In contests so close that their outcomes stretched into Wednesday, Minneapolis City Council incumbents won some and lost some as they faced activist challengers.
By the time the vote-counting dust cleared, the 13-member council had five new faces, a makeup that is expected to steer the body in a more progressive direction and change its leadership dynamics.
The biggest upset came in north Minneapolis' Fourth Ward, where Phillipe Cunningham unseated Barb Johnson, who has been council president since 2006. Also on the North Side, Jeremiah Ellison beat Council Member Blong Yang.
Across the city, Jeremy Schroeder beat two-term Council Member John Quincy, winning a seat in south Minneapolis' 11th Ward. Steve Fletcher won the Third Ward seat vacated by Jacob Frey, who won the race for mayor.
Election results trickled in throughout the afternoon, capping a long, divisive campaign season that often pitted establishment Democrats against first-time candidates with activist backgrounds. Winners said Wednesday the upsets were a sign Minneapolis residents are ready for change at City Hall.
"There's just been a yearning in government to really bring it back to the people," Schroeder said.
Council members Alondra Cano and Kevin Reich won re-election Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening vote tabulators named Council Member Abdi Warsame the winner by a narrow margin in the Sixth Ward, which spans a portion of Franklin Avenue and Cedar-Riverside.
Challenger Mohamud Noor charged on Facebook that Warsame's campaign violated Election Day and campaigning laws. Noor said he will "fight to make sure every vote is counted, and the numerous irregularities that were reported are fully investigated."
Most incumbent wins were called Tuesday night — Council Members Lisa Goodman, Cam Gordon, Andrew Johnson, Linea Palmisano and Lisa Bender all won re-election in landslide victories.
Incumbents who lost their seats Wednesday expressed anxiety over what the future might hold.
"It just concerns me because it's an unknown," said Quincy, a former marketing consultant. "I think some of the stability that we have in the city and some of the directions that we've been able to set for the last — really — 16 years could change."
But among the supporters of activist candidates, the mood was optimistic.
"I think we now have enough in terms of just numerical advantage on the council, that we really can put forward some big, bold ideas," said Anthony Newby, executive director of advocacy group Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC). "We now have a chance to actually put forward some of the most progressive and forward-thinking ideas in the country."
Both Cunningham and Fletcher were trailing late Tuesday, but pulled ahead Wednesday after second- and third-choice votes were counted.
Minneapolis uses ranked-choice voting, in which voters can list up to three choices for council member. The process involves eliminating the lowest-ranking candidates and reallocating their supporters' second- and third-choice votes.
Fletcher's win over Socialist Alternative candidate Ginger Jentzen, who garnered the most first-choice votes on Tuesday night, was the first example in Minneapolis of ranked-choice votes changing the initial leader of a major race in the city.
Fletcher is a tech consultant and former NOC executive director.
"Now I get to relax and watch the results come in to find out who my colleagues are going to be," Fletcher said Wednesday afternoon, as he gathered with supporters at Day Block Brewing Company.
The Third Ward race, which also included candidates Samantha Pree-Stinson and Tim Bildsoe, was among several across the city that drew attention from Minneapolis Works, a Democrat-funded PAC tied to the downtown business community.
The group made a final push in recent weeks to derail far-left candidates, including Jentzen, and bolster incumbents including Quincy, Reich, Goodman and Barb Johnson.
Those efforts backfired. Candidates quickly tried to distance themselves from Minneapolis Works, saying they hadn't asked for the group's support.
Johnson disavowed the group after it sent out a mailing in support of her campaign that displayed photos altered to include a black mother and child, when the original picture was of a white woman and white child.
Downtown Council President and CEO Steve Cramer, one of the group's leaders, said Wednesday's results weren't what he'd hoped for. He was hesitant to say whether Minneapolis Works may have hindered Johnson's campaign.
Johnson's loss "is a very sad result in my mind," Cramer said. "But what caused it ... I just don't have a feel for it."
A new direction
Many of the newly elected council members were with their families on Wednesday, celebrating their success, reflecting on their campaigns and planning for the coming year.
Cunningham spent the day with his husband, writing thank-you cards to donors and expressing thanks.
"When I found out, it was just this feeling of overwhelming gratitude that folks in my community were willing to take a chance on me," he said.
With his win, Cunningham unseated the most powerful council member and ended a Fourth Ward dynasty — Barb Johnson's family has held the seat for nearly half a century.
Cunningham is the second transgender person elected to the City Council. The first, Andrea Jenkins, was elected Tuesday night in the open Eighth Ward.
Johnson said she was surprised Tuesday that the Fourth Ward race was so close — a result she attributed to higher-than-usual voter turnout. By the time the race was called Wednesday afternoon, she was expecting the loss.
"The theme of 'time for a change' echoed with voters," Johnson said. "And the voters spoke."
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732