Listen: Hodges leaves office amid high profile shootings, and behind the scenes accomplishments

MPR’s Matt Sepic takes a look back at the tenure of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, whose four year term left contradictions. It included key reforms in the police department and championing of a two-decade park maintenance plan that's centered around racial equity, yet also was marked by two high-profile officer-involved shootings, communication problems, and strife with the police chief.


2017 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Broadcast Writing - Large Market Radio category [one of three MPR News reports for this award]


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CATHY WURZER: In January, Betsy Hodges will step down as mayor of Minneapolis after just one term. She lost the race to city council member Jacob Frey and finished third behind state representative Ray Dean. The mayor leaves office after a challenging four years that included two high profile fatal shootings by police and public spats with the former police chief. But Hodges also set the stage for key reforms in the department and championed a two decade park maintenance plan that centered around racial equity. Matt Sepic has more.

MATT SEPIC: In November of 2015, demonstrators set up camp outside the Fourth Precinct Police Station in North Minneapolis. They were there protesting the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African-American man. As they settled in for a fifth night, Mayor Betsy Hodges visited Plymouth Avenue and tried to engage with them. It did not go well.

SPEAKER 1: We as the people want to know, what are you going to do?

BETSY HODGES: Do you want to know what I've been working on?


SPEAKER 3: What are you going to do?

SPEAKER 1: What are you--

SPEAKER 4: Answer the question that has been asked to you.

BETSY HODGES: I'm trying to clarify the choice--

SPEAKER 1: See all this rhetoric? That's what I'm talking about. She works for them now. You voted her in and now-- OK, what do you--

BETSY HODGES: What I'm going to do is what I have been doing, gathering the resources of the city, gathering resources--

MATT SEPIC: Hodges was a bit hard to hear that night, but she promised resources to help ease the city's long standing problems of racial inequality.

SPEAKER 5: Nice photo op, Betsy.

MATT SEPIC: Clark's death and the weeks of protest that followed were tough for Hodges. In a report earlier this year, the US Justice Department said city leaders did not have a plan to manage the situation and strained relationships and poor internal communications hampered the response.

JANEÉ HARTEAU: Oftentimes, she had the best of intentions, but didn't have the ability.

MATT SEPIC: That's former police chief Janeé Harteau. She says communication with Hodges was consistently difficult over their 3.5 years working together. In April, the mayor overruled Harteau's appointment of controversial past union leader John Delmonico to head the Fourth Precinct Station.

Dueling news releases exposed a rift between the two and Hodges soon told Harteau not to make any public statements without her OK. Harteau says that directive would delay her public response to another crisis, the fatal police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk in July. That incident would lead to Harteau's resignation.

JANEÉ HARTEAU: I wanted to be the police chief and I think she wanted to be the mayor and the police chief. And I think that's where we struggled.

MATT SEPIC: Betsy Hodges entered public life a dozen years ago when she was elected to the first of two terms on the Minneapolis City Council. She's often said her proudest accomplishment was reforming police and firefighter pensions, a behind-the-scenes move that saved taxpayers millions. RT Rybak, who was mayor at the time, says Hodges budget expertise goes far beyond just numbers on a page.

RT RYBAK: She was a person who focused a lot on balancing the budget, but also on balancing our values so that we spent more time working with those most in need. And so I think she had a very unique ability to cross smart fiscal discipline with deep compassion.

MATT SEPIC: Unlike Rybak, a gregarious crowd surfer, Hodges was more of a cerebral kind of leader, says University of Minnesota political science Professor Larry Jacobs.

LARRY JACOBS: It was hard for her to get credit for much of what was good in the city. Part of that is Betsy Hodges just did not have the retail sales skills that she needed to drive home what she was accomplishing.

MATT SEPIC: Jacobs says Hodges can rightly claim credit for police training that emphasizes de-escalation and community relations, and also a measure that's putting $11 million a year into park maintenance with an eye toward underserved parts of the city. Hodges did not speak publicly or grant interviews after conceding the race, but in a statement she highlighted other accomplishments, including the $15 an hour minimum wage and said she's committed to a smooth transition when Jacob Frey moves into the mayor's office in January. Covering politics, I'm Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.


Materials created/edited/published by Archive team as an assigned project during remote work period and in office during fiscal 2021-2022 period.

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