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Hodges and her discontents: A guide to the five contenders in the Minneapolis mayor’s race

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

In the Minneapolis mayor’s race, candidates fall into two camps. They’re either Betsy Hodges — or they’re not.

The incumbent mayor is not only running in her own right, she’s foremost on the minds — and in the messaging — of her challengers. Such is the nature of re-election efforts. 

So while Hodges acknowledges that the city continues to fall short when it comes to racial equity and police-community relations, she has also been making the case for why she deserves a second term, something she’s admitted doesn’t come naturally to her. “It’s funny when you think about it,” Hodges said all the way back at her mid-December campaign kickoff in a south Minneapolis gymnasium. “I have challenged us as a people to brag about our city, because even though we know it’s an amazing city, we don’t brag about ourselves, so no one knows how great we are. But then, you guessed it: as Minnesotan as I am and as, well, female as I am — and as much as I love bragging about Minneapolis — I have sometimes shied away from pointing out my own accomplishments.”

The campaign, she said, “gives me an excuse to tell people everything they got when they voted for me.”

She might as well, since her opponents have been happy to point out what they see as her shortcomings, many using some variation of the question Ronald Reagan (sorry DFLers) told voters to ask themselves in 1980: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Said Nekima Levy-Pounds when she became the first declared candidate to challenge Hodges: “It is time out for business as usual.”  

“Our city is in the news for all the wrong reasons,” states a headline on one of Jacob Frey’s campaign mailings, a line he repeats at candidate forums.

Former Hennepin Theatre Trust president Tom Hoch criticism of a Hodges-run city is summed up with the single word that appeared on the latest of his many direct mail pieces: “Adrift.”

Even the soft-spoken Raymond Dehn centers his campaign on a message that Hodges doesn’t measure up. “We’re going to have a very frank conversation about whether we want the same people leading our city who jump from crisis to crisis, or if we want new leadership who get out in front of issues,” he said. 

Other than Hodges herself, the biggest issues in the race are police-community relations, affordable housing, managing development, and whether to continue efforts to lift lower-income residents with ordinances such as paid sick leave and minimum wages — all of which have a racial equity element.

In all, there are 16 candidates running. Here are the five strongest contenders — and a look at where they stand on the issues.

Betsy Hodges
Lives in: Lyndale
Age: 48
Experience: Mayor, City Council member
Endorsed by: Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Women Winning, SEIU, Clean Water Action, OutFront Action

As mayor, Hodges has been at the center of the day-to-day governing of the city and crises thrust upon it. And she has seen how quickly politics can change around an incumbent. In 2014, for example, a packed council chambers supported her attempts to fend off cuts to her proposed budget. A year later, many of the same residents were assailing her — not only for forcing the end of the occupation of the streets surrounding the Minneapolis Police Department’s fourth precinct, but for suggesting a budget amendment to repair and reinforce the building.

Mayor Betsy Hodges
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Mayor Betsy Hodges

But more than anything, Hodges’ response to the shootings of Jamar Clark in November of 2015 and Justine Damond last July by Minneapolis police officers have defined her first term.

“We have had two awful, tragic officer-involved shootings, we have had organizing and demonstrations around creating more trust,” she said at a forum last week. “We’ve also had violent crime and how important that is for the neighborhoods. What I have been doing is changing the center of gravity away from just public safety as law enforcement toward law enforcement and community working together because that creates more safety and that creates more trust.”

Hodges often speaks about the reforms she and former Chief Janeé Harteau instituted, including the implementation of body-worn cameras, the diversification of the force and the initiation of new police training in implicit bias, procedural justice, and de-escalation. But she has acknowledged that the changes aren’t resonating with many residents.

Hodges seems to have hit a smoother path after forcing Harteau to resign and appointing the city’s first African-American police chief, Medaria Arradondo, in the wake of the Damond shooting. The broad support for “Rondo” in the black community — and by the other candidates — has tempered the conversation about policing.

