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Andrea Jenkins favored to become next Minneapolis City Council president

7December 2021

With two potential rivals bowing out, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins is the favorite to lead the council as its next president.

Jenkins, 60, a poet and oral historian who represents a section of the city’s South Side, announced this week that she’s seeking the post. Council Members Linea Palmisano and Andrew Johnson said this week they’re not interested, and Palmisano threw her support behind Jenkins.

If elected to that position in January, Jenkins will be the first openly transgender Black woman to lead the council, which for the first time people of color will make up the majority.

“I really work hard to be a consensus builder, and I think that’s what we need moving forward in this city is a leader who is willing to make sure that all voices are heard and that all input is considered and included,” Jenkins said in an interview. “I’m certainly interested in leading this council.”

The council leader position will be vacant after the departure of Lisa Bender, who chose not to seek re-election. The vote for next council president will not happen until January, after the seven new members and six returning members are sworn in.

Meanwhile, City Hall is in a state of transition. After a charter change approved by voters, the mayor is now in charge of day-to-day operations of city departments and the council’s role is restricted to legislative duties such as writing ordinances and vetting city budgets.

Jenkins said it will take some time to figure out the implications of those changes, but that the role of the council president will remain “pretty much the same.”

Jenkins said transparency and communication between Mayor Jacob Frey and the council members will be crucial to her in governing effectively. In the previous government structure, staff reported to the council and the mayor through different ways, including the executive committee, which no longer exists.

Jenkins said she will push for council members to have staff support to ensure they are also involved in the decision-making process, one of the major concerns some council members had expressed about the new “strong mayor” system.

Jenkins said the city must also focus its attention on public safety and creating a “more just rental situation” for low-income residents. Voters approved a ballot question allowing the council to enact rent control in Minneapolis.

Jenkins is one of nine council members who participated in a pledge promising to “begin the process of ending” the Minneapolis Police Department weeks after George Floyd’s killing, which took place on one edge of her ward. But even in that moment, Jenkins said she felt conflicted about taking the pledge, saying those who attended that rally don’t represent everyone in the city.

In the months since then, Jenkins has spoken about the difficulties of balancing demands from groups that want to replace the MPD with a new safety agency and those who want to keep it and enact more reforms, noting that both efforts have support from some prominent Black leaders. She has voted at times to move police funding to other resources, such as mental health programs. Other times, she has voted to give the department more money.

Jenkins won office in 2017, making history as the first openly Black transgender woman elected to office in the United States. While candidates who supported police defeated three other incumbents who took the “defund police” stage in Powderhorn Park, Jenkins easily won re-election in November against a low-profile challenger.

Jenkins said that her priorities also include revitalizing the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue intersection, known as George Floyd Square, into a memorial site that lifts up the stories of marginalized people killed by police. She supported efforts to reopen the intersection earlier this year, calling the controversial move a critical first step in reducing crime and supporting area businesses and residents.

After Floyd’s murder, Jenkins introduced a resolution declaring racism a public health emergency, setting the stage for “a comprehensive approach to overcoming anti-Blackness and racism,” she said.

Palmisano said she is supporting Jenkins because “she can be the face of what the city needs to show on a national and international level, about the future of Minneapolis, and I am going to work to support her in every way I can.”

Johnson said in an interview Tuesday that he’s “definitely not interested” in becoming the next council president but did not rule out a bid for vice president. He declined to say whether he supports Jenkins for council president.

“Looking back over this term, there was an erosion of faith in the City Council. Too much fighting and division,” Johnson said. “We must rebuild public trust and ensure our systems are effective at getting things done for the people of Minneapolis.”

Newcomer LaTrisha Vetaw of the Fourth Ward said she’s supporting Jenkins because she likes her leadership style and has had a good experience working with Jenkins on issues around tobacco-free parks when she was on the Minneapolis Park Board.

“I feel like she’s fair,” Vetaw said. “It’s important that this history-making council elects a Black woman to lead. Why not Andrea? And I mean that in the most endearing way.”

Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this story.

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