More than Great: Mayor Betsy Hodges’ Inaugural Address
January 6, 2014
Minneapolis, we can be more than just a great city.
We get to demand more of ourselves and of each other. We get to aim higher.
We must aim higher because by itself, being a great city isn’t good enough for us. By itself, being a great city isn’t a goal worthy of our strength as a people.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with President Obama. I’ll be honest — there were moments of awe at being in the same room with the leader of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
But I wasn’t there to get my picture taken or gape at the portraits, though that was pretty cool. I was there on behalf of the people of Minneapolis.
So when the President invited me to speak, I carried this message to him from our people. I told him that Minneapolis is a growing, well-run city that is having great success — and he agreed, of course.
I also told him about the gaps that we face in Minneapolis, gaps between white people and people of color that are the biggest gaps in the country. I told him that it must be possible for white people and people of color all to thrive in one city and in one region, and that we in Minneapolis would be the ones to do it.
And I told the President of the United States that my goal for Minneapolis is to get this right — and when we get it right, for us to become a beacon for the entire country.
It’s a powerful thing to tell your President that. It’s more powerful to do it.
Every elected leader in this Rotunda today was sent here by the people of Minneapolis to do three things:
- Grow our city;
- Continue to run it well;
- And eliminate the gaps between white people and people of color that divide us from each other, and will hold us back from being more than great.
This is our call, Minneapolis: To make our city more than great.
What does it mean to heed that call, to be more than great as we do these three things — as we grow our city, as we run it well, and as we eliminate our gaps?
Grow our city
We were sent here by the people of Minneapolis to grow our city. To grow our city, and make it more than great, means above all that we must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors. That goal is ambitious, and it is critical to our success.
It also means that in every part of Minneapolis, we must maintain and grow the middle-class backbone of our city. That backbone is the envy of every other city in the country. It has kept us strong and it will make us stronger.
What will it look like when we grow a city that is more than great? Here are some snapshots:
- In Northeast, Central, and North Minneapolis:
- Every house on every block is full.
- The population is growing at a faster clip than the rest of the city, and they are adding jobs and businesses faster than the rest of the city.
- Arts, commerce, and housing make these neighborhoods destinations in their own right.
- And modern rail — LRT and streetcars — spur this growth as they make their way through the street.
- In Downtown Minneapolis:
- Nicollet Mall is the envy of every street in the world.
- A modern streetcar lets people off at a reanimated street level to go to businesses, shopping, entertainment and housing.
- Hennepin Avenue is not only a destination for the arts and culture, but a great place in its own right.
- In Southeast Minneapolis:
- Both students and long-time residents have homes in green, walkable neighborhoods that have led the way in maximizing the benefits of urban rail transit.
- In Southwest Minneapolis:
- We retain the beauty and charm of our livable neighborhoods, and citizens choose to embrace density and shape it to build community and sustainable development.
Run our city well
We were sent here by the people of Minneapolis to grow our city. We were also sent here to continue to run it well.
Now let’s be frank: over the past decade, we have been great at running the city well. No one played a larger role in that than R.T. Rybak, who we miss here today and wish a speedy — but thorough! — recovery.
We ran the city well not by luck, though, but through hard work and our willingness to make tough choices.
- We watched our own bottom line, and are better off for it. We have delivered structurally-balanced budgets in which the large majority of taxpayers have paid less, or no more, in property taxes for three successive years.
- We took on a tough, seemingly no-win challenge to reform a broken closed-pension system. We didn’t back down, and taxpayers and pensioners are far better off for it.
- For years, we fought at the State Capitol on behalf of Minneapolis and cities across Minnesota. Finally, thanks to real partners in Governor Dayton and the majorities in the Legislature, we have stability in our financial relationship with the State of Minnesota. Our thanks go out to them again.
As a result, the elected officials in this hall today have the opportunity to govern a city that is in great shape, one that has recovered economically faster and better than any other major city in America.
But we still have tough choices to make.
To be more than great as we run the city well, we must continue to keep a firm hand on the tiller. We must do this even in the face of temptation: the pull to restore what has been lost must be tempered by the knowledge that our taxpayers have lost as well. The same principles that carried us through the challenges of the last decade must be the principles that guide us through recovery.
