Nearly half of likely Minneapolis voters want to increase mayoral authority over the city's daily operations, even though support specifically for Mayor Jacob Frey has waned over the past year, according to a new Minnesota Poll.
The poll showed about one-third of residents had a favorable view of Frey; one-third were unfavorable and the rest had no opinion on his performance, according to the poll sponsored by the Star Tribune, KARE, MPR and FRONTLINE.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis residents hold an unfavorable view of the Minneapolis City Council. The 13-member body has many new members who have had to govern through a global pandemic and contend with a surge in crime and deadly violence across the city.
Frey's approval showed a marked decline from the 50% favorable opinion the mayor received in a similar poll from August 2020, shortly after the police killing of George Floyd, days of violent rioting, and a majority of council members' pledge to end the Police Department. The events forced Minneapolis into a political quagmire that has left the mayor and council members fighting for their political survival in the final weeks leading up to Election Day on Nov. 2.
Lauryn Williams, a 21-year-old political science major and renter, dislikes Frey partly because of his opposition to proposals that would allow the city to impose restrictions on rent increases.
She believes criticism of the mayor has intensified since Floyd's murder, when Frey swiftly fired the four officers involved but objected to proposals to defund or disband the Police Department, making national news for getting ejected from a crowd of protesters chanting "Shame!"
"I just don't think that, at least in the circles, the social groups, that I'm a part of, he has a very positive image right now," Williams said.
The mayor said he is not surprised by the poll results during his first term.
"I've got 16 opponents coming from the left and the right, all of whom criticize the same decision for a different reason," Frey said in response to the poll results. "There's been a number of heavy decisions I've had to make over this last year and a half. Not every decision is going to be popular and that's the burden of leadership."
While Frey has faced criticism for not supporting a proposal to replace the Police Department with a department of public safety, the mayor retains the support of a majority of Black residents, according to the poll.
Voters' approval of the City Council also declined. Last summer, more residents than not had a favorable view of the city's 13 ward representatives. This fall, the results have virtually flipped with nearly half of voters expressing dissatisfaction. Most council members have advocated for proposals to defund or disband the police department in the wake of Floyd's killing. But the Minnesota Poll results on police staffing appear to show that may be out of step with a strong majority of residents, especially Black residents, who do not want fewer officers.
"Legislative bodies tend to have lower favorability in general," Council President Lisa Bender said in response to the poll results. Already, Bender said, she has witnessed a concerted campaign that is "very unfairly attacking the council."
Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., surveyed 800 registered Minneapolis voters by phone between Sept. 9 and 13 who indicated they were likely to vote in the November city election. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll surveyed an additional 343 Black voters in Minneapolis who indicated they are likely to vote in November, for a total of 500 interviews with a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. This "oversample" allows for a more direct comparison of the responses of white and Black voters, with similar margins of sampling error.
Despite cooling feelings toward Frey, voters indicated strong support for granting the mayor of Minneapolis more authority over the city's daily operations and narrowing the City Council's powers to legislative work, such as writing ordinances and approving budgets.
The question of whether to amend the city's charter to move Minneapolis into a "strong mayor" form of government in line with most other cities, including St. Paul, is presented to voters on this year's ballot.
At the same time, slightly more voters than not said they would sooner trust the City Council to decide the fate of the Police Department than the mayor.
A separate ballot question asks voters whether they want to amend the city charter to allow officials to replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, which would not be subject to "exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance and command."
The poll was conducted before a state Supreme Court ruling Thursday evening that finalized language on the policing ballot question.
Frey was stumped on residents' dissonance on mayoral power, saying he would "leave that to the political pundits" to figure out.
Bender speculated that if voters approve both apparently contradicting charter amendments, the results will heavily depend on whether voters elect a mayor who is more ideologically aligned with the council, or if Frey is reelected.
"I predict we will see a much more divided government, with significant problems," she said of a scenario in which Frey is officially named "chief executive" of the city, but then he and the City Council have to share control of policing.
Al Porter, a 61-year-old retiree from the Nokomis neighborhood, called Frey the best of all mayoral candidates, some of whom he believes are idealists who will be ill-prepared to deal with the city's "out-of-control" crime.
"I don't trust the City Council to do my laundry," Porter said. "They have consistently demonized the police over the past year and a half, especially Chief [Medaria] Arradondo. He's hung in there. I've watched some of the meetings online, and they just gang up on this guy. They think he's getting too much money and in fact the opposite is true. He needs more money to attract more officers and more money for the training they need."
This story is part of a collaboration with FRONTLINE, the PBS series, through its Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Susan Du • 612-673-4028