Hodges often tells forum audiences that she has kept the pledges she made in 2013: to do the basics of government right; to promote growth in the population while maintaining livability and close gaps in outcomes between white people and people of color.

“If we don’t get that right, if we don’t make sure that people of color are completely part of building the city of the future, creating the jobs of the future, taking the jobs of the future, we do not have a future,” she said last week. “People told me that was a risky thing to run on. But the voters were ahead of the political pundits because people were thirsty for that conversation.”

Raymond Dehn
Lives in: Jordan
Age: 60
Experience: State representative, architect
Endorsed by: Our Revolution, Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota Young DFL

It is common for political candidates to frame their candidacies around a personal narrative. But Dehn’s political origin story is more compelling than most.  As a teenager and young adult, Dehn was addicted to alcohol and drugs and was incarcerated for a burglary.

State Rep. Raymond Dehn
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Rep. Raymond Dehn

He credits an opportunity to get into rehab as a turning point for him. Clean and sober for 40 years, he applied for — and received — a full pardon in 1982. After an unsuccessful run for state Senate, he was elected to the state House in 2012 from a district that includes North Minneapolis, Near North, the North Loop and parts of downtown.

Dehn said he recognized that the breaks he got weren’t available to everyone; that because he was white he got second chances that people of color with similar crimes didn’t get then — and don’t get now. “I had an opportunity to turn my life around,” Dehn said at a forum last week. “When I moved back to the Northside in 2000, it became real clear to me that where I had opportunities, other individuals had obstacles.”

He says his campaign is centered on talking about and taking steps to resolve the city’s racial disparities in economic outcomes, health and education. “It’s something that we need to stop talking about and we need to start doing something about it,” he said.

Dehn is the choice of Our Revolution, the organization the evolved out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. That backing helped him come closer than other DFLers to winning the party’s endorsement (in the end, nobody got the 60 percent of delegates required to get its official backing). His positions on issues, especially policing and housing, are slightly to the left of the other candidates; he is the only candidate who has refused to rule out attempting to pass rent control in the city. And his call for disarming the police — only sometimes, he clarified, and in certain situations — drew criticism from both moderates and conservatives.

At forums, Dehn is often outside of the fray. While he makes references to shortcomings in the city, he doesn’t aim them at Hodges directly, and he is rarely the target of the other candidates. 

Jacob Frey
Lives in: Nicollet Island-East Bank
Age: 36
Experience: City council member, attorney
Endorsed by: AFSCME Council 5, Teamsters Joint Council 32, Stonewall DFL Caucus, Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council

When it’s his time to speak at forums and debates, Frey prefers to stand, a way perhaps to better connect with voters or to both display and corral his high energy. A college and professional distance runner, Frey chose to relocate to Minneapolis after graduating from law school. One of his first public actions was organizing the Big Gay Race to benefit an organization opposing the amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Council Member Jacob Frey
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Council Member Jacob Frey

He challenged incumbent Council Member Diane Hofstede in 2013 and became one of seven new members elected that year, representing a generational change on the council. Frey has said housing was the reason he studied law and the reason he got into politics, and has called for taking a percentage of the property tax growth and setting it aside for affordable housing projects. He also has been a supporter of building affordable housing citywide.

Frey falls into the pro-density camp on the council, noting that more than half of the new units in the city have been or are being built in his Ward 3, which covers parts of both downtown and northeast Minneapolis. He has been a supporter of downtown projects such as Nicollet Mall and the Commons. He portrays himself as an active council member, taking on issues surrounding development and diving into details of ordinances, contrasting that with what he considers Hodges’ unwillingness to do the same.

“People say it’s a weak mayor system,” Frey said. “I’ll tell you what: It’s a weak mayor system; it’s a weak council system; it’s a weak city coordinator system. It’s got an independent park board and school board. The only way you get anything done in our city is by building coalitions … and having a visible and aggressive leader to get the job done.”

Frey is also in the middle of a frequent debate topic at forums: the raising of a citywide minimum wage to $15 an hour. He was among the first on the council to call for a local minimum wage, but said there weren’t the votes when Hodges initially said she opposed the city acting alone.