Eliminate the gaps that hold back our greatness
We were sent here by the people of Minneapolis to grow our city. We were sent here by the people of Minneapolis to continue to run it well.
But we were also sent here finally to eliminate the shameful, intolerable gaps in outcomes between white people and people of color in our city.
And let’s be frank: we’ve been good at some aspects of doing this work, but we haven’t been great. And we need to be more than great. And a crucial component of being more than great is acting like One Minneapolis as we become One Minneapolis.
Too often we see ourselves as great pieces of a city — our lakes and parks are wonderful, our marquee arts institutions are championed, our riverfront is a crown jewel.
All of that is true. Those things make our city great. But that conversation about us as a set of pieces rather than a whole highlights the divisions in our city. The absence of all parts of our great city in that conversation allows our gaps to persist.
Let us think bigger about ourselves and our city, Minneapolis. Let us have an imagination for ourselves that includes everyone, every neighborhood.
- Imagine promoting the Native American cultural corridor on Franklin Avenue.
- Imagine letting the world know that East Lake Street is a cosmopolitan destination for food, shopping and culture.
- Imagine taking your out-of-town guest to the myriad opportunities for recreation, dining and community along 38th Street.
- Imagine West Broadway in its renaissance, every storefront thriving, easily accessed by a modern streetcar connecting it to the rest of the city and region, with housing for long-term and new residents both.
And let’s take a moment to think about Cedar–Riverside. We pause to remember with sorrow the three people lost there in last week’s tragic fire, and the families they left behind, but as we and the community mourn together, the energy of the neighbors and the dynamism of the businesses there continues. And Cedar–Riverside will become even more vibrant as it is woven even more tightly into the fabric of this city by new transit and pedestrian connections.
If we do it right, we will begin to weave our city and our neighborhoods together fully, not merely in our conversations but in our hearts and in our minds as well. We will see One Minneapolis, and then we will know we can be One Minneapolis.
What does this have to do with eliminating the disparities in outcomes we face? Everything. Everything.
There are and will be many detailed policy prescriptions to come about ending these gaps — about housing and transportation, employment and health, kids before they’re born and kids while they’re in school. We must align all of our goals to ending our gaps between white people and people of color and our work and our policy must reflect that.
But along with that policy, we must also invite ourselves to think bigger about who we are and what’s at stake for ourselves as well as all of our neighbors.
Yes, being more than great at ending these disparities is the smart thing to do, because when we do it, there will be no limit to our growth or to our greatness as One Minneapolis.
But it is also the right thing to do. And not because it’s about charity or obligation.
When we lose connection to our neighbor, when we lose each other this way, we ourselves are diminished. We lose something fundamental in our lives that we don’t fully know is missing until we try and recapture it.
No, it’s not about charity or obligation. It is about people coming together and caring about one another, it is about people coming together and valuing one another. When we do that collectively, we become a true community. And somehow, at the same time, we restore ourselves fully as individuals.
Heeding the call
This past November, we as a people elected new and returning leaders who carried the message of One Minneapolis. We are now transitioning together into governing.
Government — and specifically, local government — is one of the key places where we as a community come together and decide who we are as a people. Government is one reflection of whom, collectively, we have decided to be. Government is where we answer questions like:
- Will we be a nation where anyone really can become president?
- Will we be a state where everyone is allowed to marry the person they love?
- Will we be a city where every kid walks a path that can lead to success?
And local government — specifically, the government of the City of Minneapolis — is where we have the power, and the duty, to heed the call to become more than just a great city.
When we heed that call — when we head together toward something bigger than ourselves, and by so doing find one another and ourselves — that moment is when we become more than just a great city. It’s when we become a great people. That, Minneapolis, that is our true call.
So yes, the leaders on this stage are charged with fulfilling promises we made to the people of Minneapolis this last year to grow our city, run it well, and end our gaps.
But more than that, we are charged with heeding the call, with making manifest the promise of the city and our people. That is the call to more than simply service. That is the call to become servants to a people who entrust us with decisions about our collective future.
That is our call, Minneapolis. To be more than just a great city, to be a new city: shining as a beacon brightly enough to show our nation and the world that when we come together as a people, in government and in community, it is possible to be transformed.
Last updated Jan. 6, 2014