those brilliant minds in our city as we can, investing as entrepreneurs, as the workforce and as employees.

MP:  As chair of the Ways & Means/Budget Committee you have a front-row seat for budget and property tax discussions. The last two budgets have been bare bones and have cut down on the size of property tax increases. What happens with property taxes as the economy begins to recover?

BH:  The great news about the economy beginning to recover is that it has a positive impact on people’s experience with their property taxes. For a couple of reasons.

Everybody’s property values go up, which means the tax is spread across more properties. The other thing is we increase our property tax base.

As people create new businesses and enhance the businesses they have in the city of Minneapolis, as more folks move in and we create new housing, those all add to our property tax base, which means the levy is spread across more and more properties so everybody’s taxes are just more manageable. Those are inherent to what is coming.

As a city enterprise, we need to continue to focus on well-managed, efficient government delivering excellent services while remaining good stewards of people’s dollars.

People work hard for their money, and they expect services for the dollars they put into the city. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done to weather the various storms. But we need to maintain that level of vigilance even in the flush times because we’ve seen what happens when you don’t have that level of vigilance in flush times.

We need not only to take advantage of this recovery but we also need to have an eye toward a time when things won’t be as good, and we’re going to want to be positioned for that, as we are now for the growth.

MP:  Nicollet Mall is in need of repairs or rebuilding, depending on your outlook. The city has not received state bonding for the Mall. What are your priorities for the Mall?

BH:  The vision for the future of Nicollet Mall has streetcars on it, and that elicits a new concept for what the Nicollet Mall can be.

There can be large-scale retail on Nicollet Mall but there can also, with something like a streetcar, be smaller-scale retail as well.

With an increasing residential populations downtown, the demand for services, the demand for smaller retail is going to increase and there may be some opportunities there.

David Sternberg from the Downtown Council had a great idea, which was to find artists and entrepreneurs, both fine artists and performing artists, and give them opportunities to perform and display on Nicollet Mall during the day and early evening when people are there.

It creates a lively Nicollet Mall at a time when liveliness would be useful there. I find that intriguing.

MP:  What about streetcars?  Do you like that idea?

BH:  Yes. Streetcars are a more flexible form of rail that, across the country, people like to use. It stops every block or two so people can get off or on. It’s a convenient way to get access to light rail, to buses or other parts of the city and it can bring economic growth or prosperity along the way. It can create more housing. There is room for small businesses along the route.

What it has also shown across the country — Denver, Portland and Seattle — is that the communities in which streetcars are placed prosper. So one of the streetcar lines I’m particularly interested in would be on Broadway.

Placing that in North Minneapolis would be a huge boom for that community. It would spur new kinds of investments. It could help create jobs and opportunities where the opportunities are needed most. That’s been shown to be true in other cities around the country.

MP:  What else would you want to help North Minneapolis recover?

BH:  One, you create opportunities where opportunities are needed most. Jobs need to be found and placed in North Minneapolis.

I know the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is looking to work with philanthropies to create incentives for businesses to locate in North Minneapolis and other areas that are struggling. Partnerships like that need to be pursued.

Two, transit. You need to make sure you’re connecting the community with itself through streetcars but also with other parts of town, so people have access to the opportunities that are outside of North Minneapolis.

Three, you need to create some family and neighborhood stability. That involves a couple of pieces.

It involves housing. You need to work on home ownership. The city already has some programs doing that, and we need to continue doing that with assistance to people for home ownership, but in a way that doesn’t set them up for a bad future.

We need to advocate for laws that address predatory lending better. Right now there’s not a lot of banking [in North Minneapolis], there’s not a lot of asset management. The wealth of the community in North Minneapolis was bled away in the foreclosure crisis.

But it’s also lost in payday loans, the high interest people pay in those payday loans, and it doesn’t get re-circulated in the community.

