Mar 5, 2021 - News
Why more people aren't running for Minneapolis mayor
Sheila Nezhad (left) and Kate Knuth (center) are challenging Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
Sheila Nezhad (left) and Kate Knuth (center) are challenging Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Photos: Submitted and Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey so far has just two serious opponents in his bid for re-election, ex-state Rep. Kate Knuth and community organizer Sheila Nezhad.

Context: In the past two elections, the field was much deeper.

  • When Frey beat incumbent Betsy Hodges in 2017, competition included three elected officials, the president of the Hennepin Theater Trust and the former president of the Minneapolis NAACP.
  • Five current or former elected officials ran in 2013, plus an attorney with a strong campaign.

State of play: It's not hard to see why people aren't lining up to run. The balance of powers between the mayor and City Council can make governing difficult. A public health crisis, rising crime and being ground zero in the debate over the future of policing has created more challenges than ever.

  • Activists in the past year have also protested outside the homes of county attorney Mike Freeman, then-police union president Bob Kroll and City Council president Lisa Bender, who pledged to defund the police.
  • "The trend toward harassing people's family at their homes has crossed a hideous line that I think would have made me question whether I would want to subject and endanger my family," former Mayor R.T. Rybak told us.

Of note: Moderates so far have stayed on the sideline. Former Northside City Council and School Board member Don Samuels considered a run, but told us he's 72 and didn't want to weaken Frey's chances.

  • "For the sake of the city, it is not a good time to challenge the person holding the fort on sensible police policy," Samuels said.

Flashback: Frey looked highly vulnerable following civil unrest last May. He faced heat for his handling of the riots and a video of activists booing him over opposition to abolishing MPD went viral.

We asked Frey in late January why he still wanted the job. He acknowledged the difficult task of reforming MPD.

  • "We can create change, we will create change, we have to see that deep structural change. I don't view the issue of police reform and deep structural change as optional," he said.

Bottom line: It’s possible more strong candidates jump into the race before the Aug. 10 deadline, but the clock is ticking to raise the money.

  • Frey's campaign already had $233,000 on hand at the end of the year.

This story first appeared in the Axios Twin Cities newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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