Four days after the police shooting of Justine Damond, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges traveled to Los Angeles for a campaign fundraiser at the Wilshire Country Club featuring “kombucha tasting with Garrison Keillor” and “artisan crafted hotdish,” among other menu items.
According to the invitation, the fundraiser was co-hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Hollywood agent David Stone, who works for William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.
The event came as Hodges was dealing with the crisis that began late in the evening of July 15, when Damond was shot after calling 911 about a possible assault in the alley behind her southwest Minneapolis home. Officer Mohamed Noor shot Damond from inside his squad car after she approached the car.
In the wake of the shooting, then-Police Chief Janeé Harteau was criticized for not returning quickly enough from vacation in Colorado, leaving her deputy, Medaria Arradondo, to lead the department’s response. Harteau made her first public statement on July 20 and was asked by Hodges to resign on July 21. (Arradondo has since been nominated for the permanent job of chief and was appointed by a unanimous City Council vote last week.)
The Hodges fundraiser was scheduled for the evening of July 19 and was coordinated by the Hodges campaign. Suggested contributions were $100, $250, $500 and $1,000 and RSVPs were directed to Madeline Coles at the campaign office. The legal contribution limit in the mayor’s race is $1,000 per person. According to her pre-primary campaign finance report, Hodges raised $10,900 from people who listed California addresses around the time of the July 19 fundraiser. Stone contributed $1,000.
“Lefse and kale wraps, kombucha tasting with Garrison Keillor and an artisan-crafted hotdish featuring organic, locally sourced tofu are just a few things that could bring people from Minneapolis and Los Angeles together,” the invitation reads. “Are there more? You betcha. Both cities are filled with creative, progressive people who make their communities better and more inclusive for everyone. We have a lot in common.”
Wednesday afternoon, Hodges confirmed her attendance in a post on her Facebook page and blasted unnamed opponents for “shopping” the story to news outlets. “I traveled overnight to Los Angeles for an event held on July 19. During the 27 total hours that I was traveling, I spent most my time dealing with the aftermath of the terrible shooting of Justine Damond, just as I had almost every moment since the shooting happened,” Hodges wrote. “I had been ready and willing to cancel my flight, and only that morning made the decision that my physical presence in Minneapolis was not required for his brief period.
“I did exactly the same work I would have done had I stayed in Minneapolis. And during those 27 hours, I also spent a few hours at a campaign event,” she wrote.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, whose Ward 13 was the site of the Damond shooting, said she was told by Hodges and her staff as early as Sunday, July 16, that the mayor would not be available Wednesday but did not give a reason for her absence.
One of the opponents referenced in Hodges’ statement was Council Member Jacob Frey. In response to the fundraiser, Frey said in a statement: “The mayor heads the police department. Flying to Los Angeles to campaign at the Wilshire Country Club in the middle of a crisis shows the mayor’s priorities are completely misplaced.”
Tom Hoch, another mayoral challenger noted that Harteau’s delay in returning to the state was a factor in her dismissal. “To say the mayor should have prioritized her in-person response to this tragedy, rather than attending a Hollywood fundraiser, doesn’t put it strongly enough. It’s just horrific judgement and the height of hypocrisy.”
Hodges has also delayed delivering her full budget to the City Council by the charter-imposed Aug. 15 deadline. Instead, Hodges submitted a letter making her request for a maximum property tax levy increase of 5.5 percent and said she will give her budget address on Sept. 12. She cited two recent crises for the delay: the death of Damond and the August 2 natural gas explosion at Minnehaha Academy that killed two staff members.
Hodges also defended that decision in her Facebook post Wednesday: “My opponents are also shopping the idea that the few hours that I spent at one fundraiser in July wipe off the ledger the more than 200 hours I spent over three weeks responding to two major public-safety crises — the fatal shooting of Justine Damond and the fatal explosion at Minnehaha Academy — and successfully bringing on a new police chief in the process,” Hodges wrote. “Leading our city during those terrible events, plus bringing on the new chief, consumed nearly all of my time for weeks, and took away nearly all of the time I had planned to finalize my proposal for the City’s 2018 budget.”
“Yet my opponents are peddling the notion that if, in the middle of these crises, I had put the few hours I spent at the July fundraiser toward the budget, that would have been enough for me to deliver my full 2018 budget and speech on August 15,” she wrote. “This notion is also ridiculous: if only the men running for mayor had the slightest understanding of how Minneapolis’ $1.4 billion budget actually works, they’d know that it takes weeks to write it, not a few hours.”
Carol Becker, an elected member of the city Board of Taxation and Equalization, has filed a legal challenge to compel Hodges to submit the full budget, arguing that the later release does not give residents proper time to respond before budget hearings begin. A judge has ordered Hodges to court Friday to show why she shouldn’t be compelled to meet the charter requirements.