Incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges and five challengers spent 90 minutes answering questions ranging from a city minimum wage to affordable housing from several hundred people gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
Tom Hoch, who most recently ran Hennepin Theater Trust, and was deputy director of the city's public housing authority in the 1990s, said the next mayor needs to be a regional leader in planning.
"In order to solve the affordable housing crisis, you have got to look at it on a metrowide basis. And the mayor of Minneapolis needs to be the chief advocate, getting all the mayors of the other cities to take their fair share, because that is a huge problem for us. And we are not really an island," Hoch said.
Filmmaker Aswar Rahman — who's 23 years old and a first-generation American born in Bangladesh — says making rent affordable in Minneapolis starts with getting a handle on the budget, especially property taxes.
"That's how housing is getting so expensive. That's the core of the problem," Rahman said. "And I really wish that's what we'd focus on. Because saying that we're going to build more and more, that's only going to drive up gentrification faster and faster. That is not the solution."
Rahman opposed a city-mandated minimum wage, saying it would drive out businesses.
State Rep. Raymond Dehn said he alone among the candidates helped pass a minimum wage law in the state Legislature in 2014 that gradually raised the wage floor to the current $9.50 an hour for large employers.
"One of the reasons we're doing well as a state when other states aren't doing quite so well is we have a very active economy in the state of Minnesota," Dehn said. "And I believe that everybody that works full time in the city of Minneapolis should get a livable wage, and that wage right now is determined to be $15 an hour."
Council Member Jacob Frey said he has long supported a city minimum wage that's higher than the state's. But he took time to explain why he opposed holding a referendum on the issue last year.
"When you legislate via referendum, you're forced to set the language maybe six or seven months in advance, and when you do so, you can't change it," Frey said. "And in every piece of major legislation that I've ever been involved with, there's major changes that happen in the last two weeks alone."
Hodges reiterated her support for a higher citywide minimum wage without a carve-out for tipped workers. And she decried a Republican-led effort at the state Capitol to block it as "not a good way to govern. The president is doing the same thing to states and local governments that Republicans are doing to local governments around the country."
Former Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds received the loudest applause of the evening when she called out the city's political establishment for being late to the game on wages and many other issues of racial equity.
"It's not just the Republicans that we have to watch out for. It's DFLers who are comfortable with the status quo, who have had years to make changes to these policies and practices that would benefit all the residents of Minneapolis and not just jumping on the bandwagon when it's politically expedient to do so," Levy-Pounds said.
In November, voters will again pick a mayor through ranked-choice voting. In 2013, they chose among 35 names. While additional candidates could still file for this year, such a lengthy ballot is less likely because the filing fee went up from $20 to $500.