The other advantage locating businesses in the community has, is the opportunities are there, people’s jobs are there, so the money goes from the community and back into the community and starts creating an upward spiral to prosperity.

The final point I want to make about that is those are things we need to do with the community, not for the community. That to be true and effective allies to a part of your community that is struggling, you have to lend your voice to the voices already in the community, rather than trying to be that voice yourself.

My pledge as mayor is to work with those neighborhoods. My pledge as mayor is to create a roundtable of African-American business leadership, community members, nonprofit leaders and task them and ask them the question:  What do we have to do in North Minneapolis to make sure that we’re doing what, as a city, we can do to create more prosperity?

MP:  Different part of the city this time. The Southwest Light Rail Line route would take the line between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. The problem is there isn’t room there for both the freight trains that run there now and the light rail. The city has taken a stand against both trains in that corridor. Where are you on this issue?

BH:  The question starts with an engineering problem and moves to a property issue. To co-locate them, there’s not enough room. To create the space means taking property. We can’t change physics. So it becomes a question of the relative merit of taking property versus freight trains.

I support the city position. I will say, however, that then raises the question of mitigation. What can you do to make that less onerous for the neighbors and properties that are most affected. There are a lot of people who have concerns there. Some of that will have to do with where you locate the stations and how you locate the stations.

I’m still listening to community voices. I don’t think all of the questions have been answered about what the final solution should be.

MP:  The committee assigned to work on the remodeling of Target Center seems stalled. What does the city do about that?

BH:  We’re about to get some updates on that. I know that Lifetime Fitness has agreed to do a significant overhaul of their facility in the Target Center. We’re going to get an update in a few weeks.

MP:  We have two new department leaders who were nominated by Mayor Rybak and approved by the City Council. What is your assessment of Police Chief Janee Harteau and Fire Chief John Fruetel?

BH:  Chief Harteau has just begun her job, but I will say, as she begins, I have high faith in her. I have not always supported the police chief of the city of Minneapolis, but Janee Harteau is someone who I think does an excellent job.

She’s a cop from her head to her toes, but at the same time, she understands that the culture inside the Police Department needs to be inclusive and it needs to be part of what unifies Minneapolis.

She also understands the relationship between the Police Department and the community as one that needs a lot of care and attention. She’s doing all of that work, and she’s doing it well. I am enjoying partnering with her.

Chief Fruetel is a firefighter from his head to the tips of his toes, but the advantage he’s had is he’s been involved with management in other departments. He’s been in Regulatory Services, so he’s seen a different side, which forms his ability to think about and manage the Fire Department.

I do like those two people.

MP:  Looking back at what you have said in this interview, I don’t hear plans for the city to open its checkbook to attract development. Are those days gone?

BH:  We have in recent years, and I’ve supported this, been putting some general fund money into increasing economic development. We’ve done that in the Community Planning and Economic Development Department because it is so crucial to increasing the tax base and prosperity of the future of the city.

There are some investments we will be able to make, and we should be able to make, on behalf of growing the city and doing it in a way that provides opportunity everywhere in the city, for every neighborhood and for every community.

We need to unify as a city, and what that means is coming together so we can move forward together. When we do that, we’ll get much further than if we stay divided.

One of the things we have learned in the recession is that partnerships are crucial.

Even in a time of increased prosperity, everybody has a role to play. But the partnerships we’ve forged have been successful and we’ve seen what they can do.

Moving forward, those partnerships are crucial. We’re not going back to a time when everyone did their own thing. You get better results working together.

MP:  Last question. Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you want to address?

BH:  For me, governing starts with people. It doesn’t start with bureaucracy. It doesn’t start with policy. It starts with people and what people need to thrive. When people are thriving the city is thriving.

Hodges’ high-profile supporters

They include campaign co-chairs Sen. Scott Dibble and Dr. Josie Johnson, along with Rep. Frank Hornstein, City Council Member John Quincy, Judge LaJune Lange and the DFL Latino Caucus.