City council member Jacob Frey, Rep. Raymond Dehn join Minneapolis mayor's race

Star Tribune

Star Tribune

Jacob Frey looks like he'll be the third prominent Minneapolis Democrat challenging Mayor Betsy Hodges, who announced just last week she'd seek a second term in office.

According to an email sent out Wednesday afternoon, Frey will make an announcement on January 3 at Dangerous Man Brewing Company. The email starts, "The conversation about what kind of Mayor our city needs will take place in 2017."

A source close to the situation tells City Pages it's on that evening that Frey will officially declare he's running for the city's top elected position. 

Frey, a former attorney, represents a downtown/North Loop/east-of-the-river ward which includes U.S. Bank Stadium, and has lately undergone an economic renaissance.

If Frey does indeed enter the contest, he'll join Nekima Levy-Pounds, former head of the Minneapolis NAACP and an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests, and Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls.), who announced his candidacy earlier Wednesday.

Dehn, a close associate of DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, won election to the Minnesota House representing a north Minneapolis/North Loop district in 2012, and was reelected this November to a third term in office. 

"As your mayor," Dehn's statement reads, "my goal will be to build a city that works for everyone. To do so, I am making you a simple promise: to proactively engage people of all colors, faiths, incomes and backgrounds – in times of high spirits, in times of frustration, and in times of sorrow."

Reached by phone Wednesday, Frey declined comment, referring all questions to today's email.

"I'm not surprised at all," says Hamline University political science professor David Schultz of Frey's entry into the race. "I've been following what he's been doing and it looks to be taking the right positions and posturing himself to run, and I think he senses like many of us do that [Mayor] Betsy Hodges is vulnerable." 

Frey's potential entry has been an ongoing topic of conversation inside local political circles. Frey has built a reputation for shepherding the current economic boom as well as being an unabashed cheerleader in kind for all things rosy inside the City of Lakes.

Despite being a relative newcomer to elected office, Frey has also established himself as a fundraising juggernaut.  At the start of 2016, Frey had more than $100,000 on hand, about nine times as much as the $11,500 Hodges held.

More current campaign finance reports are due out in late January.

According to Schultz, "there's a cluster of reasons" that add up to Hodges' vulnerabilities. These include the perception that she's been consumed with downtown development while shirking on pledges to struggling neighborhoods.

"There's also a leadership question," he says. "Hodges hasn't done a good job of taking the lead on issues, and from a public relations standpoint, she hasn't been able to tell a narrative about whatever her accomplishments have been."  

Hodges' shift earlier this week in supporting a citywide minimum wage looks like a preemptive strike to outflank more economically liberal candidates like Levy-Pounds and Frey, who advocated for a phased-in $15 per hour wage while on the council. Dehn, for his part, has been a regular attendee at Minneapolis rallies for improved labor standards for low-wage workers.

"It's a smart effort on [Hodges'] part to shore up the left side of the base that helped get her first elected, one that looks like has been unraveling for her," Schultz says.

Schultz says Frey brings to the larger political stage a track record with "a lack of significant accomplishments or experience," though he notes says the first-term member is "articulate," "ambitious," and "appears to be a good fundraiser."

Dehn has been used to raising similarly large sums in legislative races, but his campaign bank account does him no good now: Legislative candidates cannot transfer funds for use in a citywide election -- even if they're the one running for office.