When Hodges reversed her position a year ago, she also came out against a tip credit, a much-debated aspect of the law. Frey flirted with supporting a tip credit, but ultimately opposed it after it became a DFL litmus test. He did craft a longer phase-in for smaller, non-franchise businesses to help them absorb the wage increases.

Nekima Levy-Pounds
Lives in: Hawthorne
Age: 41
Experience: president of the Minneapolis NAACP; University of St. Thomas law school professor
Endorsed by: state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray; City Council Member Cam Gordon; outgoing City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden.

Levy-Pounds revealed her assessment of her campaign last week when she prefaced a tweet featuring a quote from Gandhi with “Politics in Minneapolis”: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Nekima Levy-Pounds

Levy-Pounds was a law professor and the president of the Minneapolis NAACP when a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Jamar Clark in November 2015. She soon became one of the leaders of the protests, calling for independent investigations of the death and for reforms of the Minneapolis Police Department.

She said that it was after the city dismantled the encampment that had sprung up around MPD’s Fourth Precinct in the wake of the shooting that she decided to run for mayor. She announced her candidacy in front of the precinct house on the anniversary of the shooting.

“If we agree to roll up our sleeves, if we agree to live out our faith, if we agree to speak truth to power and stand on the front lines and challenge those who are in the seat of power who are complacent, then we can shift the paradigm,” she said at the time.

Policing continues to be a prominent issue in the campaign, and Levy-Pounds has pressed her opponents on the issue. “We allowed the Minneapolis Police Department to get out of control,” she said at a forum last week. “We have elected officials who are running to be the next mayor or to get reelected. But the reality is that on their watch, MPD was abusing people.”

She said she and others have been raising concerns for years, but that it took the death of Clark to get politicians to pay attention — and that it took the death of Damond to get many in wealthier areas of the city to respond.

Levy-Pounds was also an early supporter of the minimum wage ordinance and worked with some of her law students to push for repeal of low-level city crimes — spitting, lurking and loitering — that disproportionately targeted young black men. “Part of my concern had to do with the stress and the pressure and the frustration I felt was building in the African-American community surrounding police harassment,” Levy-Pounds said.

While still identifying with the DFL, Levy-Pounds did not take part in the convention or the endorsing process.

Tom Hoch
Lives in
: Lowry Hill
Age: 62
Experience: President Hennepin Theater Trust, assistant director Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, attorney, teacher

Hoch is the closest thing in the race to a business candidate, mostly because of his role with the Minneapolis Downtown Council (he served as the organization’s chairman in 2016 and it gave him its “Father of Waters” award this year) and the Downtown Improvement District. But Hoch has spent most of his professional life working in government and for nonprofits.

Tom Hoch
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Tom Hoch

A former school teacher who went back to school to get a law degree, Hoch briefly practiced law before going to work for the City of Minneapolis community development agency and then for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. In 2001, he helped form and became chief executive officer of the Hennepin Theater Trust, which worked to save and then operate three historic theaters.

“I’m not a politician, but I guess I’ve become one because I’m running for mayor,” Hoch told a recent forum sponsored by downtown interest groups. He said that he is focusing his campaign on the future vitality of the city, safe neighborhoods and increasing the availability of affordable housing.

During his kickoff, Hoch said, “Minneapolis has lost its momentum; city projects have stalled, leadership is lacking, serious crime — robbery, rape, murder, violent assault — is escalating and property taxes keep increasing.”

Hoch has also made an issue of the remodeling of Nicollet Mall, something he was directly involved with as chair of the downtown council, so much so that Hodges has often repeated that the $50 million project — paid with state and city money as well as special assessments of downtown property owners — is on time and on budget.

“It’s not the project and the notion that we’re trying to improve our city that I’m talking about,” Hoch said in an interview. “It’s the fact that the city has done a terrible job of communicating to the broader public exactly what is going on there. And putting up a sign that says it will be substantially complete by some date in the future is not enough.”

