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‘People wanted a fresh start’: Election ushers in new mayor and five new council members in Minneapolis

After initial numbers came in Tuesday night, the results weren’t unexpected. But the vote counting Wednesday allowed the reality of it to sink in — that city government has been altered drastically.

Mayor-elect Jacob Frey: "I think now more than ever we need bridge-buildings — plural — and we need to collectively come together and recognize while we do deviate in strategy we do have the same overarching goals."
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

It took a while, but once Minneapolis election results started flowing on Wednesday, the winners came in quick succession.

“Your #MplsMayor results are In,” read the Tweet from Minneapolis Elections at 1:52 p.m. “Jacob Frey has been elected.”

Then, less than 20 minutes later, at 2:09 p.m.: “Steve Fletcher is elected.” At 2:57: “Alondra Cano is re-elected.” One minute later, “Jeremy Schroeder is elected.” At 3:20, it was Phillipe Cunningham’s turn. Only seconds later: “Jeremiah Ellison is elected.”

What wasn’t stated in the Tweets — but quickly became clear — is that voters in Minneapolis had turned out an incumbent mayor and three incumbent city council members. Among the casualties were 11-year Council President Barbara Johnson, Council Ways and Means Committee Chair John Quincy and Public Safety Committee Chair Blong Yang.

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After initial numbers came in Tuesday night — revealing the number of first-choice votes but little else — such results weren’t unexpected. But the official vote counting Wednesday allowed the reality of it to sink in: that the city will have a new mayor and a drastically altered city council.

The trend line was finally broken shortly before 4 p.m. when the clerk’s office announced that incumbent Kevin Reich had narrowly defeated challenger Jillia Pessenda. Still, three incumbents had lost. Add those to the two open seats decided this week and it means five of the 13 council members will be newcomers when the new Minneapolis City Council convenes in January.

‘Got to be together’

Shortly after getting the word from the Minneapolis city clerk’s office that he had been elected, Frey spoke to a hastily gathered gaggle of reporters at his Hennepin Avenue campaign office.

“People wanted a fresh start,” he said.

One of his first tasks, he said, is to unify the city. “We have been a divided city in so many respects. Division between police and community, divisions between businesses and activists, we even had divisions in the DFL party. And I think now more than ever we need bridge-buildings — plural — and we need to collectively come together and recognize while we do deviate in strategy we do have the same overarching goals.”

When Frey was asked about a Tweet from open government advocate Tony Webster, who said that Frey had work to do, starting with “the Frey campaign’s alienation of activist-progressives, a group he’s going to have to work with as mayor,” the mayor-elect answered by repeating that he was one of the first council members to come out for a city minimum wage more than three years ago. “That’s not a right position; that’s not a centrist position. But we are in this period of time when there is a push for ideological purity, this attempt to villainize people and groups that may disagree only on one thing. And that mentality has got to go.

“If we want to collectively move forward, it has got to be together,” he said.

Hodges, who seemed to recognize on Tuesday night that she had slim hopes of winning, conceded shortly after the results were announced. “I recently spoke to Jacob Frey and congratulated him on his victory,” Hodges said in a statement released by her campaign. “I told him that I know he loves Minneapolis and that I am committed to a smooth transition.”

She called her term “the greatest honor of my life,” thanked her supporters and ended her statement by saying, “Thank you, my beloved Minneapolis, from the bottom of my heart.”

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‘Diggin’ it’: going under the hood of an RCV election

That Frey won wasn’t a surprise after seeing how the first-choice votes were allocated among the candidates Tuesday night. But how it played out as fifth and fourth place candidates were eliminated offers a view into the complex politics of the city.

First, when the 11 also-ran candidates had their second and third-place selections applied to the top five contenders, the votes were distributed pretty evenly, though Frey and Tom Hoch took more than the others. But when fifth-place finisher Nekima Levy-Pounds was dropped, her voters had a significant impact on the race. Her voters’ second and third-place selections went heavily to Raymond Dehn and Hodges, bumping Tom Hoch, who had been in second place going into that round, down to fourth, and pushing Dehn to second while keeping Hodges in third.

That meant that it was Hoch who would be eliminated in the next round, not Dehn, a development that meant Frey would pick up votes, because the bulk of Hoch’s second and third place votes went to him. That expanded Frey’s lead so much that when Hodges was eliminated and her votes were distributed relatively evenly between Frey and Dehn, Frey was declared the winner. He ended up with just under 45 percent of the total votes cast due to the fact that many ballots — nearly 23,000 of them — were cast for candidates not among the final two, becoming what RCV terms “exhausted ballots.”

Hodges too had not ended with a majority in 2013, finishing that election with 49 percent.

The council races had a similar flow of votes, with first-place winners on election night ending up winning all but two of the races. One of the exceptions to that development was Barbara Johnson, who held a very narrow election-night lead over Phillipe Cunningham. Cunningham ended up winning the race after third-place finisher Stephanie Gasca voters’ second and third selections were counted.

And in the election for Ward 3’s open seat, Socialist Alternative candidate Ginger Jentzen had a lead but not nearly a majority on election night. Fourth-place finisher Samantha Pree-Stinson’s votes didn’t change the order, but when third-place finisher Tim Bildsoe was eliminated, his second and third-place selections went overwhelmingly to Steve Fletcher, changing a 500-vote deficit into a 1,000-vote victory.

On election night, city elections staff had already given unofficial declarations of victory to Ward 2’s Cam Gordon, Ward 7’s Lisa Goodman, Ward 8’s Andrea Jenkins, Ward 10’s Lisa Bender, Ward 12’s Andrew Johnson and Ward 13’s Linea Palmisano.

At his press conference, Frey was asked his opinions on ranked choice voting, which was getting its usual election-time criticism for complexity and delay.

“We won, so I’m digging it,” he said.