Inauguration day in Minneapolis

Mayor Betsy Hodges delivers her inaugural address. Credit: Photos by Sarah McKenzie

In her inaugural address, Mayor Betsy Hodges said the leaders in City Hall’s Rotunda were elected to do three things: grow the city, continue to manage it well, and eliminate the city’s racial gaps.

“This is our call, Minneapolis,” she said at the inaugural ceremony Jan. 6. “To be more than just a great city, to be a new city: shining as a beacon brightly enough to show our nation and the world that when we come together as a people, in government and in community, it is possible to be transformed.”

Hodges, who represented the city’s 13th Ward for two terms on the City Council, also singled out former Mayor R.T. Rybak for running the city well during his 12-year tenure. She also wished him a speedy recovery from a heart attack he suffered while skiing in Theodore Wirth Park on Jan. 4.

Hodges takes over the mayor’s office at a time when the city’s economy is rebounding and there’s a push for city leaders to take action on racial inequality in Minneapolis. When Rybak became mayor 12 years ago he faced a tougher financial landscape and was forced to grapple with challenging budget issues his first weeks in office.

Hodges takes over a city government on more solid financial footing. She said she will push to grow the city’s population to more than 500,000 with the most density concentrated along transit corridors.

In her vision for Minneapolis, every house on every block in Northeast, Central and North Minneapolis is full and neighborhoods are growing faster than others in the city. In downtown, “Nicollet Mall is the envy of every street in the world,” she said. 

Meanwhile, in southeast neighborhoods, students along with long-time residents enjoy green walkable neighborhoods. In southwest, citizens welcome density and shape development projects to retain the character of the neighborhoods.

As for tackling the city’s racial disparities — the biggest issue on the campaign trail earlier this year — Hodges said community leaders must align goals to address the gaps between white people and people of color.

“Yes, being more than great at ending these disparities is the smart thing to do, because when we do it, there will be no limit to our growth or to our greatness as One Minneapolis,” she said. “But it also the right thing to do. And not because it’s about charity or obligation.”

Hodges officially became the city’s 47th mayor Jan. 2 at the Thorpe building in Northeast Minneapolis.

The event was billed as a “Kids’ Inaugural” and children in attendance were encouraged to sit in the front row as Hodges first turned her attention to them after she took the oath of office, which was officiated by City Clerk Casey Carl. Hodges’ husband Gary Cunningham was by her side when she was sworn in as the city’s new mayor.

She asked the children to take a pledge to do three things she has promised to do as well: help make Minneapolis a great city; do the best they can everyday to be good to people and kind; and help people in the city have good lives. After agreeing to each pledge, the children loudly said: “Yes, Mayor Hodges.”

“It is not lost on me — and it’s not a coincidence — that the first people to call me mayor are the kids of the city,” she said. 

New Council convenes for first time

The new City Council was also sworn in Jan. 6 and held its first meeting to elect leaders and vote on committee posts.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change held an Equity Rally in the City Hall Rotunda and later outside of Council chambers. The group chanted loudly throughout the Council’s first meeting demanding attention to disparities in education and employment.

The Council re-elected Barb Johnson (4th Ward) to Council president and elected Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) to vice president.

Some of the more progressive Council members had been calling for a change in leadership. Council Members Cam Gordon (Ward 2), Alondra Cano (Ward 9) and Lisa Bender (Ward 10) had been outspoken about their support for Glidden as president.

Gordon and Bender spoke in favor of the leadership structure at today’s meeting. “We’re lucky to have a unified Council,” Bender said. 

Before electing leaders, the Council voted on a motion proposed by Cano to allow for members of the community to offer comments. Cano, the Council’s first Mexican-American member, noted the historic nature of the first meeting with a new Council reflecting the city’s increasingly diverse population. Blong Yang (Ward 5) is the first Hmong-American and Abdi Warsame (Ward 6) is the first Somali-American on the Council.

The motion failed because it needed a two-thirds threshold to pass.

Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said the group was disappointed it didn’t get a chance to speak at the first Council meeting.

“Our communities can’t wait any longer for the city to take these worst-in-the-nation racial equity gaps seriously,” he said. “We need a racial equity agenda for the new term, and we need it to start today.”

Johnson and Glidden spoke against the motion, noting that there will be a better time in coming weeks to allow community members to address the Council.

Glidden, who has been awarded a Bush Fellowship to advance the city’s work on racial equity, also praised Hodges for focusing on the issue in her inaugural address. “It was a beautiful speech,” she said. “Now the question is how do we converge around this goal.”

Jacob Frey (Ward 3), one of the new Council members, also praised Hodges’ inaugural address. “Her speech was eloquent, heart felt, and absolutely hit the nail on the head — we need to take immediate action to eliminate the opportunity gap,” he said.

Committee assignments were also established along with a few changes to standing committees.

Frey and some other newcomers to the Council will lead committees. Frey will serve as chair of Elections and Rules; Yang will chair Public Safety, Civil Rights & Emergency Management; Warsame will lead Taxes; and Bender will be chair of Zoning & Planning.

Returning members Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) will chair the Claims and Community Development & Regulatory Services committees; Gordon will chair Health, Environment & Community Engagement; Kevin Reich (Ward 1) will lead Transportation & Public Works; and John Quincy (Ward 11) will chair Ways & Means.

Goodman said “it’s an exciting time” for the Council.

“There are a number of new members who bring some very interesting life experience and expertise. I look forward to learning from them and working with them,” she said. “I knew there was going to be a lot of change. … I knew there was going to be a lot of turnover. Hopefully I’ll provide some level of stability and the ability to take what I’ve learned from being here for a long time and bring others up to speed.”