Hoch was fourth in the DFL endorsement process behind Dehn, Frey and Hodges. Since then, however, he has become something of a target for DFL activists. Campaign contributions he made to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and the House Republican Caucus campaign committee were attacked last week by a group of DFL legislators led by Rep. Ilhan Omar. Hoch has not engaged, however, and continues  to wage a campaign with frequent direct mailings and even TV ads.

Two others

Of the other 11 candidates, two have notably been able to break into some of the campaign forums. Aswar Rahman is a 23-year-old filmmaker who attended Minneapolis public schools after immigrating from Bangladesh. He has often brought views to the conversation not covered by others, including a fear that the minimum wage would harm minority-owned businesses and that increases in property taxes has contributed to making housing unaffordable.

“Forums like this just wear you down,” Rahman said at a recent downtown business forum, “because you hear the exact rhetoric…the exact same window-dressing solutions to real problems. The neighborhoods I grew up in are less safe now than they ever were. The neighborhoods I grew up in are less affordable and getting less and less affordable. And it has everything to do with how our mayor’s office is operating.”

Al Flowers is an activist from Southeast Minneapolis who has made gun violence and the lack of economic opportunity among people of color his primary issues. “The biggest issue in this city is about people dying,” Flowers said at a forum on business and the economy where he was the sole candidate to say he wasn’t seeking business support. “Business is being taken care of by city hall and the city council,” he said. “I’m going after the people who are stressed and undergoing equity concerns.”

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 10/30/2017 - 12:31 pm.

    Saying inner city problems are race based

    is false, they are money based. Whether you are white, black, brown and also broke living in Mpls, you have problems. MPSD while spending more money per student than other districts, underperform in educating the students, no matter the color. There are fewer and fewer jobs within a short commute from downtown and fewer jobs in Mpls itself. That is for whites, blacks or brown skinned folks. Crime is up and forceful policing is down. Color has nothing to do with the problems of the poor in Mpls….. Being poor has everything to do with it!!!
    Much easier to split folks along racial lines to garner votes than rolling up your sleeves and fixing the problem. The Dems will fight over who is getting screwed the most, promise to help and say the very same thing 4 years from now.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/30/2017 - 01:31 pm.

      Quick Question for You

      Do you live in the inner city, Mr. Smith? Or are you just another outside observer offering nostra to people with whom you have no familiarity?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 10/30/2017 - 02:12 pm.

        Not since the 70’s but I worked with

        Folks of all colors for decades … My black friends told me and still tell me “poor is poor”. Food is not cheaper if you are a poor white person. Gas is not cheaper if you are a poor black person. Schools that have lost their purpose of teaching our children to read, write, problem solve and do math hurts the 7 year old black kid as much as the 7 year old white kid?
        RB, please tell me one thing that is cheaper for a poor white person than a poor black person…. People are people, no better no worse for the color of their skin. Saying that being poor has racial overtones shows a lack of faith in people and is racist on its own. My many black friends (some are even conservatives) laugh at white folks who play the race game and lump all black folks together. None of my black friends are the same just as none of my white friends are the same. To think otherwise is backwards thinking and harms everyone.

        • Submitted by ian wade on 10/30/2017 - 02:28 pm.

          Thanks for whitesplaining

          the black experience for us. I’m sure all of your “black friends” are nodding in agreement with you.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 10/30/2017 - 02:43 pm.

            Not sure what whitesplaining is but

            judging anybody by the color of their skin is racism. Been lucky to associate with many very successful black people who had the same experience as my successful white friends, some luck to go along with tons of hard work. No color of skin mentioned or needed. Hope I’m not whiteslaining or losing you on the basic concept of people are people and poor is poor.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/30/2017 - 02:34 pm.


          “My black friends told me and still tell me “poor is poor”. ” Who is more likely to get out of that poverty? It’s a long shot for anyone, but I’ll bet it’s harder for a black person.

          “Schools that have lost their purpose of teaching our children to read, write, problem solve and do math hurts the 7 year old black kid as much as the 7 year old white kid?” Interesting how those schools are concentrated in areas populated by people of color.

