Minneapolis mayor tested by shootings goes before voters
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Voters in Minneapolis on Tuesday weighed whether to give their mayor a second term or choose a new one to take the reins of the state’s largest and most liberal city.
More than a dozen candidates are challenging Mayor Betsy Hodges, who became the face of the city through two wrenching police shootings, including this summer’s death of an Australia native who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her house.
With no Democratic Party-endorsed candidate, and an instant-runoff voting system in which voters rank their top three choices, it was hard for even the most plugged-in observers to forecast a race whose outcome wasn’t expected to be known until Wednesday.
“We’re all kind of like shooting in the dark at this point,” said David Schultz, a political science professor from Hamline University.
Hodges, 48, a former city councilwoman seeking her second term as mayor, faced a handful of serious challengers. Most were running on more liberal platforms and debates about affordable housing, a yawning achievement gap between white and black residents and the recent move to eventually increase its minimum wage to $15 hourly.
But much of the campaign turned on police-community relations and two citizen deaths during Hodges’ tenure. The first was the shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, a black man, during a scuffle with two white officers on the city’s north side in 2015.
Clark’s death sparked violent confrontations with police and an extended encampment outside the police precinct in the area. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge the officers, saying that evidence showed Clark had gotten his hand on an officer’s gun before he was shot. More protests followed.
And this summer, Justine Ruszczyk Damond was shot and killed by an officer minutes after she called 911 to report a possible assault and then approached their squad car in the alley behind her home. Damond’s death provoked an outcry in her native Australia as well as in Minneapolis, and amid sharp criticism that the officers had not turned on their body cameras, Hodges forced out Chief Janee Harteau.
The shootings — along with persistent concerns about downtown crime — have made public safety the defining issue of the race. Hodges’ challengers say she has done too little to change a police culture that needs changing.
State Rep. Raymond Dehn called to disarm the police in the wake of Damond’s death. Nekima Levy-Pounds, the former head of the local NAACP chapter and a leading protest voice after Clark’s death, made challenging the police department and tackling the city’s racial inequities the centerpiece of her campaign.
City Council Member Jacob Frey called to boost the police department ranks. Tom Hoch, a former redevelopment and public housing executive, called for a comprehensive review of the police department and its policies.
Despite all that, Schultz still gave Hodges the edge Tuesday.
“There doesn’t seem to be one candidate around which the ‘Anti-Hodges’ voters have coalesced,” Schultz said. “It has fragmented among four other major candidates.”