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New Mayor Hollies Winston has a long list of ways he wants to improve Brooklyn Park, from addressing crime and boosting economic development to improving conditions for renters and creating opportunities for youth.

But Winston, who was elected the city's first Black mayor in November, says there is one priority that trumps them all: building relationships.

"That will have to be something we are successful with," said Winston, 42. "You have voices of residents that need to be heard. That has to be there."

That work begins with the City Council, Winston said. With four new faces on the seven-member body, Winston said he's hoping for the collaboration needed to make the diverse north metro suburb run efficiently and deliver high-quality services to residents.

"We have a golden opportunity for us to set the tone," he said. Residents "don't want opposition where we can't work out issues."

There are plenty of issues to tackle.

A top priority is crime. Last year, Brooklyn Park had 116 shots-fired calls that resulted in four deaths and 27 injuries, according to police data posted online. There were also 940 assaults, 814 reports of vandalism and damage to property and 403 motor vehicle thefts, the data showed.

Another issue is housing. Winston said the city needs to develop short- and long-term plans to repair crumbling apartment infrastructure, specifically the troubled Huntington Place Apartments off Zane Avenue. He also wants to invest in affordable housing.

All of this will take money and planning, Winston said. Brooklyn Park is the state's sixth-largest city with about 85,000 residents but has only about $2 billion in commercial property — far less than similar-sized cities such as Bloomington and Maple Grove. Commercial property generates tax revenue the city needs to generate more economic development and cover rising costs.

"Only so much of that can fall on residents," said Winston, who previously served on Brooklyn Park's Budget Advisory Committee. "We will price seniors and young families out."

Winston, who has lived in Brooklyn Park for 18 years with his wife, Latrice, and three children, ran in a special mayoral election in 2021 but lost by just two votes to Lisa Jacobson. He ran again in November and defeated Wynfred Russell, a former City Council member. Winston won by 19 percentage points, receiving more than 14,000 votes.

Winston formerly ran Guaranteed America, a small-business advocacy firm that worked to support minority-owned businesses. During that time, he built relationships with community members as well as other mayors and leaders at the State Capitol — something he plans to continue.

"Watching Hollies mentor young men and women from the community is inspiring," said Rep. Melissa Hortman, the DFL Speaker of the House, who lives in Brooklyn Park and endorsed Winston for mayor. "He's been working to build community for a very long time. He's kind and has a gentle soul. I think he's a great listener."

Winston said his first month as mayor have been like "drinking from a firehose," with lots of information coming at him as he learns the ropes. The learning curve included a trip to Washington, D.C., in December, where Winston and City Manager Jay Stroebel were among leaders from 12 other U.S. cities invited to the White House to meet with President Joe Biden and discuss the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, public safety and affordable housing.

"[Biden] made clear the resources available at the federal level," Winston said. "Having that connection to the pipeline is important."

Winston said he has not made too much of becoming Brooklyn Park's first Black mayor — the city has only had 13 previous mayors. Winning the election, he said, was really about being seen by voters as the person who could do the job and connect with the citizens of Brooklyn Park, where nearly 50% the population is Black, Asian or Hispanic.

"You can have an impact because you are accessible," Winston said. "They have to feel there is a mayor who genuinely cares at a personal level."