MINNEAPOLIS -- Betsy Hodges easily admits she's not used to being called "mayor" yet, but she's enthusiastically embracing the role of chief executive in Minnesota's largest city.
"I feel honored to be mayor of this great city, and I'm committed to taking on the challenge of these disparities we have," Hodges said, echoing one of her major campaign themes.
That work will begin with an expanded investment in the federally subsidized Healthy Start program and other educational initiatives for expecting mothers and developing children.
"We're focusing on that pre-natal to two-three year-old age where brain development is most crucial. That's the first opportunity gap a kid faces."
Hodges and her staff are still unpacking and moving into the corner office on the third floor of Minneapolis City Hall, which was occupied by R.T. Rybak for 12 years. For Hodges, the move wasn't a long one. She spent eight years on the city council, which has its offices just down the hall.
In her new digs, it's easy to hear the clanging bells of the light rail cars on the Metro Transit Blue Line that runs alongside the historic city hall building. The sound is a constant reminder that Hodges inherited an ongoing dispute over where to route the new Southwest Light Rail Transit line, which would run from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
The most recent plan would place the light rail line in the same corridor with the Kenilworth Recreational Trail between Cedar Lake and the Kenwood Neighborhood in the western side of the city. Because there's already a freight line running parallel to the trail, the light rail line would have to be buried in a tunnel for that stretch.
Hodges' concedes her own vision of attracting tens of thousands of new residents to the city will rely heavily on mass transit, but she won't support a plan that doesn't work for the city.
"We have concerns about the water table there," Hodges said, explaining why she's glad the Metropolitan Council decided to order a more in-depth study into the potential environmental impact of the proposed plan.
"I've said it before, I'm the mayor of the City of Lakes, not the mayor of the city of swamps."
At times, the dispute is viewed as a battle between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, which would be required to put up with high berms if the freight traffic is rerouted through that suburb.
"St. Louis Park is very, very busily and aggressively defending their city, and Minneapolis is doing the same, especially under Mayor Hodges," she said.
On the public safety front, Hodges says the city is moving quickly to get new officers in the pipeline, to replace the ones who'll be retiring.
"I wouldn't call it a hiring crisis. It would've been if we hadn't planned ahead," Hodges remarked.
"Minneapolis at our current staffing level? A very safe city. That's the message that everybody in the community needs to know and needs to hear."
But the next generation of officers will likely find their interactions captured on video, by body cameras, if Hodges can work out the details of a pilot project with Police Chief Janee Harteau.
"We find in cities that have implemented body cams is that complaints go down overall," Hodges explained.
"It actually helps officers because it can exonerate them, and it helps the community because it can help indict officers that step over the line."
Hodges said she wants the police department to continue the policy of neutrality when it comes to enforcement of federal immigration laws. Officers do not arrest undocumented immigrants who aren't suspected of other crimes. That "sanctuary city" policy has drawn the ire of conservative state lawmakers in the past.
"If people don't feel safe calling the police then we are a less safe city, and we need every resident to feel safe calling the police."