2020 State of the City
I know. This is pretty weird for me, too.
I’d envisioned speaking to you from one of our nationally renowned parks today. I’d envisioned remarks that nodded to our city’s booming local economy and foreshadowed new investments for our residents. There would be food trucks, music, and fields dotted with summer activity. Maybe next year. Today, for the first time in Minneapolis history, we’re not delivering a live State of the City address. We’re in my office, taping this with only a few staff – not the hundreds of friends, neighbors, and family that I look forward to seeing each year. I miss you all. Nonetheless, the question I am tasked with answering today is: what is the state of our city? Well, over the last six weeks, here’s what I’ve seen.
State of the City
I’ve seen healthcare workers who live in Minneapolis and even more who trained at world-class Minneapolis institutions fearlessly saving lives – at great risk to their own health.
Staff at homeless shelters across our city have continued to selflessly serve our most vulnerable neighbors.
Small businesses have pulled out all the stops to make sure their employees get paid, even as they confront an uncertain future.
Our Minneapolis police officers and firefighters are responding courageously to calls for help, even with new and unforeseen challenges ever-present in the line of duty.
I’ve seen unmatched collaboration and partnership across the city council and mayor’s office when it matters most. Thank you, to Council President Bender, Council Vice President Jenkins, and the entire City Council for your leadership and partnership throughout this crisis.
And I’ve seen the greatest city in the world rise to meet the greatest world challenge in generations with characteristic resilience and resolve.
So, you ask, “What is the state of our city?”
The state of our city is unbowed.
Minneapolis still reflects local government in its strongest form.
But we’re also adapting, alongside the rest of the world.
Some of our most beloved events have changed.
Some of our tried and true traditions look entirely different.
The Passover seder that Sarah and I look forward to every year was reduced to a Zoom session and charoset out of Tupperware. I know your Easter and Ramadan holiday celebrations have been altered as well.
Everything has changed.
Working out, celebrating birthdays, trying new restaurants, watching your kid’s soccer game, grabbing happy hour, concerts, sports arenas, theatre, leaving the city, getting a haircut, going on a first date, delivering speeches to empty rooms – and then viewing them later online.
Everything has changed.
Perhaps most striking, the normal companionship we feel from hugging friends and family has been abruptly pulled away.
I know this has been difficult for you. It’s been tough for me, too. The novel coronavirus and still evolving threat of COVID-19 have fundamentally altered our lives and our livelihoods. It has reshaped every city, every town in America. It has reshaped Minneapolis. But it will not define us. Minneapolis has been and will always be defined by its people: their spirit, their fortitude, their compassion.
Civic and Social Responsibility
Minneapolis occupies a unique space in our state’s history. It was the Dakota who saw this land on the river as a sacred place. They were right. It was our mills and the might of the Mississippi River that powered Minnesota’s industrial capacity in the 19th Century. It was our ingenuity and propensity for change that fueled the Twin Cities’ rise as a retail and manufacturing hub. It was our courage and adherence to science that resulted in the world’s first successful open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota.
We have been and will remain Minnesota’s economic engine and driving force for progress. Today it falls to us to be the state’s vanguard of public health. This virus is unrelenting, so our commitment to one another must be just as persistent. For the days, weeks, and months ahead, our actions will be guided by a sense of civic and social responsibility. And our decisions must continue to flow from science and the best data available.
As the season changes, I, too, feel the warmth of summer memories past. And today, I feel a cold sting when I realize the memories created this year will be substantially different. Our Minneapolis summer will, in many respects, need to take a backseat for what has rightly been dubbed the long winter ahead. We’d rather be the public servants who ruined summer and saved lives than those who saved summer and ruined lives. We’d rather be the city that acted on facts than the city that buried its head in the sands of ignorance.
Protecting Public Health
Minnesota has amongst the lowest infection rate in the nation, and data shows that Minneapolis is on the right track. Our state is now home to the nation’s strongest testing capacity. There are reasons for hope. But there are also stark warnings and the ever-present need to guard against complacency.
Some residents are more vulnerable than others. That tragic reality has been felt in our city. In Minneapolis, over 80 percent of all documented fatalities have been in long-term, congregate health care facilities. That’s why we developed stronger preventative standards for staff and residents in such facilities.
We’ve set up hygiene stations across our city to help ensure our residents experiencing unsheltered homelessness have access to the supplies they need to meet basic personal health needs. And we’re collaborating incessantly with community leaders and governmental partners to effectively protect the most vulnerable among us.
Our parks and lakes have brought people together and brought Minneapolis national acclaim, year-over-year. They offer serenity, escape, and an avenue for good health. But now, without proper oversight and management, they could become an avenue for community spread. So, we’ve opened more space across our city and around our parks to allow for greater physical distancing. And we’re working with the Park Board, taking steps to curb congregating and, by extension, save lives.
When we see a problem, we listen to the experts, review the data, and address that problem. That’s the Minneapolis way. We didn’t quit when Saint Anthony Falls collapsed in 1869, plunging our regional economy into uncertainty. We rebuilt, we reimagined an improved system, and we soldiered on.
Last year we took steps to mitigate the effects felt by our residents from an economic downturn. We sustainably invested in our contingency fund for the first time in years, and during a construction boom, we took a conservative approach to revenue projections from new construction permits. Yes, last year we were bracing for a downturn. Those measures were important, and they will pay dividends – but they now feel quaint in the face of what we confront today.
