ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and her top four challengers aired their views for two hours Monday in a candidate forum at Minnesota Public Radio.
The five competitors covered issues ranging from public safety to police/community relations to affordable housing to narrowing economic disparities between the city's white population and residents of color.
In the absence of public polling in the race, MPR relied on campaign financial reports to limit the field to five of the 16 candidates that will be on the ballot.
"Over the last several years Minneapolis has been in the news for a lot of the wrong reasons," City Council Member Jacob Frey remarked. "We’ve got a 200 percent uptick in violent crime, and specifically shootings."
He said it's difficult to fully implement the community policing model when officers are running from one 9-1-1 call to another 9-1-1 call, and never getting to know the people in the neighborhoods they patrol.
Tom Hoch, the former president of the Hennepin Theater Trust, said his goal is to have nine out of ten residents trust the police and also feel safe.
"So we’re going to want 90 percent of every individual in every corner of the city to say I feel safe, and 90 percent of individuals when asked say 'I have a high degree of confidence in the professionalism of the Minneapolis police department'," Hoch asserted.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a former University of St. Thomas Law School professor who led the Minneapolis NAACP during the Black Lives Matter protests, said the city's leaders weren't motivated to change the status quo until protesters took to the streets after officer-involved shootings.
"We had young people having to take the streets and march and protest just for their human dignity to be recognized by the Minneapolis Police Department," Levy-Pounds said. "Meanwhile, we had members of Minneapolis City Council settling tens of millions of dollars in excessive force lawsuits."
Mayor Hodges said, despite the officer-involved shootings that have rocked the city and led to the ouster of Chief Janee Harteau, the Minneapolis Police Dept. has been making important strides.
"Every officer has had procedural justice and implicit bias training, and crisis intervention training, and we’ve worked that in, and we’ve trained our managers to that standard as well so are holding offices accountable to that level," Hodges explained.
"There's also a duty-to-intervene and duty-to-report policy if an officer sees another officer misbehaving. Our sanctity-of-life policy is no longer just that every officer goes home at the end of the day, which is important, but everybody goes home safe."
Rep. Raymond Dehn raised the issue of officer residency.
"Only 8 percent of the officers that are in the MPD live in the city of Minneapolis," Dehn noted. "And we need to change that because if a police officer has no vested interest in the people in the City of Minneapolis, that’s not the kind of policing we need in the city."
Rep. Dehn was asked to explain an answer he gave to a written survey that he could envision a city without police.
He said he was speaking in an aspirational way, that it would be nice if police weren't needed some day because all th societal ills police normally respond to didn't exist any longer.
"People struggle because of either addiction, mental illness or economic situations. Often times they grow up in neighborhoods where there’s a lot of scarcity and those are often the causes of crime."
On the issue of affordable housing all of the candidates acknowledged that the city is losing units faster than it's replacing them.
Frey said the current targets for setting aside affordable units in mixed income developments need to be changed to be more inclusive of lower income families.
Hodges said she's tackling the issue of preserving affordable housing stock with innovative grant and loan programs.
Hoch said one way to make housing more affordable is to lower property taxes, which can be a barrier to buying a home in the city.
Levy-Pounds said zoning reform is needed to allow more duplexes and triplexes in areas that are currently restricted to single-family housing. She said she's heard from a lot of people on the campaign trail who want to see more land set aside for tiny houses.
Frey noted that his 3rd Ward, which is centered in downtown, has seen half of the new housing units that have been built in the past four years. Increasing the supply of housing should, in turn, take some of the pressure off home prices and rents.
Hoch said that's not the same as affordable housing. He suggested bolstering maintenance of the current high rises now operated bt the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.
But Frey challenged the legality of one of Hoch's ideas for encouraging builders: the idea that builders could be granted building height variation if they'd agree to setting aside more areas for reduced rental rates.
Dehn decried the city's focus on developers, saying affordable housing will need to be more of a public sector function.
"The private sector’s been really great on creating the luxury units throughout the city of Minneapolis. I haven’t heard anybody complaining there’s not enough expensive units in the city of Minneapolis."
Tuesday's election will feature a ranked choice ballot, allowing voters to name their top three choices. Debate moderator Tom Weber asked the candidates who they'd recommend as second and third choices, but none of them took the debate.
They said they were leaving it up to their supporters to vote their conscience on the rest of the ballot.
In the last election those second choices didn't come into play. Hodges finished the the highest number of first-choice votes, and none of other 34 candidates received enough second place votes to leapfrog over Hodges.