When the dust settled after Minneapolis' Nov. 7 city election, progressives on the City Council had snatched the majority from a more moderate bloc, despite local business interests spending big bucks to prevent it.
In the lead-up to the election this year, All of Mpls raised about $900,000, more than four times as much as Minneapolis for the Many brought in during the same period. But for the most part, that fundraising success did not translate to a landslide of Election Day victories.
While all five incumbents endorsed by All of Mpls — Council Members Michael Rainville, LaTrisha Vetaw, Andrea Jenkins, Emily Koski and Linea Palmisano — won re-election, the three newcomers it backed lost their races.
Meanwhile, four out of five Minneapolis for the Many candidates (Jeremiah Ellison, Aurin Chowdhury, Katie Cashman and Aisha Chughtai) won election. The fifth — newcomer Soren Stevenson — came just 38 votes shy of unseating two-term Council President Jenkins, a key ally of Mayor Jacob Frey. In the end, it was enough for progressive-aligned candidates to capture a seven-seat majority, potentially shifting future council decisions on big issues like rent control and police funding.
Chelsea McFarren, a former city employee who founded Minneapolis for the Many this year, said she believes messaging from the candidates aligned with the rival moderate group focused too much on "fear mongering" and "divisive thinking" — and that voters were looking for something more optimistic.
"People want candidates that are hopeful and have visions for our communities," McFarren said.
All of Mpls chair Karin Birkeland, a retired lawyer involved in the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, disagreed.
"We are passionate about having Minneapolis have a vibrant, healthy and safe future for people to live and work in, and I would not to say that that is a fear-based policy or belief," she said.
Birkeland noted that turnout this year was low; just under 32% of registered voters in Minneapolis cast ballots this year, compared with 54% in 2021, when council seats were on the ballot with a mayor's race, contentious ballot measures, and other races.
It's not clear yet how the new council majority may set the agenda of policy-making in Minneapolis. But the success of the progressive group is a notable shift from two years ago.
All of Mpls was created that year to support efforts to re-elect Frey and defeat a ballot question that would have replaced the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety in the city charter.
Backers worried that national funds were pouring money into Yes 4 Minneapolis, the campaign fueling the policing ballot amendment, Birkeland said.
"There was a dramatic stand to defund the police during a time of increased crime and terrible turmoil in our city," she said. "It was very, very scary to many of us that money was coming from all over the country."
After voters rejected the ballot measure, All of Mpls turned to other efforts, spending nearly $14,000 to aid Ryan Winkler's unsuccessful bid for Hennepin County attorney in 2022. For this year's election, it supported a deep bench of council candidates aligned with the mayor.
The newer Minneapolis for the Many was founded this year by McFarren, who formerly oversaw the city's homeless encampment response team — and disagreed with the approach of withholding sanitation services from encampments and using police to shut them down. She was ultimately fired, and she turned her attention to a new goal: helping to elect a more progressive council.
The committee's founding treasurer was Luke Mielke, a member of the Twin Cities chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, which — along with the DFL — endorsed several Minneapolis for the Many candidates.
Who spent money
University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson, said $900,000 from one group in a low-turnout local election is a lot of money. And in an off-year election like this one, when contributions to all candidates totaled not much more than $1 million, it can make an even bigger impact, she said.
"Political science research doesn't necessarily show that money buys votes, but it does show that money buys access to politicians," Pearson said.
This election season, there was a crossfire of accusations about "outside" — or non-local — funders of All of Mpls vs. Minneapolis for the Many. While only city residents can vote in municipal elections, campaign money can come from virtually anywhere. Most donors were local: About 79% of All of Mpls' disclosed donors were Minneapolis residents, and several others were suburbanites who do business in the city. About 81% of Minneapolis for the Many's donors resided in Minneapolis.
All of Mpls' largest donors were the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, which gave $150,000, and Bloomington-based Minnesota Multi Housing Association, a landlord group, which gave $90,000.
"Over the course of the last three election cycles in Minneapolis specifically, we've taken a much more active role in in funding and participating in the election process," said Chamber CEO Jonathan Weinhagen. "Increasingly, the policy decisions that are being made at the local level are having really significant impacts on our ability to grow businesses here."
Minneapolis for the Many's top contributors were Massachusetts-based Movement Voter PAC (a national clearinghouse for Democratic causes), which gave $60,000, and St. Paul-based Faith in Minnesota, the political arm of the progressive interfaith group ISAIAH, which gave $40,000.
ISAIAH spokeswoman JaNae' Bates, who had led Yes 4 Minneapolis communications in 2021, said "defunding the police" was not the issue that moved voters this year. Rather, the progressive candidates they supported talked about climate, rent, wages and infrastructure.
"The work that Faith in Minnesota does and continues to do is actually have real people ... organizing in the places where they live," she said.
No single council candidate raised as much money as the All of Mpls and Minneapolis for the Many political groups. But on average, the individual campaigns of the centrists aligned with All of Mpls also out-raised the progressives aligned with Minneapolis for the Many.
Whether the two groups look for a rematch in the next council election, in 2025, is unclear. McFarren said she will be involved in local politics until there's a new mayor. Birkeland said All of Mpls has not yet decided whether to participate in future elections.