          “RB, please tell me one thing that is cheaper for a poor white person than a poor black person….” Absolutely nothing, in terms of dollars. In terms of personal freedom and dignity, let’s ask who is more likely to be stopped by the police for no reason.

          “People are people, no better no worse for the color of their skin.” True enough.

          “Saying that being poor has racial overtones shows a lack of faith in people and is racist on its own.” When did racism come to an end in America? Are you saying that there are no lingering effects of our legacy of slavery and racism?

    • Submitted by ian wade on 10/30/2017 - 02:25 pm.

      Uhhhh….excuse me, Joe.

      Haven’t you admitted to living up north before fleeing to Florida? Exactly what do your base your inner-city expertise on?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 10/30/2017 - 04:39 pm.

        Still Live up north n the summer. Started working in

        Mpls in the 70’s, lived in N. Mpls. Bought a cabin on the Range where I was born and worked all over the USA. Kept a house in St. Paul along with cabin in Minnesota until the state taxed me out. Worked with many companies where me, being white, was in the minority. I found out the same thing I learned on the Range, there are good and bad Irish folks good and bad Italian folks good and bad Native American folks and good and bad black folks. I gravitated to the good folks and made life long friends. A Ranger at heart but lived all over and found out lumping people into groups is a bad move in business along with life.

  2. Submitted by Michael Hess on 10/30/2017 - 01:19 pm.

    Positions and criticism?

    All the candidates have positives and negatives, proponents and detractors. I think it’s interesting that of the top 5 you cite leveled criticisms only for Hodges, Dehn and Hoch, at least as I read it.

  3. Submitted by Kim Couch on 10/30/2017 - 02:20 pm.

    Tom Hoch Endorsements?

    Kind of surprised that no endorsements were listed for Tom Hoch; I believe he has received quite a few of them.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/03/2017 - 09:18 am.

      Hoch endorsements

      Kind of surprised that a comment about the lack of listing of a candidate’s endorsements also does not list any of that candidate’s endorsements.

  4. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/30/2017 - 02:33 pm.

    When I ran for mayor, I had no desire for the job (although the paycheck for a year or so would be appreciated), a job I felt was largely superfluous unless a truly exceptional and capable human being managed to snag the job, something that I still feel is absolutely rare. I thought with a background in urban and regional planning and anthropology that I was at least capable of working with the city coordinator to keep things on an even keel while we instituted Council-manager government in which a highly trained professional city manager would be hired and guided by the Council to better outcomes for all, so I campaigned to be the last Minneapolis mayor.

    Either no one was interested or the powers that be—just a figure of speech meaning business folks including the fourth estate and the other corporate Minneapolis folks with the thin layer of small business people across the city and folks in government, elected and non-elected—aligned to hide my proposed path for Minneapolis, so I did not do well (I would have been flabbergasted with a win, but I would have liked some indication that folks were willing to consider a change in our form of municipal government). What can you do? All folks could see was Sack’s clown car cartoon of the 35 of us running in 2013.

    When I have had the opportunity (very few of them as I recall, but two are discussed in this article), candidates in this race with whom I have broached the subject of Council-manager government would not express any position on the matter as all they were interested in was my vote and their victory. I also wanted to reduce the number of ward seats to add at-large seats for folks with a mission the voters bought into city wide. Some running could run a city, I think, but probably not as well as one trained to do so with actual experience. As far as I’m concerned, each of the candidates in this mayoral race could make a fine at-large Council member for a term or perhaps more, but it has not worked out that way very often in our history IMHO.

    I am just plain tired of trying to find that ‘magic’ person to be mayor of whom most all of those running seem to feel they are (I think a few of them might have been, but of course they lost as big as we did). I’d endorse any one of them who wanted to be the last mayor before we institute Council-manager government, but all I can do is try not to pick ‘a pig in a poke’.

