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In a contentious maneuver backed by fewer than half its members, the Minneapolis City Council on Wednesday all but killed the prospects for a rent control measure to appear on the ballot this year.

While the specific proposal had little chance of success, the death of the issue for this election cycle happened because three Muslim members were absent Wednesday in observance of the Eid al-Adha holiday, which added to the drama and spawned a roiling debate over accommodating the council members.

The vote appeared on the council agenda as a largely procedural task, referring the issue to a committee as it inched toward a potential ballot question for voters. There's never been enough agreement by council members and Mayor Jacob Frey on how strict of a policy should go before voters, so it's never been clear whether it would actually reach the November ballot.

Nevertheless, a majority of council members has supported pressing forward with the process. But with three council members in favor of rent control — Aisha Chughtai, Jamal Osman and Jeremiah Ellison — absent Wednesday, opponents suddenly had the ability to quash the question for at least this year.

The vote spiking the issue, via a parliamentary motion by Council Vice President Linea Palmisano, broke down like this:

  • Five council members voted to kill rent control on the November ballot: Michael Rainville, LaTrisha Vetaw, Lisa Goodman, Emily Koski, and Palmisano.
  • Four voted against killing it: Elliott Payne, Robin Wonsley, Jason Chavez, and Council President Andrea Jenkins.
  • Council Member Andrew Johnson abstained.

Minutes earlier, Johnson had voted with the same majority in a 6-4 vote that blocked the measure from advancing to committee, a damaging blow but not as fatal as the final vote.

The 5-4-1 vote effectively killed the measure this year because of the prescriptive calendar that must be followed for ballot questions. Even if someone tried to push a different rent control plan, there just wouldn't be enough time, City Clerk Casey Carl said.


That the already-hot topic of rent control could be infused with talk of religious insensitivity and bare-knuckled politics was a remarkable turn in a city where the primary political tension exists between those who consider themselves progressive and those who accuse them of not being progressive enough.

The City Council was scheduled more than a year ago to meet on Wednesday rather than the usual Thursday date, in order to accommodate the Eid al-Adha celebration, which was initially anticipated to begin Wednesday evening.

But the holiday, which is set based on the sighting of the moon, is subject to a degree of uncertainty that far out. It was only on June 18 that it became clear the four-day holiday would actually commence Tuesday evening.

According to Carl, the first time anyone raised a concern about Eid was on Monday — too late to change the date of the council meeting under state law. Carl apologized, but added that for years the city clerk's office has relied on council members to make it aware of religious or cultural conflicts.

"Islamophobia!" one person in the audience blurted out during the meeting. Such accusations raged on Twitter, while at the same time rent control opponents expressed relief the issue was off the table.

In a joint statement, Chughtai, Osman and Ellison underscored that the same language killed Wednesday was supported by a majority of council members last month. But they also complained that the council went ahead with the meeting despite the Eid holiday.

"It is a common practice for council leadership to reschedule meetings that conflict with major holidays," the statement read in part, adding: "Unfortunately, council leadership decided against using their authority to reschedule this meeting."

Jenkins and Palmisano strongly pushed back against the idea they weren't accommodating to council members, saying they had held discussions with the City Attorney's Office over options after learning of the conflict.

"It was a very long and winding conversation, and we really couldn't come up with a solution," Jenkins said after the vote.

Whether the issue could have been tabled, the agenda amended or an emergency meeting scheduled was unclear. No one proposed anything like that — including the council members who support rent control and who swiftly pounced on the religious element in play.

Election factor

The rent control ballot question that was killed Wednesday would have amounted to one of the strictest policies in the nation, mandating an annual 3% cap in rents with few exceptions.

That plan actually had little chance of ever making it to the voters; seven council members supported moving it along in the process, but Jenkins said she planned to amend it. Either way, Frey had said he'd veto such a plan, and nine members would be needed to override his veto.

Rent-control advocates, who appeared to have been caught off-guard by Wednesday's developments, vowed to keep pressing the issue.

"We are not done," said Ben Whalen, an organizer with Isaiah and Home to Stay, which supports strong rent control. But he didn't offer specifics Wednesday, saying only: "We will regroup."

Whalen and other rent control advocates have said for months they were hoping to negotiate with potential swing voters on the council — including Jenkins and Johnson — in hopes of reaching some compromise that was either amenable to Frey or capable of garnering nine council votes.

But council members backing the 3% plan decided last month to continue to push it, which made it ripe for defeat when the opportunity presented itself. Johnson, for example, has said he's open to other rent control possibilities, but not the 3% plan.

When asked whether housing advocates supported holding fast to the 3% plan, Whalen demurred. Council members, he said, "made the decision to start with [the 3% plan], whether we agreed or not."

Wonsley, one of the council members who voted against killing the measure, suggested the defeat should rally rent control proponents to the polls in November, when all 13 City Council seats will be on the ballot.

"I've got five words for the public: Take it to the ballot," she said.