By Charles Hallman
Minneapolis in a few weeks will see a new mayor and several new faces on the city council. Betsy Hodges was elected the city’s first White female mayor, and the election also achieved three other “firsts” — the first Somali (Abdi Warsame), the first Latina (Alondra Cano) and the first Hmong (Blong Yang) among seven new city council members.
“One of the things I think is awfully important is that the city government [now] really reflects the constituents that live in the city,” said Sharon Sayles Belton in an MSR interview. “We always questioned whether or not the wards would ever support us being able to elect more people of color to the city council or other units of government.
“It’s clear, given the changing demographics in Minneapolis and with the right political construct, it is absolutely possible. This has been the objective for residents [of color] for many years,” said Sayles Belton.
“Now that we absolutely have more people of color on the council, what do we do with that?” she asked. “It’s one thing to get people elected [and] another thing to hold them accountable. The community of voters needs to help shape those public
policies so that [officials] are indeed responsive.
“How do we build consensus for an agenda that will [serve] all of the residents of the City of Minneapolis: the very poor, the voiceless, the homeless, those people who are underemployed, [and] the children of our community? How are we going to use the power we now have?”
As the city’s first Black mayor and first female holding that position, Belton strongly suggests that city residents devise “a solid agenda about what we want to see changed in the City of Minneapolis” for the new mayor and newly constituted city council when they assume their elected seats next year. “It is in our power to change those things that haven’t worked in our lives and our communities,” she said. “I for one am looking forward to that.”
“I think Betsy brings a lot to the table,” added Turning Point CEO Peter Hayden, who also talked with the MSR. “I hope that she works hard to get a change [in City Hall] as far as people of color [are concerned]. It’s going to take some work.
“There are concerns with City Hall from the people of color that I know about,” said Hayden, citing past talk about working with the community that often was “forgotten.” “This is a great opportunity for her. It is not going to be easy, but it’s a great opportunity to turn things around there. I think the people of color, including women, that are coming there hopefully is going to [help] — it doesn’t have to be ‘my way or the highway’ as the only thing.”
Hayden believes the City can take a leadership role, representing all people, including communities of color, working together for change that the entire state could emulate. “We have a [new Vikings] stadium and a lot of industries being built,” noted Hayden. “Those are the concerns I have — education, jobs, and the reunification of families. I look forward to working with [Mayor-elect Hodges].”
Belton advised that Hodges assess what she heard on the campaign trail on citizens’ priority items “and go back out into the community and confirm that. I think it is really important to be in the conversation with the public [now that] the election is over,” she points out.
“And then prioritize [the items],” Belton continued. “You can’t do everything. Some things have to happen in logical order. Then [put together] an action plan. You’ve got to have it laid out in some detail. What is the most important next thing to do?
“But you have to get some buy-in from the public,” believes Belton. “The public has to be supportive in what’s [her] agenda. Otherwise it won’t get done.”
“I wish everybody the absolute best,” Belton said of the newly elected City officials. “The citizens of Minneapolis are counting on the mayor and the city council to be successful in positioning us for [a] brighter, stronger, prosperous future. Not [just] for some, but for everyone.”
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