Opinion editor's note:The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
By most measures, Minneapolis appeared well-positioned for success as 2020 began. The city boasted low unemployment, healthy business development and residential growth, and a remarkable building boom, especially downtown.
As in most American cities, COVID-19 changed that trajectory. Mayor Jacob Frey delivered his 2020 State of the City address via video at a quiet City Hall in a mostly emptied out downtown. The mayor warned residents that there would be difficult days ahead, but he could have had no idea just how challenging they would be.
Just a month later, police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on a Minneapolis street. The excruciating video of the murder shot by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier went viral, sparking days of protests that turned violent.
On the worst night, as a police precinct burned and hundreds of businesses were devastated, Frey seemed overmatched. He would later blame Gov. Tim Walz, who he said initially hesitated to activate the National Guard, while state officials countered that the city had failed to make a detailed request. In fact, both city and state officials were ill-prepared to handle a crisis they should have anticipated the minute they watched Frazier's video.
But the defining moment in Frey's first term came a few days later, when he met protesters who had gathered at his home to demand that he defund the Police Department. To his enduring credit, Frey refused to be intimidated. The next day, nine City Council members said they would begin working toward defunding the department.
The public safety debate continues to preoccupy Minneapolis today, as voters decide whether to re-elect Frey to a second term. The Star Tribune Editorial Board strongly recommends that they do so.
Minneapolis needs a mayor who will make public safety and police reform coequal priorities. That means protecting residents, workers and visitors from both criminals and bad cops — eliminating the kind of abhorrent policing that came to light this week with the release of 2020 body camera footage. It means demanding that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo transform the culture of his department while giving him the resources he desperately needs to protect and serve. And it might mean, depending on the outcome of the election, standing up to a City Council with other ideas.
"I haven't caved," Frey told the Editorial Board this month. "I've refused to compromise on what I feel is best for Minneapolis."
This is a high-stakes election creating many uncertainties. Will voters gamble and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety — with leadership and structure to be determined at a later date? Will they finally end the city's unusual and often dysfunctional "weak mayor, strong council" system of governance? Will they elect a council with a majority of serious-minded representatives or one controlled by the ideological passions of activists?
The future of the state's largest and most valuable city is at risk. Minneapolis will follow one of two paths. It can let itself be guided toward prudent reforms by traditional progressive values, or it can go in reckless pursuit of radical visions detached from reality.
Wiser from a difficult first term and unwilling to accept rising violent crime rates as inevitable for Minneapolis, Frey continues to oppose City Question 2 and dismantling the Police Department, as does the Star Tribune Editorial Board. Also like the board, he supports the governance measure, City Question 1, and opposes the potentially harmful rent control authority sought by advocates of City Question 3.
Frey, 40, told the Editorial Board that he wants to build on his often overlooked first-term accomplishments. He's committed to increasing the city's supply of affordable housing and has made it a budget priority. He has championed the "Stable Home Stable Schools" initiative — a public-private effort to keep public school students in their homes.
He and Arradondo have teamed up to strengthen the Police Department's body camera practices, overhaul its use-of-force policy and ban warrior-style training. Frey established the Office of Violence Prevention in his first budget and is committed to youth violence intervention. He wants to increase the number of mental health responders available to answer calls.
Although Frey has consistently stood up to those City Council members who have tried to cut funding for policing, the number of sworn officers has fallen to a dangerous low of around 665 now on the payroll. Prior to Floyd's murder, the mayor pushed to raise the authorized number to 900 — still a low number for a city the size of Minneapolis.
How best to ensure public safety is one of several critical issues that clearly distinguishes Frey from two of his main competitors, former three-term DFL state legislator and Minneapolis resilience officer Kate Knuth, and community organizer and policy analyst Sheila Nezhad. (The board also interviewed challengers Clint Conner and Mark Globus, while candidate AJ Awed was invited but did not participate in that session.)
Knuth, 40, and Nezhad, 33, both support the Question 2 plan to remove the Police Department from the city charter and replace it with a Department of Public Safety. It is more confusing than reassuring that Knuth adds she would push to fund a police force of about 770 officers within that new structure "for at least two years," while Nezhad insists she would spend more on public safety than any other candidate in the race.
Knuth has not taken a position on the city's governance structure, while Nezhad opposes the proposed change to a strong-mayor system. Both support the rent control measure.
Frey, Knuth and Nezhad each believe the city must do more to address climate change, and all three rightly emphasize that the city needs a renewed focus on economic inclusion and racial justice.
These three candidates also share sincerity, intelligence and a love of Minneapolis. In urging Frey's re-election, the Editorial Board is focused not on personal differences but on the importance of the city choosing the sensible path forward. On the most vital immediate issues, Frey offers the better course.
Minneapolis is at a crossroads, with a declining national reputation and too little support at the State Capitol. But even more critically, the next mayor will need to help heal a city deeply scarred by the events of 2020 and lead a recovery from a public health crisis that continues today.
The Editorial Board believes Jacob Frey has the skills and experience necessary to meet those challenges.
For more on the other candidates in the Minneapolis mayoral race, see the Star Tribune newsroom's voter's guide at strib.mn/3ozmg6R. To read all of our endorsements, go to startribune.com/package-opinion-endorsements/.