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‘I have loved this job more than I ever thought I would love something’: a Q&A with outgoing Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden

Glidden on Mayor-elect Jacob Frey, her advice to new council members — and why she decided not to run for re-election after 12 years in office. 

Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, left, sat down with MinnPost to talk about her time in office, her plans for the future, and her advice for those who were just elected.
Minneapolis Clerk/Mitch Kampf

Elizabeth Glidden is stepping down from her position on the Minneapolis City Council after deciding last year not seek a fourth term representing Ward 8.

She was council vice president for the last four years and was recognized by her colleagues last week for her work on the body, which focused on issues ranging from ranked choice voting to housing discrimination. She has also been active in promoting transgender rights, immigrant rights and worker protections including the paid sick and safe leave ordinance and the minimum wage.

Born in St. Paul, Glidden grew up in Wichita, Kansas. After attending Augustana College in South Dakota and law school at the University of Iowa, she moved to Minneapolis. “Honestly, I just packed up a U-haul trailer and came here,” she said.

She would go on to practice employment law for 10 years before being elected to the city council in 2005.  She and husband Eric Pusey have two daughters and live in Kingfield, and she continues to perform in the Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis as a violinist and serve as a volunteer string coach for Lyndale Community School.

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Earlier this week, Glidden sat down with MinnPost to talk about her time in office, her plans for the future, and her advice for those who were just elected. Her remarks have been slightly edited for length and clarity. 

MP: During the ceremony [at Minneapolis City Hall] honoring you and the other departing council members, you said that you discussed running for office while on your honeymoon with your husband Eric Pusey. How did that go over, and what made you decide to run?

Elizabeth Glidden: I guess the other piece was that I had recently done a master’s degree, one of these kind of return-to-school things at the Humphrey [School of Public Affairs] for non-trad[itional] students. So that was also kind of an indicator in my life. I didn’t have in my mind a picture of running for office. I never did. I knew I wanted to broaden my scope to affecting public policy and I kind of felt like I had been doing that.

I went to the Humphrey really because I didn’t envision always being a traditional lawyer. I don’t know that I thought I would move away from being a lawyer, but I thought there were other ways I could use my law degree. And so I was trying to seek what that would be. So we had gotten married and I knew that this was an open seat at the time that we went on this honeymoon trip … . That was really the first time we had a serious discussion, Eric and I, about what would it be like if I got involved in this race. It was a big decision. He was all for it and he ended up being my campaign manager, which I was not really super excited about. I was like, “Oh my God, I cannot even imagine how this is going to work.” And to be just really blunt about it, nobody else was chomping at the bit to be my campaign manager.

We didn’t have kids, so there are all these things that kind of helped to make that work. We were younger, but we ended up working really well together and it was a tremendous amount of work.

MP: The first question for someone who is leaving public office voluntarily is usually why, and why now? So, why did you decide not to run again and why is now a good time for that?

EG: I think there is more to it than this, but I think one of the simple answers is I personally believe that these are not forever jobs. Part of the excitement of local politics is the opportunity for change and new ideas and new energy and all the things that can come with having someone new in this seat. I had done this for a significant amount of time: 12 years. I will tell you I have loved this job more than I ever thought I would love something. I just feel tremendously benefited by the opportunity to work at the city, to have met so many inspiring people. You feel like in the morning like you want to get up and do your very, very best.

I knew also that there were multiple fantastic candidates out there, who had progressive values, who had a similar outlook to me, although they would have different background and experiences and bring a different outlet to maybe just doing the job. And at the end of the day, Andrea Jenkins, when she announced she kind of cleared the field, I think because of the very special candidate that she is. The longer sometimes you hold on, it’s harder for some of those people to enter.

MP: You are the co-chair of Mayor-elect Jacob Frey’s policy committee. Can you describe that work and what you hope will result?

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EG: The policy committee that Abou Amara and I are co-chairing is part of a bigger structure of the transition team. There are three announced task forces that have separate chairs: affordable housing, economic inclusion and police-community relations. For Abou and I, our task right now is to help during this transition period in seeking input — sort of post-election input — to be able to forward to those task forces, but also to develop some recommendations that are outside of those task forces of significant areas where the mayor-elect will need to decide how to spend his time and resources and so forth.

MP: I never noticed that you and Jacob were hostile or disliked one another, but there were times where you guys were on opposite sides of some key votes in the budget period, things like that. I don’t know who you supported for mayor.

EG: I made a public statement shortly before the election and Jacob was not one of my choices. After Jacob won, I called him immediately. I said, “I congratulate you. You did a great job, you ran a professional campaign and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you.” And he called me back and he said, “Yes, I think there might be something where I’m asking for you to help.”

