Hodges rests up for her toughest job yet

The Minneapolis mayor-elect has a history of fighting for what she wants.

Minneapolis mayor elect Betsy Hodges on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minneapolis mayor elect Betsy Hodges on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

Nathaniel Rabuzzi

Come January, Betsy Hodges will be moving into a new office and a new home.

The 44-year-old Ward 13 City Councilwoman will take over for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and move in with her husband of two and a half years for the first time.

After months of running an active campaign, Hodges won the crowded election last month with nearly 50 percent of votes in the final count.

Gary Cunningham, Hodges’ husband, has served on the Metropolitan Council since 2011. He represents a district separate from Hodges’ City Council ward, so the couple has lived apart until now.

“If anything, [the election] made our relationship stronger,” Cunningham said.

Hodges has a history of active and fruitful participation in Minneapolis, something that those close to her say she’ll carry on as mayor.

She currently chairs the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee, which makes the final budget proposal to the full council. Outgoing Ward 6 City Councilman Robert Lilligren said the mayor-elect will continue to create sound budget proposals from the mayor’s office, which also presents a budget to city officials.

“I think she’ll carry on the good fiscal work that’s been done during her time on the council,” he said.

Cunningham said his wife’s work as a “budget hawk” translates into her personal life.

“There is no person that I know that likes a deal more than Betsy,” he said. “She shops at all these consignment shops, and when she gets a great deal, I hear about it.”

Hodges said other work she’s done on the City Council has also connected with her personal life.

She enjoyed being an “active participant” in council wellness policy, including work with the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, she said. She was also a member of the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committee.

“I used to weigh a lot more than I do now,” she said. “I used to smoke, I used to drink, and grappling with those issues for myself is part of what informs why I’m such an advocate for them for the city,” she said. “Plus, it’s fun.”

Cunningham said one of Hodges’ biggest strengths as a leader is her ability to gather people together to work for a single goal.

Mayoral candidate Dan Cohen, who placed seventh in the Nov. 5 election, said he supported Hodges’ candidacy because she’s able to make compromises where they’re needed — one of the most important traits in a mayor.

“It isn’t all about where she can take the city as mayor; it’s where she can find a way to establish a consensus with the council that they can agree upon and work together towards,” he said.

As a member of the Transportation and Public Works Committee, Hodges supported plans to implement a streetcar system downtown. In October, the full council approved an initiative to install a 3.4 mile-long streetcar line on Nicollet and Central avenues.

“If she says she wants to do streetcars in the city, you can believe streetcars will happen in the city of Minneapolis,” Cunningham said.

Hodges said she’ll miss working with the current City Council when she moves to the mayor’s office, but she’s looking forward to working with the newly elected members as mayor.

“I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for the city,” she said. “This is a group of really smart, really motivated, really energetic people.”

Hodges said she hopes to strengthen the University of Minnesota’s partnership with the city in her time as mayor.

“[It’s] one of the best research universities in the world, and so I think there’s a lot of crossover we can do there, thinking about how we can leverage the good research that’s happening at the University and apply it to the city that we are building,” she said.

Student support

Wards 2 and 3, which cover the University, had low voter turnout in the 2013 municipal election, but about 15 percent of Hodges’ first-choice votes came from the student-heavy neighborhoods.

Hodges was the only mayoral candidate out of a field of 35 with a dedicated student group on campus, called Students Unite for Betsy Hodges.

The group held phone banking sessions, knocked on doors and recruited volunteers for Hodges’ campaign.

Political science sophomore Skyler Dorr, president and co-founder of the student group, said he’s talked to Hodges about keeping the group active post-election.

“I have reached out to Betsy about specifically renaming it Students Unite for Minneapolis and shifting it towards community involvement-type stuff, bringing people together,” he said.

The group would shift its focus to volunteerism and community engagement work, Dorr said, while retaining a connection with the mayor’s office.

 

Alexi Gusso contributed to this report.