Hodges defends LA fundraising trip 4 days after Justine Ruszczyk shooting

Mayor Hodges
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, flanked by current police chief Mederia Arradondo, addresses the media regarding the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk a city cop.
Peter Cox | MPR News file

Updated: 7:40 p.m. | Posted: 3:11 p.m.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is defending her decision to attend a fundraiser in Los Angeles four days after the police shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk.

Hodges nearly canceled her flight to California, but decided her physical presence was not needed in the city to handle the aftermath of the shooting for a "brief period," she said in statement on Facebook.

"During the 27 total hours that I was traveling, I spent most [sic] my time dealing with the aftermath of the terrible shooting of Justine Damond, just as I had almost every moment since the shooting happened," Hodges wrote, using an alternate surname by which Ruszczyk is widely known.

Hodges said she stayed in touch with city staff, the police department and community members while she was away. In California, Hodges attended a fundraiser at the Wilshire Country Club, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Not long after she returned, Hodges asked for the resignation of police chief Janeé Harteau. Harteau tendered her resignation after facing sharp criticism for not immediately returning from a backpacking trip in the days following the shooting.

It's not unusual for big city mayors to go out of town to raise campaign cash, University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said.

Hodges is in tough political fight, Jacobs said, and a few of her opponents, like Jacob Frey and Tom Hoch, have raised more money than she has.

Hodges didn't refer to Frey by name, but said in her statement that one of her opponents has "cynically exploited a campaign-finance loophole to give himself an unethical, $177,000 head start."

Frey transferred $177,000 of contributions from his city council election coffers to his mayoral campaign. "In so doing, he has deceived his contributors and thrown out decades of clean campaign practices, which all candidates for mayor before him had honored," wrote Hodges.

Frey sought first advice from attorney Nancy Hylden, then from the campaign finance board, and he didn't transfer the money until after the board ruled earlier this year that the move was legal, according to Hylden.

Frey was critical of Hodges' decision to leave town to raise money. He said it is not acceptable for the mayor "to put her campaign ahead of the responsibilities of the office of mayor. Especially in a time of crisis."

Jacobs said the timing of this trip doesn't look good — especially after a judge recently ordered Hodges to produce a budget before next month or show why she can't.

"Being out of town at a fundraiser — probably not going to be very persuasive to the judge in making the case that she didn't have time to prepare the budget," said Jacobs.

Hodges has said the release of her budget was delayed by events like the Ruszczyk shooting. She said staying home would not have sped up the release of the budget.

Jacobs added that Hodges' decision to seek donations out of state doesn't bode well for her reelection.

"Betsy Hodges is clearly in trouble," he said. "The fact that she had to go out of state to raise money is yet another indicator that she's in the fight for her political life."

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