We are staring down $100 to $200 million in lost revenue. That is a major hit. We are seeing reliable funding sources shrink, and we understand that circumstance will force difficult decisions for cities across the nation, including Minneapolis. So, we’ve been proactive, enacting a spending freeze, limiting discretionary spending on things like travel, food, fleet, and other large purchases. We’ve put in place a hiring freeze, with an exception for positions related directly to COVID-19 response, and instituted a wage freeze, all with the goal of taking affirmative steps now to guard against drastic measures later.
But if you take away anything from this speech, let it be these two promises: our core city services will continue to be delivered with excellence, and we will prioritize first those who are struggling most.
Even prior to this crisis, we know that there were at least 28,000 households that were both at or below 30 percent of Area Median Income and cost burdened. That number has only increased. The need for affordable housing since COVID-19 has only grown.
Our team has moved swiftly to set up new emergency rental support to provide a measure of relief. With $3 million in housing gap funds, we’ll soon begin assisting over 6,000 people that have been impacted by the pandemic. This is an important first step, and that programming will have a meaningful impact. But what we can provide is simply dwarfed by the demand.
Our application for housing gap funds closed earlier this week. We’re still counting the applications, but already we’ve received at least five times what we can fill. Confronting these limitations is heart wrenching, and the uncertainty surrounding even the immediate future of housing in Minneapolis is overwhelming. I am imploring our state and federal leaders to act, give us the resources to execute on emergency relief. Help us stem the tide, help us mitigate the damage. Giving cities the resources necessary to keep the pilot light burning now will help us truly reignite the flame of our state’s economy once the pandemic has passed. We can’t do this without you, but you also can’t do this without us.
The cliché holds true: we’re all in this together. We’re all impacted by this pandemic, but some more acutely than others.
Small Business Support
The virus doesn’t discriminate epidemiologically, but it does economically. Businesses throughout our city have taken a hit, but that hit has been particularly direct for businesses on the brink, for those operating week-to-week, and for those who have been denied traditional lending.
The new forgivable loan program we’ve developed is designed to reach those small businesses and workers in our community whose viability is disproportionately tied to the pandemic. Already, we’re reviewing the applications we’ve received from targeted areas throughout our city.
I’m not of the false impression that our business gap funds will meet the need. They can’t. But, with limited dollars and with many businesses left with no hope of federal assistance, it was incumbent on us to direct our resources with intention. A pandemic is no time to abandon your convictions. We’ve outlined unmistakable values of equity and inclusion.
Last year, we passed a Strategic Racial Equity Action Plan for the first time in our city’s history. To ignore those grand platforms at a time of unprecedented crisis would be to turn our backs on who we are and deal only in ornamental policy. That’s not why we’re in this line of work.
City Staff & Public Service
We didn’t pursue public service only to govern in times of prosperity. We didn’t run for office to make easy decisions look brave. Those employed by the City of Minneapolis choose to work for the City of Minneapolis because they care about Minneapolis. They’re passionate about their small corner of our workforce and recognize that small corner can have outsized impacts on people’s lives. That is especially the case right now. Right here. Today.
Lucian Osuji has come into work every day for 31 years to make sure your drinking water is safe, clean, and crisp. Chemists, bacteriologists, and lab operators conduct about 500 tests per week to screen for e-coli and other pathogens. There are staff who are literally classically trained in water tasting to make sure our tap water meets Minneapolis standards. It’s a whole process you’ve probably never heard or really thought about. But Lucian and the water operations and laboratory teams are why, throughout this pandemic, our entire city can be assured that when they turn the faucet, clean water will come out.
Our firefighters and police officers answer the call and enter dangerous situations every day. Today they confront a threat even the best training would leave undetectable. They face a danger that can enter their home and spread to their loved ones.
The concept of working from home is a privilege unavailable to our first responders, our 9-1-1 dispatchers, our inspectors, all frontline staff – people delivering food, service, and support.
There’s always an inherent tension between planning for the future and meeting immediate needs. That tension is all the more pronounced in the midst of a global crisis. That may be the most obvious thing I say this whole speech. Every city, every business, every family strives to be in a place where they can plan for the worst while hoping for the best. We do this to ensure our futures, our children’s futures, our grandchildren’s futures are secured – or have some semblance of security.
When we found out Sarah was pregnant, we talked about the world into which we are bringing our future child. We talked about things that might be expected and things that could be known. How hot is it going to be in 50 years, as climate change increasingly affects our daily lives? Where would they go to school? Can we raise a good person, with good values and good intentions?
All these questions, all this planning for the future, now needs to wait for action in the present. We won’t be judged by remote plans. The measure – years and decades from now – will be what we did to make the future possible, for as many as possible.
Our entire planet is presently bound by a common threat. Throughout this crisis, we must also be bound by a common hope and a common understanding of what lies ahead. A new normal, at times drastically different from the old normal, lies ahead. A new normal: better responding to climate change, inequities, public health, and immigration, not simply through local collaboration but through global cooperation.
To be clear, there’s nothing normal about the new normal, other than the fact that we’ll need to embrace it. Due in September, Sarah and I will tell our kid that we all played a part in making the future possible. You will tell your own children that we struggled, occasionally faltered, but acted boldly, decisively, and selflessly in a time of great uncertainty.
And that will be our legacy.
The state of our city is unbowed. The state of our city will be stronger on the other side, because of you.