In a living room inside a house in north Minneapolis on a recent Saturday, a group of 15 Minneapolis residents formed a tight circle around Mayor Betsy Hodges, who spoke fondly about what she says she’s accomplished during her tenure so far, from economic growth to police-community relations.
“A lot of you are familiar with some of the things I’ve been up to,” she said. “The vision that I had for the city and the things I said I want to do as mayor is what I spent the last three-plus years doing: The basics of running city government. Making sure that streets are getting plowed and the streets are getting paved.”
Since Hodges announced her bid for re-election in December, she’s been holding a series of low-key meetings around the city with small groups of voters — many of whom are already supporters — in intimate settings where people can ask her questions addressing a range of issues, from gang violence to housing concerns and from economic development to plowing the streets.
“What I like to do is have an opportunity to talk with people in neighborhoods and answer their questions one-on-one,” Hodges said. “I think it’s one of the places I have greatest strength.”
Last Saturday, for example, she met with 15 residents at the home of Kyrstin Schuette in north Minneapolis, a group that included homeowners, entrepreneurs, a retired teacher and a health professional.
But while many in the group were largely supportive of Hodges, others were also quick to challenge her on several issues — a dynamic that served to provide an early look at the issues Hodges will face as she makes her bid for a second term.
At the meeting, Hodges said her biggest achievement of her first three years in office is the 20-year agreement between the city government and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board — an agreement that provides $800 million in funding that will be used to rebuild parks and streets.
“That’s a coming together of the city council, me and the park board in an unprecedented way,” she said. “That’s something that’s going to go down as the highlight of my career, no matter what else happens.”
Hodges also talked about the economic development the city has seen under her leadership, and about the disparities that exist between white and black residents when it comes to the economy, health, and education. “We know we’re going to be majority people of color in Minneapolis by mid-century,” she said. “And so, our growth has to take into account addressing and redressing the gaps that we have.”
After Hodges’ speech, attendees got nearly an hour to voice their concerns to the mayor, asking her specifically about the problems facing north Minneapolis.
Mickey Cook, a homeowner who has lived on the Northside for nearly a decade, told the mayor that she’s been subject to violence and has lost several of her neighbors and people she knew to gun violence in north Minneapolis. “I wonder what’s really being done, because it’s not changing,” she said. “I’m not seeing any change. There’s bloodshed all over the place. People are dying left and right.”
Hodges said she acknowledges there are gang issues in north Minneapolis, adding that the city has plans to tackle violence and talked about the Group Violence Intervention (GVI), a federal program aimed at engaging at-risk residents and reducing gang violence.
The mayor added that GVI, which has also been implemented in Chicago, New Orleans and Baltimore, would involve bringing the community together to reach common ground about eradicating violence and starting development, educational and employment programs.
But Cook also asked why the city needed to establish a new gang intervention program when it could simply allocate resources to organizations that are already doing similar work.
Hodges responded that the city put money in the budget for potential organizations in the neighborhood that want to contract with the city in the effort to reduce street group-involved shootings and deaths in the area.
Later, another participant asked the mayor if it made sense to improve the affordable housing programs on the Northside when the area already doesn’t have enough adequate jobs or living conditions.
Hodges said she been talking to employers and potential investors to invest in north Minneapolis. She’s also been seeing more and more people opening businesses in the area — including a $30 million development project that will provide a new headquarters for Thor Construction and bring offices and a retail building at Plymouth and Penn Avenues.
“The more people we have investing in north Minneapolis, the more investment we have in north Minneapolis,” she said, “and the more investment we have, the better off we’re going to be.”