First order of business: addressing the racial achievement gap
By Charles Hallman
Betsy Hodges remarked last week that she doesn’t recall ever before meeting in the small den-like room on the third floor of City Hall. However, the room and the area it’s located in will become hers in a couple of weeks. The soon-to-be-former city council member will be sworn in on January 2, 2014 as the city’s second-ever female mayor.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to talk to you and the community through your newspaper,” said Hodges during a December 10 interview with the MSR. “I campaigned consistently on two main things. One of them is building this city, and the second is closing the gaps that divide us racially and economically.”
Hodges said her “two main pieces of business” include the seemingly widening achievement gap between Blacks and other students in the city’s public schools. She said she is “going to be starting that work very early in the agenda.”
She announced her intention to create a “cradle-to-K cabinet” and “cradle-to-K initiative” focusing on pre-natal and early childhood education among children ages one to three. “That is the first opportunity gap the child faces,” she explained. “As mayor, one of the roles I will get to play is providing leadership on moving our educational system foraward for all kids.”
Hodges said she plans to meet soon with Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. “She and I talked a couple of times over the course of the last year, and I want to make sure that she and I get an opportunity to talk [again] relatively quickly.”
The Minneapolis mayor-elect last week spoke on several other topics as well.
On improving police-community relations: “I have already found the funding for a body camera [pilot] program in the City of Minneapolis,” stated Hodges. “Body cameras on police officers have been very successful elsewhere at decreasing the number of [police misconduct] claims overall and getting better outcomes on the claims that are made, because you have a record of what happened in the incident. That would make a great difference.
“I am working with the chief and I will work with the new council to do that pilot program over the course of 2014 and 2015,” promised the mayor-elect.
On North Minneapolis: “As goes North Minneapolis, so goes the city. We need to make sure that if one part of our community is struggling, then we need to put our time, care and attention there.”
On proposed transit projects on the North Side: Transportation “is one way we are going to grow the city,” and as mayor she will advocate for it, said Hodges. “I’m a big advocate for transit, both light rail and modern streetcar.”
On the new Minnesota Vikings stadium workforce diversity: “Even though I didn’t support the stadium, I was one of the council members that made sure that we had those goals as part of the stadium. I [also] made sure that there was language on the ongoing jobs and not just construction jobs. As mayor, that is something I will be able to keep an eye on, both myself and the Sports Authority, and also the [Minneapolis] Civil Rights Department.”
Will her administration reflect the city’s growing diverse population? “My goal is to reflect the communities with my staff,” she said. “I want to make sure that we have good people, but I also want to make sure that we have folk who can be out in the community and work with and be for the community. We know what’s happening demographically and the shifts that are happening, and we have to make sure that the leadership…reflects the city as a whole.
“During this transition time, right now I’m still a council member,” said Hodges. “I’m putting the office together — both staff-wise and physically — and getting ready to govern as mayor. I think the transition has been going very well. Mayor Rybak has been extremely generous and helpful, making things go easily as well. I have a great transition team and a transition advisory committee who are doing great work.
“Being mayor is a different job than being council member,” she admitted. “They are different jobs, and I am aware of that. But the experience of council member I can bring with me, in terms of knowledge of the city and how the city works, and knowledge on how the city council works. I think that will be especially helpful at a time when we have so many new council members coming on board.
“It comes in bits and pieces,” the realization that in a couple of weeks she will be the city’s next mayor, said Hodges. “Some of it was realizing that the campaign is over and I am not campaigning every day. Then some of it happens when I am in meetings with people, or when I am talking about the future of the city and I start feeling the weight of the role.
“But mostly it is very exciting. It is really exciting to think about doing the things that I spent a year talking about with the community. I’m very, very excited to get to work and make those things happen…
“I look forward to working with you to make Minneapolis the best it can be. We just spent a year in conversation with one another about what that could and should look like. I look forward to working with you to make that real. There are exciting times ahead and a huge number of opportunities, and I want to make sure everybody in the city of Minneapolis can benefit from those opportunities.
“I want to make sure that I get it right more than I want to get it done in a hurry.”
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