This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for their free newsletter to receive their stories in your inbox.
In the first Minneapolis City Council election since the murder of George Floyd last year, new candidates won seven races. The 13-member council, the most diverse in the city’s history, will immediately confront crucial questions about public safety, rent stabilization and government structure.
Among the new faces are Elliott Payne in Ward 1, Robin Wonsley Worlobah in Ward 2, Michael Rainville in Ward 3, LaTrisha Vetaw in Ward 4, Jason Chavez in Ward 9, Aisha Chughtai in Ward 10 and Emily Koski in Ward 11.
Wonsley Worlobah’s win as a Black Democratic Socialist, as well as victories from Payne and Chughtai in Ward 10 marks the most diverse council in Minneapolis history and one with a majority of people of color. Eight out of 13 members are people of color and six of them are Black.
In an election closely watched both locally and nationally, residents also chose a mayor and voted on charter amendments. The unrest immediately following the police killing of George Floyd led diverse candidates to seek office, representing the racial and political diversity of the city. Almost 45 percent of 58 candidates were people of color. Women made up nearly a third of all candidates.
In north Minneapolis’ Ward 4, Vetaw defeated incumbent Phillipe Cunningham. Vetaw’s pro-policing stance drew a clear line in the race against Cunningham, who advocated for the public safety ballot measure.
Before you keep reading ...
Did you know that MPR News is supported by Members? Gifts from individuals power the headlines, clarity and context found here. Give during the Fall Member Drive to become a Member today.
The public safety charter amendment, which asks voters if they support replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, emerged as the most debated issue among City Council candidates. In parts of the city, like north Minneapolis, public safety drew a clear line between candidates. Minneapolis residents rejected the ballot measure.
With rents increasing and a lack of affordable housing units to accommodate demand, the city faces deep housing inequity issues. Residents voted for the rent stabilization charter amendment, which allows the City Council to develop a rent stabilization plan.
A final charter amendment also determined the fate of the Minneapolis City Council’s role in local government. City department heads (except the police chief) currently answer to the mayor and City Council. Residents voted in favor of the government structure charter amendment, also known as the “strong mayor” question, which limits the council to legislative issues while department heads would answer directly to the mayor.
Ward 1: Elliott Payne
Elliott Payne, a consultant for the city of Minneapolis, defeats incumbent Kevin Reich, with 50 percent of final round votes. Payne ran as a progressive, DFL-endorsed candidate in a ward that contains most of northeast Minneapolis. Payne would serve as the first Black City Council member to represent Ward 1.
“We were really intentional about this being about building progressive power for the long term,” Payne said. “I feel like the results of tonight in Ward 1 reflect that.”
The fact that results have been mixed throughout other wards where progressive candidates ran is a testament to the strength of his grassroots campaign, Payne said.
“It’s not me winning. It’s us winning,” Payne said. He noted the historic nature of the election, coming after the murder of George Floyd.
Payne said he’ll be prioritizing implementing a mental health response to public safety since he had helped launch that program before starting his campaign.
Ward 2: Robin Wonsley Worlobah
Democratic Socialist Robin Wonsley Worlobah defeats incumbent Cam Gordon and Yusra Arab in a close race. Wonsley Worlobah surpassed Yusra by just 19 votes. She also defeated candidates Tom Anderson and Guy Gaskin.
“When we launched our campaign in Ward 2, people said we were crazy, Cam is wildly popular, you can’t oust him,” Wonsley Worlobah said. “But actually the demographics of Ward 2 and the city has become ever-changing. It’s become more diverse. And we’ve had more working class folks.”
Wonsley Worlobah’s win marks the first candidate of color replacing a white City Council member in this election cycle. She will also be the city’s first Black Democratic Socialist.
Wonsley Worlobah grew up in Chicago and attended Carleton College in Northfield. In 2018, she began a Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota in Gender, Women and Sexuality studies.
Because of the slim margin against Yusra, election officials recounted the Ward 2 results on Wednesday. Wonsley Worlobah said the close race is a testament to her team’s commitment to reaching communities with low turnout, such as students and public housing residents.
“We wanted every single person to know that they have a stake in determining the future of our city, the future of our democracy,” Wonsley Worlobah said. “We remain committed to grounding ourselves within the movement that’s been happening on the ground — from East Phillips Farm to George Floyd Square.”
Ward 3: Michael Rainville
With almost 52 percent of votes, Michael Rainville defeats incumbent Steve Fletcher in Ward 3, located in downtown and northeast Minneapolis. Fletcher received about 42 percent of votes in the final round.
Rainville joins a trend of new City Council members unseating incumbents who supported the public safety ballot measure.
Ward 4: LaTrisha Vetaw
LaTrisha Vetaw won the seat on the Minneapolis City Council representing north Minneapolis in the first round of votes. She defeats incumbent Phillipe Cunningham with more than 2,000 votes. Cunningham made history four years ago as the country’s first transgender man of color to be elected to office.
Vetaw said she looks forward to healing relationships in Ward 4.
“It just feels so broken out here,” Vetaw said. “People feel so sad and hopeless. And what’s kept me going this year is when you knock on the door and people say: ‘Having this conversation with you gives me hope.’”
Vetaw ran as a candidate with concerns about safety in the north side. Unlike her opponent, she campaigned against the public safety ballot measure.
Cunningham told Sahan Journal he plans to take a break after his first term in office.
“For the last four years, I have taken very few days off,” Cunningham said. “Being able to just take a moment to breathe is the number one priority for me right now, and be present with my family. This job has required a lot of sacrifice.”
