New Council takes office

Southwest has three new reps

Five new faces joined eight incumbents at City Hall as the new Minneapolis City Council was sworn in early January.

The Council also has new leadership with the North Side’s Barb Johnson (4th Ward), whose mother, Alice Rainville, served as Council president in the 1980s. Johnson follows Northeast’s Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) as president, a post some consider the most powerful in City Hall.

She is optimistic about the new slate.

“I have found these new folks to be delightful and really a cross section of people with lots of individual experiences, which is really always good to bring to the City Council,” Johnson said. “We benefit when people have really broad life experiences.”

Newcomers are Southeast’s Cam Gordon, Downtown’s Diane Hofstede, and Ralph Remington, Betsy Hodges and Elizabeth Glidden, who represent neighborhoods in Southwest.

They replace outgoing Councilmembers Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) and Barret Lane (13th Ward). Zerby, Niziolek and Lane did not seek reelection; Johnson Lee and Zimmermann lost their bids for another term.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said he’s eager to start working with the new Council. He won his bid for a second term by a wide margin, beating Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin 61 percent to 37 percent.

“My reaction to the new Council borders between thrilled and euphoric,” Rybak said. “There will be tough moments for all of us, I’m sure, but an exceptional group of new Councilmembers is coming in. Several of them are just hitting their stride.”

Rybak expects the Council to take a “more activist agenda” and to focus on improving the city’s relationships with the State Legislature and surrounding communities.

“We all recognize that our greatest challenges and opportunities are going to require not only work at City Hall, but work all around the region,” he said.

Rybak’s new chief of staff Tina Smith, a Fulton resident who starts her position later this month, also has an optimistic vision for the new Council.

“There is such a strong interest both in the mayor’s office and among all the members of the City Council to work together and to really pursue their goals in sync, and that’s going to be so good for the city,” she said.

Southwest’s new representatives

Southwest residents have three newcomers at City Hall: Glidden, Remington and Hodges.

Remington, who succeeds outgoing 10th Ward Councilmember Dan Niziolek, predicted the Council will “be really progressive and cooperative.

“The spirit of comradery is really, really high,” Remington said. “People want to get things done.”

Remington, a union organizer and actor active in local theater, is the first African American to represent the ward.

During his campaign, he said he would push for a master development plan for his ward. Uptown, in particular, has seen several high-profile development proposals that have stirred controversy in the neighborhood.

Remington also plans to focus on affordable housing and transportation, including exploring the viability of returning streetcars to the city.

Rybak had high praise for Remington.

“He possibly has more energy than I do and will be a great partner in forging a new vision for Uptown,” he said.

Hodges, who represents neighborhoods surrounding lakes Calhoun and Harriet, had a head start on the job when Barret Lane stepped down a month early. Previously, she served on the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council, worked as an aide for Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman and held leadership posts with several nonprofits, including the Minnesota Justice Foundation that pairs law students with public service work.

With two Wonder Woman figures in her office as inspiration, Hodges plans to focus on improving the city’s financial health and building greater relationships with regional partners. She also expects to spend time bettering the city’s relationship to its schools, and addressing transportation and environmental issues, including water quality and preserving parkland.

Glidden, who represents Southwest’s Kingfield neighborhood in addition to several neighborhoods east of Interstate 35W in South Minneapolis, said she’s feeling optimistic that the new Council will not only be politically progressive, but more committed to open government and citizen engagement.

In her early days in office, Glidden plans to establish a communications protocol to ensure residents of the 8th Ward stay informed of City Hall activities, review the proposal for a citywide wireless network and highlight issues facing 38th Street, a major corridor running through the ward.

The portion of the street that cuts through Kingfield has seen development but has been neglected in other areas, including where it meets Chicago Avenue. That corner intersects four neighborhoods: Central, Powderhorn, Bryant and Bancroft.

Improving the city’s finances, its transportation infrastructure and public safety in general will be other key priorities for Glidden.

Southwest’s incumbents on the Council include Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Council Vice President Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) and Scott Benson (11th Ward).

Goodman, who represents Kenwood, Lowry Hill and Bryn Mawr and Downtown-area neighborhoods, shares her colleagues’ optimism about the new crew at City Hall.

“I am generally excited and enthused about the five new folks and will miss working with the retiring people as well,” she said.

New dynamics

The new members’ agendas aside, one legislative priority likely will standout: environmentalism.

Before its last term ended, the City Council voted to expand the scope of the Health and Human Services Committee to include oversight of environmental issues. Now called Health, Energy and the Environment, the committee will oversee all aspects of the city’s efforts to become more sustainable.

The change dovetails with messages heard during the campaign.

Goodman, for instance, talked of a municipal electrical utility that would make use of alternative forms of energy, such as biomass and solar.

Kandiyohi Development Corp., a consulting firm with ties to Goodman and substantial clout at City Hall, is expected to have a key role in shaping the new environmental policies.

The firm is led by Michael Krause, former head of the South Minneapolis-based Green Institute, and focuses on sustainable land use, renewable energy and environmentally friendly technologies.

The Council also is expected to be more unified and assertive – particularly when it comes to shaping the city’s budget and overseeing Police Department matters – and in taking a regional approach to governance.

Said Council President Johnson: “One thing that I’ve found about [the Councilmembers] is that they are extremely interested not just in what goes on in City Hall, but they are also interested in our relationships with other cities and the impact of the city of Minneapolis on the region.”