Jacob Frey is the first elected Minneapolis mayor to preside under the new “strong mayor” model of city government. It took effect last December, about a month after voters approved a change in the previous governing structure, in which much of the policymaking and executive authority was shared between the city council and the mayor. The exception to that power-sharing is the mayor’s singular authority over the police department.
Mayor Frey recently talked with the MSR in his City Hall office. Our interview with the mayor took place before the Department of Justice report released on June 16, which found that the Minneapolis Police Department routinely engaged in racist and abusive behavior against Black and Native Americans.
“We campaigned hard to get this new system,” Frey said of his expanded authority. “I think it’s probably the most important accomplishment that I’ll ever have in public service,” said Frey. “The full rollout takes longer, because we’ve got 100 years worth of culture that is built into the bricks and mortar of City Hall just because the law just changed. It’ll take a while.”
The new city government structure features four officials who report directly to the mayor—the city operations officer, the community safety commissioner, the city attorney and the mayor’s chief of staff. In addition, Frey’s administration created two new offices—public service and community safety.
“This is a seismic shift,” continued Frey. “It allows us to have more of a clear delineation of authority. I think it’s working.”
Two significant hires by the mayor—MPD Police Chief Brian O’Hara last November and Dr. Cedric Alexander as community safety commissioner last summer—are key to implementing the new structure. “Chief O’Hara is working his tail off to make sure that he’s building out positive relations in the community,” stated Frey. “We’ve got a commissioner [Alexander] who’s charged with coordinating the effort and is working his tail off. I think we’re making some really good progress.”
On police-community relations, the mayor said, “It is not a destination but an ongoing journey. I do think we’ve made some very significant improvements. Building trust between police and the communities that they’re charged with protecting and serving, this is what they said that they were going to do.
“Reforms are happening,” said Frey. “Policy changes have already been made. Many of them are now in the process of being installed to reduce the muscle memory of police officers. I feel that the programs have happened, and I’m optimistic.”
In early June, the mayor led local media on a walking tour of Nicollet Mall to promote the “Vibrant Downtown Storefronts Workgroup” recommendations intended to help revitalize downtown. We asked Frey about North Minneapolis, particularly the West Broadway corridor. In recent months, the area has seen the loss of a grocery store and a pharmacy, and several other businesses have left the Northside since 2020.
“While we can’t dictate what the private sector does, we can help advocate and heavily influence,” stated Frey. “The day after we learned of the closure of the grocery store, I had the [building] owners in my office. I’m confident we’re going to be able to get a grocery store back, and we’re gonna work our tails off to get there.
“West Broadway is on the verge of a renaissance. There are some really great things that are happening on West Broadway and in North Minneapolis right now that we’ve never seen before.”
Even before the pandemic, the city has doubled down on its commitment to economic recovery, according to Mayor Frey. Through his annual budget and using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress in 2021, “Minneapolis has invested millions into small businesses, especially on East Lake Street and West Broadway,” noted the mayor.
He added that the city invested $2 million in the Ownership and Opportunity Fund to provide opportunities for BiPOC business owners. “We often talk about equity in a social sense. There’s also racial equity in the business sense. When you have equity that’s being able to have a stake in the decision making process…we need both the social equity and the business equity.”
Frey was reelected as Minneapolis mayor with over 56 percent of the vote in 2021. Now, nearly midway through his second term, we asked his final thoughts on his standing with the city’s Black community.
“First, I’ll say, as mayor you will get hit from every single different angle. But I have felt we have had a really close relationship with the Black community. No community is a monolith. What has been inspirational is the resilience and talent of the Black community over these last several years.
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“We’ve had broad support, specifically from North Minneapolis. I appreciate it personally, how important that coalition is to getting things done.
“We have a whole lot of work to do,” he said. “Our city has seen tough times over these last couple of years. But I think we’re coming out in the right trajectory.”