Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, seen here at City Hall. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Update November 3, 3:00 p.m. : This story was updated with final results from the Minneapolis elections.

Jacob Frey secured reelection to serve a second term as Minneapolis mayor Wednesday, following ranked choice system counting.

Frey led progressive challengers Sheila Nezhad and Kate Knuth by about 22 points in first round ballots. His victory was secured by Wednesday afternoon, according to Minneapolis elections officials. Frey’s re-election represents a strike against the movement to overhaul policing following the murder of George Floyd. 

The mayoral race largely centered on the debate over the future of policing in Minneapolis. Nezhad and Knuth endorsed the “yes” vote on Question 2, which calls for amending the city charter to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a department of public safety. This newly constituted department would take a more public-health-oriented approach to law enforcement. Frey has been a staunch opponent of Question 2. 

On Election Day, Minneapolis residents rejected Question 2, with 56 percent voting no.

The race was expensive and drew significant donations from interest groups and individuals. Frey raised $670,000, Knuth raised $227,000, and Nezhad raised $231,000. A political action committee supporting Frey and opposing the police ballot question raised $1.6 million. 

Frey received nearly 43 percent of first-round ballots, while Nezhad secured 21 percent. Third place candidate Knuth received 18 percent of first-choice votes. With none reaching 50 percent, the city’s ranked choice system came into play Wednesday.

Nezhad and Knuth encouraged their supporters to rank the two progressive challengers first and second, while leaving Frey off the ballot.

While that strategy did consolidate votes between the two candidates in further counting rounds, Frey won handily over Knuth in the final tabulation, receiving 56 percent to her 44 percent.

In a celebratory speech Wednesday, Frey touted support of diverse communities in Minneapolis and thanked Black, Latino, and Somali residents for their support.

“What we saw in these election results shows what is the broadest base coalition in recent history,” Frey said.

The mayor preformed well in diverse areas such as the north side, but also dominated in the city’s whitest neighborhoods in southwest and far south Minneapolis.

Turnout reached a highpoint in recent history for a municipal election in Minneapolis, with nearly 54 percent of registered voters casting ballot, more than a 10 point jump from 2017.

Endorsements split between Frey and progressive challengers

In a significant endorsement, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar supported Nezhad and Knuth while encouraging voters not to rank Frey.  

A coalition of state lawmakers representing Minneapolis—including Senator Omar Fateh, Senator Scott Dibble, Representative Esther Abaje, Representative Hodan Hassan, and Representative Aisha Gomez—also urged voters to choose a new candidate and set a new course for leadership.

Frey received the backing of statewide DFL leaders such as Governor Tim Walz, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Frey also collected endorsements from an older generation of Black political leaders in the city, such as Sharon Sayles-Belton, the first and only woman of color to serve as Minneapolis mayor; longtime school board member Kim Ellison; and former City Council member Don Samuels. 

Several younger Black leaders, such as City Council members Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremiah Ellison, endorsed Nezhad. 

The mechanics of ranked choice voting

The 2021 election marks the fourth cycle that Minneapolis has used ranked choice voting, which allows residents to choose a first, second, and third preference for elected officials. In 2017, Frey bested incumbent Betsey Hodges and former state representative Raymond Dehn after six rounds of tabulation. Back in 2013, Hodges won after 34 rounds of tabulation, though her lead over second-place finisher Mark Andrew was well established after the first round of votes. 

The mayoral field this election year was deep, with 17 candidates on the ballot. AJ Awed, a Somali American lawyer, finished fourth with approximately 4.5 percent of the first-round votes. 

Jacob Frey: A new mayor runs into a citywide crisis

Frey, 40, is a lawyer and former professional runner from northern Virginia who says he moved to Minneapolis in 2009, after visiting the city to run a marathon. Four years later, he was elected to the City Council. In 2017, he defeated Hodges and Dehn on an agenda predicated on being a bridge builder and someone who would improve relations between the police and city residents. At the time, he said he wanted people to know their local beat officers by name. 

“I do think that people were looking for a fresh start right now,” Frey said after winning in 2017, according to MPR news. 

Frey hitched his wagon to his appointed police chief, Medaria Arradondo, a Black chief who had sued his own department over racial discrimination, and whom Frey championed as a reformer. 

Floyd’s killing and the subsequent civil unrest led to new waves of condemnation for the Minneapolis police, including their harsh treatment of protestors and journalists. Members of the City Council have accused the police of slowing services in response to this criticism, as Reuters reported in September. About 200 Minneapolis police officers have left the force since Floyd’s murder, with the vast majority filing claims of post-traumatic stress disorder, in the wake of the uprising.  

The mayor has also campaigned on his affordable housing platform and commitment to supporting businesses owned by people of color. But the focus of the campaign has lingered on public safety.

Frey told Sahan Journal in April about steps he has taken to reform the Minneapolis Police Department. As mayor, he retains operational authority over the police, though he has lamented the limits imposed by the department’s (currently expired) union contract. 

“The chief and I are talking every single day about the next steps on reform and I can assure you our administration, the chief’s administration, is working extremely hard on a litany of proposals of policy changes,” Frey told Sahan Journal. 

His opponents call Frey’s reform efforts insufficient, and say he embraced the status quo by not supporting the public safety amendment. The mayor has stayed committed to his partnership with Arradondo, whose long-term future in the city is unclear. 

Nezhad and Knuth favor ‘Yes on Question 2’

Nezhad, 33, is a community activist who campaigned on a progressive platform to reform public safety with a more public-oriented approach. She was an early member of Reclaim the Block, and contributed to the MPD150 Report, an early effort to promote a Minneapolis without traditional policing. 

Knuth, 40, a former suburban state legislator, briefly served as chief resilience officer in Minneapolis. She resigned after Frey stepped into the mayor’s office, citing differing views on climate policy. The environmentalist received backing from a number of climate groups, and she endorsed the “Yes on Question 2” campaign to reform public safety. 

Determining who will ultimately lead Minneapolis could take another 24 to 48 hours. 

Andrew Hazzard is a reporter with Sahan Journal who focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues. After starting his career in daily newspapers in Mississippi and North Dakota, Andrew returned...