MINNEAPOLIS - Some pundits are in some ways baffled that Mayor Betsy Hodges has such a tough fight on her hands as she seeks reelection. And as the Nov. 7 election approaches quickly, the race remains very much in the air.
In the years since Betsy Hodges took the oath of office, Minneapolis has seen a building boom, including the transformation of east downtown anchored by US Bank Stadium and the new Wells Fargo corporate campus.
"It's puzzling that Hodges is facing such a tough battle, considering how well the economy of the city has going the past four years," Professor Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs told KARE.
It's true, the Mill City had added more than 5,000 new jobs since 2013 and continues to be a magnet for millennials, something the local chamber of commerce and economic development agencies have often touted.
"It’s hard for an incumbent mayor to lose.They have a huge advantage," solar energy entrepreneur and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew told KARE.
Andrew, who was a first runner-up to Hodges in the 2013 mayoral race, predicts the mayor stands to benefit quite a bit from name recognition, especially in the city’s ranked-choice system which skips the traditional primary.
"It’s extremely hard when you go into a general election with 16 candidates, as opposed to two candidates," Andrew said.
But he added the caveat that the electorate may be in the mood for change.
"This year people are unhappy, not with the economy, but on the social issues. They’re very unhappy, and there’s a great deal of fomenting at the grassroots level."
There are 16 names on the ballot, and voters will be asked to name their top three choices in the instant runoff system.
Hodges’ top challengers include State Rep. Raymond Dehn, City Council Member Jacob Frey, former University of St. Thomas Law School professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, former Hennepin Theater Trust president Tom Hoch, longtime civil rights activist Al Flowers, and young filmmaker Aswar Rahman.
They're all looking to deny Hodges a second term.
Frey has captured the Minneapolis Star Tribune endorsement, which Hodges won in 2013. The newspaper listed Tom Hoch as its second choice. Both Frey and Hoch have amassed enough campaign contributions to advertise on television.
Rep. Dehn has been the surprise candidate, attracting many of the youthful activists who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary campaign. Levy-Pounds made a name for herself as the president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, and was fully emersed in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hodges in 2013 laid out a vision for a more equitable Minneapolis, and set out with an agenda of improving the lives of the youngest citizens through more access to quality child care and early childhood education.
But in 2015 she saw the city roiled by the officer-involved shooting death of an unarmed black man, Jamar Clark. The protests that followed, including the virtual siege of the Fourth Police Precinct headquarters, proved to be very divisive.
Those volatile days also laid bare underlying tensions between Hodges and then-Chief Janee Harteau. The murky circumstances that led to Clark's killing also intensified the pressure to the Minneapolis Police Dept. to move to body cameras.
Harteau and Hodges appeared to have smoothed things over until July 15th of this year, when Australian immigrant Justine Damond was shot to death by officer Mohamed Noor in southwest Minneapolis.
Hodges asked for -- and received -- Harteau’s resignation a week after Damond’s death. The City Council went along with Hodges's choice for new chief, Medaria Arrandondo, a 28-year department veteran and the city's first black chief.
Law enforcement has emerged as the top issue in the Minneapolis race, as candidates find themselves on the spectrum between police reform and bolstering police numbers.
"We can continue to spend money on addressing crime after they happen, or we can begin to invest money earlier in people’s lives so they can begin to bend that curve, of crime in Minneapolis," Rep. Dehn said during a recent forum.
Levy-Pounds said it's not just a matter of putting more police on the street, but cultural competency must play into it.
"You need a diverse corps of well-trained officers who are walking the beat, who know how to relate to young people, who know how to relate to those who are homeless."
But more recently Hodges opponents have pivoted to the issue of downtown safety, after a marked increase in gun violence downtown that included two incidents in which bystanders were injured by stray bullets.
"I spend a lot of time talking to people in this city, and when the subject of downtown safety comes up I hear people say to me, 'I don’t go downtown anymore because it’s too dangerous'," Hoch remarked. "That's unacceptable!"
Jacob Frey has also seized on the downtown safety issue, and has proposed a major increase in police presence there.
"You’ve got people standing in line to get pizza or waiting on the patio of a bar that are getting shot as bystanders, you’ve got a major problem!"
Rahman said he used to ride city buses to school, but would be afraid to in the current climate.
"We do not put our money where our mouth is, and as a result the neighborhoods where I grew up in are very difficult for us to walk through."
Hodges points out that MPD has 27 more sworn officers than it did when she took office in 2013, and that downtown violence has never been off her radar.
"The budget I delivered on Tuesday has $900,000 new dollars in for downtown safety, including $623,000 to pay for what was a pilot program to manage our late nights downtown."