Incumbents running for re-election have some unique handicaps, and being a target is one of them. Challengers can criticize while offering only generalized examples of what they might do differently.
In the 2017 Minneapolis mayoral race, Betsy Hodges has certainly experienced that from her 15 opponents, some more than others.
But incumbents running for re-election also have some unique advantages. Mayors get to be mayor — with all of the attention and standing that brings. Hodges’ challengers rarely get the full attention of media coverage when they make pronouncements, and they don’t get to deliver their remarks amid the trappings of the office.
Hodges took full advantage of that on Tuesday, when she delivered her fourth Minneapolis city budget address in City Council chambers. In a speech that came a month after the city charter says it should have —but also a month closer to election day — the 45-minute address both bragged about her accomplishments and promised to continue to work on a list of priorities: equity, cultural change in the police department, addressing a housing affordability problem and establishing cities like Minneapolis as a fighter of climate change.
The mayor also continued attempts to establish herself as a bulwark against the policies of the Trump administration, devoting a substantive section of her speech to that effort.
“Though we are shocked by the damage he does every day of his presidency, we have to anticipate that Donald Trump will remain in the White House through 2020,” she said. “Once he was elected, we knew it would be a disaster for our country, but even just six months in, it’s already far more disastrous that we anticipated.”
But Hodges began the speech with a subtle demonstration of the advantages incumbency offers, something she has that her challengers do not: the authority to act on political positions rather than just talk about them. “As elected officials, we traffic in words,” she said. “And that’s important. We use words to share our values, our policies, our expectations, our visions for a shared future. We use words to celebrate our victories, and sometimes to offer support in tough times. Words matter. But words alone can’t create change. Even the loftiest speech just sails into the ether if it isn’t tethered to real action.”
Hodges then touted several key spending requests in a $1.4 billion budget while downplaying her proposed increase in the property tax levy. “A year ago, the City Council and I passed the historic 20-year, $800 million parks and streets improvement plan,” Hodges said. “We all knew that in 2018 we’d need a levy increase of 5.5 percent to begin to meet the obligation that we all agreed to. That’s exactly what’s in this budget. There should be no surprises here.”
Police and public safety
Nowhere has Hodges felt more pressure or expended more time, energy and emotion than in the relationship between police and community. But Hodges’ first term has seen that relationship deteriorate even while her administration implements programs specifically aimed at improve it, from new training protocols and to the rollout of body worn cameras.
Hodges continues to tout her work on that front, even amid the most recent setback to those efforts — the shooting death of Justine Damond by a police officer in southwest Minneapolis: “You’d be hard pressed to find a city or a mayor that has invested more in modern policing strategies, and in building community trust, than I have in Minneapolis,” Hodges said.
“I’ve invested in creating a system and culture of policing that is working toward the day when every single person in Minneapolis feels safe and is safe in every neighborhood of our city, including communities of color that have suffered the effects of a frayed relationship with law enforcement for more than a generation,” she said.
She acknowledged, however, that many in the city do not feel there has been enough — or any — change. “Of course our work is far from done,” Hodges said. “I continue to hear from neighbors that they want a change in the culture of policing in our city.”
The appointment of new Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, she said, brings a chief “who understands both the challenges we get to address and the opportunities we get to seize.”
To that end, she included a request by Arradondo in her budget for eight additional civilian Community Liaisons, who serve as go-betweens for community members and police officers. The work would be similar to that done by the department’s 18 crime prevention specialists now working in all five precincts.
She also would add three sworn officers, bringing the department’s total to 878 — which would allow police to spend more time out of their squad cars and developing relationships with residents.
Arradondo has also asked for money to place body cameras on all sworn officers, not just those responding to 911 calls, though the request would not include equipping command staff, including the chief, with the cameras.
Hodges also proposed expanding both police and civilian responses to downtown safety. Cops will spend more time walking beats there, and the Downtown Improvement District will add outreach teams to interact with people in need of social services.
Hodges’ budget would also continue funding a program aimed at dealing with the city’s most troublesome offenders. The Group Violence Intervention strategy, currently with 20 participants, works to help them get away from gangs and violence through counseling, education, employment and even relocation to other parts of the region.
Her budget also asks for $650,000 to add traffic officers to smooth the crush of cars, transit and pedestrians late in the evening and at bar closing.
Total new spending in public safety is $4.3 million, including money for an additional investigator in the Office of Police Conduct Review. “All of these strategies bundled together — outreach, activation, law enforcement, communication — are the product of significant investment, and the foundation of action we think will yield results downtown,” Hodges said.
Addressing climate change. And Trump.
Hodges said she will ask the council to increase the utility franchise tax by a half percent — from 4.5 percent to 5 percent — and use the $2.2 million in additional revenue next year to pay for both existing and new programs that reduce carbon emissions and release of pollutants. Those programs include the Green Business Cost Share program, which helps businesses reduce emissions, and the residential energy efficiency program. The money will also provide ongoing funding for existing programs that are part of the Clean Energy Partnership with utilities, plus new initiatives resulting from community involvement.
“Overall, I’m proposing a total investment of nearly $6 million in clean energy, cleaner businesses and more efficient commercial and residential spaces in our city and to ensure we’re not ignoring communities that have faced disproportionate share of environmental vulnerability,” she said. “Especially since the federal government is unlikely to do much about this issue for at least the next three years, cities cannot wait.”
That was one of several policy areas where Hodges said cities have to take leadership that is being abdicated by President Trump, a list that also included the protection of immigrant communities, transgender people and voting rights; and improving access to public data.
One of those initiatives is to create a new city Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs by transferring a position from the Office of Civil Rights. “This office will lead the charge to preserve our status as a welcoming city for immigrants by offering access to resources and educational opportunities, and promoting economic development,” Hodges said.
Under the proposed budget, the civil rights office would gain a position to help enforce labor standards, especially the new paid leave ordinance and the upcoming minimum wage increases.
Hodges is also asking for $1.2 million in voter outreach and election operations “to ensure that Minneapolitans can take part in a fair and well-run 2018 gubernatorial election.”
Finally, she also wants to centralize processing of requests under the state’s Data Practices Act— Minnesota’s version of the Freedom of Information Act — and add a person to the police department staff that responds to those requests.
Development vs. displacement (and whatever happened to equity?)
When describing the problem with affordable housing in the city, Hodges said she prefers to use the term “displacement” rather than gentrification, because the latter is too imprecise.
“There’s a tension in Minneapolis between development and displacement,” Hodges said. She supports additional development of housing, given that the city’s vacancy rate is now around 2 percent and more than half of its residents are renters.
“The challenge that we face is twofold: finding ways to retain our current supply of affordable places to live, and finding ways to add to that supply without pricing longtime residents out of the neighborhoods they’ve invested in for years, and sometimes generations,” Hodges said.
Her budget request adds $24 million in spending in housing programs, including increased funding for various programs that subsidize housing for hard-to-place families; that help families purchase houses; and that maintain the supply of what is termed naturally occurring affordable housing. The latter of which has been under pressure from developers who are buying old buildings upgrading units it and increasing rents. The budget also proposes a city staff position to concentrate on housing stability for residents.
One subject that has received its own section in past speeches didn’t receive one Tuesday: equity.
Hodges said that was on purpose. “It’s no longer sufficient to talk about equity as a program that we do,” she said. “That’s why there’s no one section on equity in this speech, or in this budget. It’s foundation now to all of our work. Because unless we’re embedding equity in everything we do, we’re not doing it.”