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Minneapolis leaders tout unity, healing

New city council president, returning mayor pledge a new era of healing and unity in city battered by unrest, crime and conflict over policing.

MINNEAPOLIS — On Inauguration Day 2022, Minneapolis' reshuffled lineup of leaders voiced hope for the coming year and a resolve to mend the wounds of a bruising election season and two years of traumatizing events.

"I really think that we as a council have an opportunity to help our community come together, to heal, to understand each other, to really stand in solidarity and allyship with each other," newly minted Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins told her colleagues during an organizational meeting.

The council voted unanimously to select Jenkins as president, making her the first openly transgender person to lead the city's governing body. With the election of seven new members the council, for the first time ever, has a majority of who identify as persons of color.

"We have been handed a baton. And our charge is to carry forth the work initiated by our predecessors and leave the city better than it was when we were elevated to this awesome task," Jenkins remarked.

Leaders are already under pressure to take action on rent control, now that voters have amended the city charter to give the city council the power to regulate rent on private residential properties. The city council majority announced plans to create a working group to study rent stabilization, a group that will include the mayor, council members, department heads and citizens.

Five council members abstained from that vote, and appeared Monday at a rally outside the convention center to advocate for a plan that would cap rent increases at 3% per year and bar landlords from exceeding that limit as apartments change hands from one tenant to another.

Those members -- Jeremiah Ellison, Aisha Chughtai, Elliot Payne, Jason Chavez and Robin Wonsley Worlobah -- said the need to protect tenants from huge rent hikes is urgent. They vowed not to accept any plan that allows more than a 3% annual increase.

Because of redistricting, the new council members are serving two-year terms this time, and will have the opportunity run for a four-year term in the fall of 2023.

The tasks ahead will be challenging and would be even without the uncertainty the pandemic has brought the world. Leaders have to mend a city that is divided over policing, and in the need to rapidly replenish the ranks of police department after hundreds of officers took indefinite leave for post traumatic stress disorder.

Many of those officers blamed their PTSD on the stress of battling rioters and protesters in the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd while in police custody. Many businesses are still waiting for the aid they need to rebuild in commercial corridors that were devastated by rioters who set fire to buildings in the days after Floyd's murder.

Mayor Jacob Frey, who was sworn in for his second four-year term Monday, also gave a message that blended confidence in the city's resilience and the need for unity.

"Minneapolis is coming back," Frey told the convention center audience, which was limited to family members and some staff due to COVID protocols.

"We will rebound in fine form. Will it be difficult? Yes it will. But we are up to the challenge, because our city does not quit."

The mayor acknowledged deep divisions remain in the city's political circles, and conceded not every council vote will be unanimous in the next two years.

"Any individual success is dependent on our ability to work together as a team. We have every reason, every incentive to serve as a united front in the challenges that lie ahead."

Council President Jenkins, who is a poet, recited a new poem after being elected president of the council. She called it "We Will Heal" based on the "We Will Prevail" poem Nikki Giovanni recited at the 2007 memorial service for the victims of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

Some excerpts of Jenkins' poem include:

We are Minneapolis. We are George Floyd Square.

We are still grieving. We are constantly retraumatized.

Can you say Daunte Wright? We will continue to grieve as we build.

We will not forget. We are nurturing our hearts. 

We are George Floyd Square. We are Minneapolis.

We are strong enough to shed tears.

We are brave to enough to change the world,

And tender enough to spread love.

It’s the southside way.

We are George Floyd Square. We are Minneapolis. 

We are Black Visions Collective, All 4 Minneapolis, Yes for Minneapolis, Neighbors for More Neighbors, Justice for Jamar and Justine,

Standing up for Racial Justice and Humanize My Hoodie, sprinkled with a little Black Excellence.

We will reimagine, reconcile and repair the harms of the past.

We are stronger than we know. And yet, we know we've got a lot of work to do.

We are skeptical and optimistic. Exuberant and pragmatic.

We will continue to invest in our youth and the future. 

Through the fear and the fury, through the joy and the pain.

We are Minneapolis. We are George Floyd Square.

We will heal. We will heal. We will heal.

We are George Floyd Square. We are Minneapolis.

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