Q&A: Minneapolis mayoral candidate Kate Knuth

A woman smiles in front bushes.
Minneapolis mayoral candidate Kate Knuth in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis on June 14.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Big issues are at stake for voters in Minneapolis — from the power structure at City Hall to the future of policing in the city. There are 17 candidates in the race for Minneapolis mayor, including incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey. 

This week on Minnesota Now, host Cathy Wurzer speaks with five of the leading candidates about their views and their plans.

First up: Former DFL state lawmaker Kate Knuth. Besides serving in the Minnesota House, Knuth also led a program at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and served as chief resilience officer for the city of Minneapolis for seven months before resigning in February of 2018.

You worked for a brief few months in City Hall in Jacob Frey’s administration. So you've had a chance to watch him. How would you approach the job differently from Mayor Frey?

I learned a lot when I worked for the city. And one of the things that I learned is that relationships really matter and that no mayor has all the answers. So really digging in to listen to people and draw from and focus the expertise and the skills and the talents of people across Minneapolis to the work of building our city is really essential. And I think that relationship building and that deep listening, and really valuing trust, is something that I hold at the center of my leadership and I think differs from our current mayor. 

A top issue in Minneapolis is gun violence. Quantrell Urban, the founder of a street outreach group called Turf Politics said recently that “not a night goes by” that he doesn’t hear automatic gunfire when he’s out making his rounds. What do you think is going on? And what would you propose doing about it?

I think gun violence — and on the positive side, public safety — is the central issue of the campaign. And there are definitely neighborhoods when I'm out door knocking that gun violence is almost universally the issue people are concerned about.

I think it is a combination of pandemic, of increased gun ownership, of people being disconnected. And I think we as a city need to put making every neighborhood in our city — regardless of race, or gender, income, ZIP code — making that safety the center of what we do as a city, and I think there's things we need to do short-term and things we need to do longer-term.  

I think short-term, we need to be making sure we are having our police force operate as effectively as possible. And that means focusing resources on higher prevalent gun violence areas, as well as making sure officers have what they need to investigate and actually solve particularly violent crime. We also need to be investing in community, particularly young people, to make sure that every kid in our city feels invested in and bought in by the city and that they see the city as worth investing in.

I, we, talk a lot about the divides in the city. And I think, in the middle, at the end, the last few weeks of an election the divides are accentuated. But underneath that, I think we are so unified in building a safer Minneapolis and not accepting the status quo of either gun violence or police violence is acceptable in our city. 

You said that you want to make sure that police have what they need to do their jobs. You support the ballot question No. 2, which replaces the police department with a new Department of Public Safety.

Yeah, I do.

Try to unpack that for us. 

I support charter amendment no. 2 to create a new Department of Public Safety because I think, and I think Minneapolis residents believe, the status quo on public safety and policing is not acceptable. And it's not acceptable for kids to get shot in our community. And it is not acceptable for police to kill people in our community. And I think charter amendment no. 2 gives us the best framework to make the most effective safety system in the city.

And now I have also been very clear that my vision of that department, and I think the shared vision of that department, absolutely includes police. And two really important things about police: 1) We need to ask them to do less. We don't need them to show up every time someone calls 911. We need them to be able to focus their resources more fully on responding to, investigating and actually solving violent crime. 2) And then we also need to rebuild trust with the Minneapolis Police Department, not just through [public relations] or community-based programs, although those are part of it. We actually need to be very transparent about the realities of policing in our city, particularly misconduct, and then have clear accountability when things go wrong. 

Do you think that police Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has to go?

No.

Do you think the City Council-Mayor relationship should be changed? That would be the first ballot question. Are you still deciding on that?  

I was undecided for quite a while. But I recently came out in opposition to charter amendment no. 1. Really what pushed me over the top is that we are at such a critical moment in Minneapolis on building trust in our local government, in our democracy and particularly in our multiracial democracy. And I think the way charter amendment no. 1 has been put on the ballot and how it has been campaigned for, I think it will undermine our ability to really build the kind of trust among and with different communities in our city to forge our path forward.

I also think, in the last couple of years especially, it's not so much [that] we need a strong mayor system. We've needed stronger leadership in the mayor's office. And I think I bring that as a candidate with my experience and track record of success. And I look forward to serving the people of the city as a strong mayor in the office. 

What's the most important thing you could do to get a better working relationship with the City Council? Many observers describe the Council as dysfunctional. 

I think it's really important for the mayor and the council to have a really strong working relationship. And it's one of my big disappointments with our current mayor. One of my big frustrations. I have started to lay the groundwork of relationships already. And that will continue. 

I will be actively meeting with council members to understand their policy priorities to know what the priorities in their wards are. One thing I have learned very clearly is it's hard to have a finger on the pulse of every part of this city. Minneapolis is big and diverse and dynamic. And I think council members are real partners and allies and connecting to each of their wards. And so if we do that proactive work together, when the debates, when the disagreements come — and they absolutely will, of course — we'll be better able to work through them. As a former state representative, I think if you talk to my colleagues or people I work with, I just generally have very strong, respectful working relationships with folks, and I will continue that track record in the mayor's office. 

A lot of things that governments — mayors especially — want to accomplish don't come free. Do you see property tax increases in the future for Minneapolis residents? 

One of the things I think we're not talking about as directly as we need to in this mayoral campaign is the risks in our city budget. When I say risks, I am particularly focused right here on the cost of not addressing policing and public safety in the city.

We've had significant payouts for police misconduct cases, and we've had significant payouts for workers comp, and the city is self-insured. That means we pay into budget. So we don't have insurance that goes outside of the city. And right now we're not going to be able to keep up with the cost of policing unless we start to actually change things. So that is a real particular area of the budget I have a concern about. 

The above interview transcript was edited lightly for readability.

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