Minneapolis residents might be less than eager to jump into campaign mode — especially after the emotional, divisive presidential contest the nation has just been through. Even so, it's not too early for voters to begin considering the issues that will likely frame this year's mayoral and City Council races.
In that spirit, the influential Minneapolis Downtown Council recently released a platform statement for the election cycle. The business organization lists public safety, an active and welcoming environment, and a competitive business climate as key downtown issues that candidates should address.
While numerous other city concerns merit discussion, we agree that serious candidates should have downtown high on their lists. As the council points out, downtown is an essential driver of the city's economic vitality. The city's heart contributes just over one-third of real estate tax revenue, and its residents, workers and visitors support a significant share of city sales tax and parking revenue. Minneapolis is experiencing a period of urban renaissance with a booming economy, record-setting levels of construction and a growing population.
Yet all of those attributes could be jeopardized if downtown is perceived as a dangerous, unwelcoming or economically hostile place to work, play and do business. And if Minneapolis becomes an island with higher business costs and more stringent regulations and mandates, it will lose businesses to more competitive cities.
Late last year, a group of downtown business leaders — including the council — sent a letter to DFL Mayor Betsy Hodges expressing dismay over "unchecked flagrant, aggressive and sometimes criminal behavior" downtown, and demanding that the city prepare to address the problem as soon as spring arrives. During the past two years, assaults, shootings, intimidating harassment and even running gun battles have made headlines.
In response, Hodges said she would start work on a downtown public safety plan after the budget's approval, which came in December. The budget includes funding for 15 additional police officers, mental health public safety responders, group violence intervention and community-driven safety strategies.
A working group led by Hodges and including Police Chief Janeé Harteau has promised to unveil a new public safety strategy in April — just as the mayor's re-election campaign heats up. Here's hoping her competitors will be prepared with their own visions for a safer, more vibrant downtown.
So far, four DFLers have announced that they will take on Hodges: state Rep. Raymond Dehn, City Council Member Jacob Frey, attorney and activist Nekima Levy-Pounds, and filmmaker and web designer Aswar Rahman.
Certainly other issues demand attention during the campaign, including education, street maintenance, the health of city neighborhoods and property taxes. But the Downtown Council has served its members and Minneapolis residents well by keeping the city's economic engine front and center as the race toward Nov. 7 begins.