Ward 5: Jeremiah Ellison
Jeremiah Ellison, a popular progressive incumbent in north Minneapolis, won reelection to the City Council seat in Ward 5 as the only candidate in the north side ward who supported the public safety charter amendment. He faced a close race against Kristel Porter and won 93 more votes in the final round of balloting.
“We need to resolve this gun violence crisis that we’re facing — that’s no. 1,” Ellison said. “And that requires having an accountable public safety system. Those two things are hand-in-hand. This election season they’ve been posed as opposites.”
Since the public safety ballot measure did not pass, Ellison said: “We’re back to square one.” He called for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to deliver a clear plan on public safety reform and pointed to a “broad consensus” to get rid of staffing minimums for the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We’ll have to figure out moving forward: How do we create more accountability within a system that is a little bit anti-accountable?” Ellison said.
When Ellison won the seat four years ago, he joined a City Council with the most Black members than ever before.
“In the spirit of our last cohort here, I’m really excited and honored to be able to serve with folks who really represent a large body of our diverse city here.”
Ward 6: Jamal Osman
Incumbent Jamal Osman will serve a second term on the Minneapolis City Council representing Ward 6, home to the city’s largest East African population. Jamal joined the council last year after winning a special election. He surpassed his challenger Abdirizak Bihi with more than 1,200 votes Tuesday night.
Jamal’s victory comes a week after a controversy erupted surrounding unofficial campaign messaging involving leaked criminal records of his opponent Bihi, as well a pornographic photo sent from someone falsely claiming to be a campaign volunteer.
Jarvinen added that Jamal has the unique opportunity to hear from different voices as a representative of a diverse ward.
“It’s obviously a great responsibility,” Jarvinen said. “To have that diversity in the ward really speaks to Minneapolis as a whole. It’s kind of like a microcosm of the entire city.”
Ward 7: Lisa Goodman
Incumbent Lisa Goodman defeats Nick Kor and Teqen Zéa-Aida in Ward 7. Goodman is the longest-serving Minneapolis City Council member. She received 7,206 votes Tuesday night, surpassing Kor by more than 4,000 votes.
Ward 8: Andrea Jenkins
Incumbent Andrea Jenkins handily won another term representing Ward 8 in south central Minneapolis. Jenkins served as the Minneapolis City Council vice president in her previous term.
Jenkins made history when she first took office four years ago as the country’s first transgender Black woman elected to public office.
Jenkins did not respond to Sahan Journal’s requests for an interview.
Ward 9: Jason Chavez
Jason Chavez, a Democratic Socialist and son of immigrants from Mexico, won an open seat in Ward 9 — where George Floyd was murdered last year. Chavez previously worked as an aide in the state legislature. He received 3,792 votes Tuesday night.
“Diversity and representation is really important, but I also know that representation isn’t enough,” Chavez said. “Just because we have people that look like us in office does not mean we have people that actually represent us. There’s a lot of power and a lot of money being put into this election, supporting candidates that look like our community members, that do not represent us.”
Chavez ran against a crowded field of candidates: Mickey Moore, Yussuf Haji, Brenda Short, Ross Tenneson, Carmen Means and Alfred “AJ” Flowers, Jr.
Alondra Cano, the first Latina to be elected to the Minneapolis City Council, previously held the position but did not run for reelection.
“The ninth Ward has had decades of underinvestment,” Chavez said. “We haven’t had someone that lives here, that was born and raised here, that knows how to work in government and that also organizes to make sure that we can actually have safety and resources here.”
Chavez campaigned on replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety department.
“Public safety is still going to be a big priority for us,” Chavez said. “Especially with lack of investments or gun prevention strategies — it isn’t being taken seriously by our city government right now.”
Chavez also noted that he will prioritize building more public housing, while pushing for access to counsel for renters facing eviction, and addressing homelessness.
Ward 10: Aisha Chughtai
Aisha Chughtai, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, won the Minneapolis City Council Ward 10 seat in Uptown against another crowded field: David Wheeler, Chris Parsons, Katie Jones, Ubah Nur and Alicia Gibson. In the final round of tabulation Wednesday, Chughtai received more than 50 percent of votes, defeating Gibson by more than 1,700 votes.
“I’m most energized by the idea of serving on a Council where people come from policymaking that is for marginalized communities,” Chughtai said. “That is the part that feels the most historic to me. That we are electing people who actually share our communities’ experiences.”
Council President Lisa Bender previously held the Ward 10 seat and did not seek reelection.
“From the start we had built a campaign to win, and we are clearly seeing the results of that,” Chughtai said. She especially noted popular support for the rent stabilization charter amendment, or question three. “In Ward 10, which is an 80 percent renter community, there is a lot of energy around this election and ballot question three.”
As a renter herself who said she’s faced housing insecurity, Chughtai said she can empathize with renters in the ward.
“I am excited to be a renter at the table helping shape policy about how we keep renters in their homes,” Chughtai said. “Protecting tenants in the form of strengthening eviction protections, removing barriers to entry for accessing housing, making our screening criteria more inclusive and working to protect tenants — that is the work that I’m really excited to be on the front lines of.”
Ward 11: Emily Koski
Emily Koski, the daughter of former Minneapolis Mayor Al Hofstede, defeated incumbent Jeremy Schroeder. As a DFL candidate, she received 58 percent of first-choice votes.
Ward 12: Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson, a popular progressive incumbent, keeps his seat in Ward 12. He received almost 10,000 votes Tuesday night.
Ward 13: Linea Palmisano
Linea Palmisano won re-election in Ward 13. She received more than 10,000 votes.