  5. Submitted by Kathie Noga on 10/30/2017 - 06:09 pm.

    Hodges & Her Discontents

    Ray actually used the word rent stabilization, which means you can’t raise the rent above a certain percentage in a certain time period. He has a number of detailed position papers on his website at: He also has it defined on the website more in depth on the policing issue of de-militarization of the police. He also is much better on the environment than than other issue. It is a big puzzle why the Sierra Club endorsed her instead of him when you actually look at the record of accomplishments and she simply does not have his knowledge of the environment. He has worked on a number pieces of environmental sate legislation and North Minneapolis has a number of those challenges. He was the first candidate to talk about the environmental justice concerns and the asthma rates over there. He has authored a number of environmental pieces of legislation for the State of Minnesota and has been a community activist on the metal shredder issue. At the Sustainability & Transportation Forum, he went into concrete detail on his plans in that area and about what he was able to do despite the Republicans being in there. He is the only person who usually goes into depth about anything. Most do not put out the details very well, but Ray does. Ray knows all the City Council members because of his work with them as a state legislator. He does have good relationships with all of them and his excellent social skills are a plus in the weak Minneapolis mayoral system. Ray is very passionate about helping people improve their lives. He wants to keep positive on what he will do and what he has done, so he usually lets his opponents go at it. His office is very collaboratively run and his campaign office staff is very diverse. As a someone with a degree in Social Work, Mass Communication and History, I have been very blessed to help the campaign in various ways and am very glad that he has not accepted PAC money or corporate money. His contributors are individuals and small businesses. He will make a great mayor!

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/03/2017 - 09:20 am.


      Rent control and rent “stabilization” are the same thing, and a terrible idea.

      Dehn lost all of his credibility when he said he would give certain groups veto power over his decisions. Totally unfit to lead a city.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/30/2017 - 08:13 pm.

    For a change

    …this is a campaign where at least the top half-dozen or so candidates all have something to offer to citizens of the city, and they all have drawbacks, as well. Usually, I don’t have a hard time making up my mind about municipal election, but the mayoral race in Minneapolis is going to be a significant exception. I still haven’t decided. I’m not sure the Manager-Council model that Bill Kahn advocates is necessarily governmental nirvana, but it does have some advantages, and I was particularly struck by Kahn’s line to the effect that he’s tired of trying to find some sort of “magic” person who can do everything we ask a mayor to do, and do it well. Maybe part of the problem with Minneapolis governance is that we expect near-divine levels of talent and expertise.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/31/2017 - 01:00 pm.

      No, not nirvana, for sure, but definitely a structure that can turn on a dime for us relative to what we do now.

      As far as magic, it is what we have depended on from the beginning, or at least citizens have hoped for over a hundred years for Minneapolis; we need more than that. We need both function and innovation that Council-manager government could provide.

      My other issue in the 2013 campaign was range voting, something I think could help a great deal in a field like we have for Nov. 7. Rate all the candidates you want on a scale, say zero or one through ten, and the best average of those with 50% or more of voters rating them, wins.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 10/31/2017 - 12:51 pm.


    The budget: When you run the city you spend a lot of $, ~ $1.4B worth. Didn’t see any of the candidates address this. Couple key take a ways, 2018 budget recommended: Public works is ~ 26% of the budget and got “0” comment, police are ~ 13% but received lots of comments, capital improvement is ~ 15% basically no comments. Not really sure how the city plays into education, school board issue. Not comfortable with city involvement in general labor force wage issues either. Seems their job should be running the city as fair and as equitable as possible. For some of us folks that also means, regulatory services ~ 2% should be as conscientious about lower income neighborhoods as higher income, that is an inequity, 2 different sets of regulations and enforcement, depending on where you live, didn’t see any comments on this. Nor, discussion on how Hennepin County is complicit in stacking certain low income neighborhoods (read high minority) with section 8, recently released level 3 sex offenders, subsidized housing, low income rental, 1/2 way houses for those reentering society etc, wouldn’t this be considered inequity as well? Perhaps those are the, tough ones, folks whisper about , but no plan to do anything about!

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