In his Jan. 8 inaugural address, Mayor Jacob Frey called for a united front to take on the challenges facing Minneapolis, including a housing crunch, strained relations between citizens and their police department and persistent racial disparities.
“That’s what today is about: coming together, uniting around a shared vision and charting a course that quite simply improves people’s lives,” he said.
Frey’s message, delivered to a crowd of several hundred gathered in the City Hall rotunda, underlined the policy priorities he has set for his administration: economic inclusion, increased access to affordable housing and improved police-community relations. He tested the message in a series of community events leading up to his first day in office, including public conversations at a North Side grocery store and a Lyndale-neighborhood public housing high-rise.
The inauguration ceremony reflected the city’s diversity, beginning with a blessing delivered in Ojibwe, and continuing with traditional Hmong music and a poem recited in Somali. The executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, Imam Asad Zaman, got a laugh from both the elected officials and members of the audience when, during his invocation, he said, “Mayor and council, the good news is you’re in charge. The bad news is you’re in charge.”
Reflecting on the city’s history of segregation in his speech, Frey said racial disparities are still holding back Minneapolis from reaching its economic potential. For the city to be “globally competitive,” he said, every segment of the community has to take part in the economy.
Frey, who previously represented booming Ward 3 for one term on the City Council, said he was “committed to ensuring that the success of Northeast and downtown reaches every corner of Minneapolis.”
He also pledged to work with other local elected leaders to expand the regional economy. Frey led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to new St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter who, at 39, is two-and-a-half years older than him.
Frey framed his goal of tackling the city’s affordable housing crisis in terms of racial justice. He said the city needed to add affordable housing in every neighborhood and create “deeply affordable” housing, which he defined as housing targeted to people earning 30 percent of the area median income.
“If you believe that everyone deserves the safety and security of a home, then I want you to speak up with me,” he said, urging the crowd to join him as he chanted, “Housing is a right.”
Frey paused briefly during his speech when activists calling for rent control unfurled a banner from the second floor of the rotunda. They were joined by a small group holding signs at the back of the first-floor crowd, including one sign that read “rent control now.”
Frey also pledged to help rebuild trust between communities and the police department by “shifting the culture of policing.” He said he would work with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who took office in August, to support the wellbeing of officers and shift their work into narrower beats that put them in closer contact with neighbors and business owners.
Frey began the speech by thanking his wife and parents, who were in the audience, and also had kind words for former Mayor Betsy Hodges, who he defeated in November. He described the city as stronger for Hodges’ “focus on equity” during her eight years on the City Council and four as mayor.
Frey has emphasized his eagerness to engage with the 13 members of the City Council, going so far as to have his staff issue a press release Jan. 2 noting that council members key cards would now give them access to the mayor’s City Hall office, a privilege they haven’t enjoyed for some years. In his inaugural address, he described the Council, which includes five new members elected in November, as “exceptional.”
“They are forward-thinking, united in mentality and ready to serve,” he said. “I look forward to embarking on this amazing journey together.”
Bender elected council president
Following the swearing-in ceremony, the City Council members made their way to the third floor of City Hall where, at their first meeting, they elected Ward 10 City Council Member Lisa Bender president.
Bender, re-elected to her second term on the council in November, succeeds former City Council President Barb Johnson. Johnson, who represented the North Side’s Ward 4 for two decades, lost her re-election bid to Phillipe Cunningham, who worked as a senior policy aide to Hodges.
In her first term on the council, Bender developed a reputation as a leader on housing and transportation issues. Before running for office, she worked as an urban planner in New York and San Francisco and co-founded the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, now called Our Streets Minneapolis, a nonprofit that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Ward 8 Council Member Andrea Jenkins was elected council vice president. Jenkins is, with Cunningham, one of two members on the council who is both transgender and a person of color, a first for Minneapolis. Although serving in her first term on the council, she previously worked 12 years as a City Council staff member.