In Minneapolis, Liberal Isn’t Good Enough for the Left

“The Trump dystopia is clearly motivating people to do something, and at the local level that means running for office, even against your own party.”
by | August 2017
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges (AP)

Municipal elections in Minneapolis were seen as a triumph for fresh faces and diversity back in 2013, with mayoral winner Betsy Hodges leading a parade of new talent into city hall. Her victory was counted as a defeat for the party machine that had long dominated city politics.

That was then. As she seeks re-election this year, Hodges faces numerous challengers who complain that she hasn’t been progressive enough. “Some of our most marginalized and vulnerable populations have been neglected by the city government, including our mayor,” says Nekima Levy-Pounds, a former NAACP official running against Hodges.

The field also includes Jacob Frey, a member of the city council, state Rep. Raymond Dehn and businessman Tom Hoch. With the exception of Hoch, Hodges’ main challengers are all running to her left. “You’ve got this progressive mayor with a booming city,” says Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, “and she’s vulnerable.”

Hodges is not alone. The city council is made up of 12 Democrats and one member of the Green Party. It would be considered a highly progressive body nearly anywhere else. Yet several city council members -- including some associated with Paul Wellstone, the late U.S. senator who was a liberal icon in the 1990s -- are also being challenged. “They are definitely coming from the left,” says John Quincy, a Hodges ally on the city council.

Antipathy toward President Trump has energized Democrats, who are sending money to new activist groups that, in turn, are promoting more ardently progressive candidates. “The Trump dystopia is clearly motivating people to do something,” writes Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin, “and at the local level that means running for office, even against your own party.”

Alida Tieberg, Hodges’ campaign spokeswoman, notes that the mayor pushed through Minnesota’s first paid sick leave requirement and has promoted reforms in police practices, such as implicit bias and de-escalation training. Hodges was also on board with a $15-an-hour-minimum-wage requirement that passed this summer.

But none of this is enough to mollify the mayor’s critics, who say she’s shifted positions on the minimum wage and failed to support a proposal to require employers to give workers more notice about schedule changes. Hodges’ oversight of the police has also been widely criticized, especially after a high-profile shooting in 2015 that led to an 18-day occupation of a precinct house. And her opponents say she isn’t visible or engaged enough. Hodges’ predecessor, R.T. Rybak, was the sort of mayor who seemed to show up at every fire at 2 a.m. with a box of doughnuts. Hodges cuts much less of a visible figure around the city.

Her missteps -- and a general sense of dissatisfaction among progressives -- mean the mayor could be defeated at a time when her city is thriving. “Among her friends, there’s a concern that there’s blood in the water,” Jacobs says. “She’s vulnerable, and it’s a question of who’s going to beat her.”