And I said, “Of course I will.” And my perspective is that, on the one side, he is sending a signal that we are post-election — we are in the governing mode — and that’s the mode when you’ve got to put campaign stuff behind you and you figure out how you’re reaching out beyond those who were in your corner in a very competitive mayor’s race and use that to do your best job. On my end, my feeling is I want to do what I can to ensure this mayor or any mayor is successful because I care about the city. So I immediately said yes. And I thought that was. I was really honored that he asked me.

MP: OK, so you ranked three and Jacob was not among them. Who were your three?

EG: I ranked Betsy Hodges as my first. I ranked Nekima Levy-Pounds as my second and Ray Dehn as my third.

MP: So he would have grounds to take that personally.

EG: He would absolutely. And these things, you feel them in the campaign. So to your point, we always had a professional working relationship; never a hard word exchanged between us of a personal nature and, so I respect that about him.

MP: The resolution adopted by the council last week honoring your service was so long I thought they were going to need a second plaque. Understanding that you have done quite a lot in 12 years, can you pick out those that are most satisfying?

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EG: I’m going to give you three: one from the beginning, one from the end and then one that’s kind of been all the way through. I did not know when I was elected that we would almost immediately go into a campaign to have ranked choice voting. And honestly, I count my lucky stars because I campaigned for that. But clearly, this was a community initiative: Jeanne Massey and a sea of devoted volunteers for structural change in our election system. I happened to be the person who was there at the time who was assigned the elections committee …. So anyway, that’s a big one.

End of term: Minimum wage. I mean, probably even one to two years ago, I never would’ve thought that was possible. And again I feel like I’ve played a role, but I was one little piece of a big movement that’s happening nationally and hit Minneapolis because of our robust organizing infrastructure.

And then the last thing I’ll mention is work on the Lake Street transit access project and the Orange Line [Bus Rapid Transit]. When I came into office, it was a big campaign issue. It was a ramps-only project and it was one lesson in long-term — over-a-decade-on-my-part — advocacy to make this work.

MP: Some issues you have confronted, especially on clean energy and worker rights, were previously seen as state and federal issues. How has public policy making changed over the last 12 years to change that dynamic, and how has your work with the national organization Local Progress guided your policymaking? 

EG: I really feel like this time I’ve been on the council has been so interesting because we have just seen a sea change in how we’re looking at the role of cities and what kind of significant policy they would confront. … To be able to have good policy at the federal level is a huge, huge benefit. To have good policy at the state level, it’s a huge benefit. I subscribe to this magazine … Governing Magazine. I remember a mid-to-later 2000s issue and they’re talking about how states are the great innovators. Nobody says that anymore. They just don’t because there are so few states that are being great innovators. They are either stuck or they’re turning themselves topsy-turvy. They’re not innovating. Nobody has faith that the federal government is going to create solutions to problems that we face in our lives.

I think at all these different levels, people are saying, “OK, there’s only so long we can wait because we are on the front lines.” We hear from our residents, even if we don’t hear from them, we see what is happening to our residents and our job is to create solutions, not just stand still.

Another thing, I’m just going to say that’s an atmospheric thing happening right now is, I feel like throughout the United States we are confronting in bolder ways than we ever have our history of race and racism and how that has affected public policy in the need to look newly at those policies with a more discerning eye and understanding what happens. 

MP: Had you stayed on the council, I am certain that the new members would be seeking your advice. Before you leave, can you spread a little Glidden knowledge for the newbies as to how best to do the job?

EG: I actually started working on like a little Top Ten list. I’ve got to remember what was on it. I think that the number one thing that I put on the list is sometimes there’s a hard transition to realize the power that you have as a council member. Your role in life has really changed. That can be for good and sometimes create challenges because now everything that you say is examined, it’s questioned, how you comport yourself with the community. And certainly I think in some ways some of the most challenging aspects are how do you interact with city staff because again, you may have come from a position in life where you never supervised anybody. All of a sudden one day you’re just your first name, “Elizabeth.” And the next day you will never be called Elizabeth. You are “Council Member.”

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A second thing I think is, this is actually something I’ve heard [Council President] Barb Johnson say a lot but I really believe it’s true, which is that there is never a last act. I think of this in terms of, you can have hard fought disagreements, but tomorrow is a new day. And at the end of the day you’re not working there because you have a good relationship with this person or that person. You’re there because you’re trying to affect issues that matter to the city of Minneapolis and to your constituents. So to have that long view of thinking, I’m going to go in there and do my best job, I’m going to be passionate and I’m going to be a good advocate, but I also have to know that I’m going to be able to restart relationships for the sake of getting progress on issues that are important.

MP: What is next for you?

EG: Well, I’m moving on. This is maybe the third big time in my life where I kind of jumped off and I’m ready for something new and I’m ready for that. I don’t have some big announcement to share with you today, I have experienced the beauty of growing over my lifetime, my involvement with community, and I can for sure say I’m not going away. I intend to be involved in civic life, in driving public policy and I think there are a lot of ways for people to do that. And I’m excited for the next way that I enter into that.