The new City Council divide


On Jan. 10, the new Minneapolis City Council met for the first time, elected new leadership and approved new committee assignments. It also revealed an interesting council divide.
While the historic election of former vice president and Ward 8 council member Andrea Jenkins as the new council president was unanimous, the votes for vice president and for the council committee structure and assignments were not. The seat for vice president was contested. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison nominated Ward 1 Council Member Elliot Payne, and then Council Member Lisa Goodman nominated Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano, who also had the support of Jenkins.
Payne and Jenkins also put forward competing committee assignments. Both proposed using the same five consolidated standing committees that had been created last term during the public health emergency. This includes the Business, Inspections, Housing and Zoning Committee that may be the most powerful, combining what had been three committees into one. Both proposals put Council Member Lisa Goodman as chair. Second is the Policy and Government Oversight Committee that oversees the city coordinator’s department. The Jenkins proposal that was ultimately approved had Ellison as chair of this. Payne had Palmisano as chair. Both listed Andrew Johnson as chair of both the Public Works and Intergovernmental Relations committees.
Notable differences in the proposals were the chairs of the Public Health and Safety and Budget committees. Jenkins had Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw as chair of Public Health and Safety and Council Member Emily Koski as chair of the Budget Committee. Payne designated Ellison as Chair of Public Health and Council Member Aisha Chughtai as chair of the BudgetCommittee.
After some discussion, the council voted 8 to 5 to approve Palmisano as vice president and then to approve the Jenkins committee structure with the same eight voting in favor and the other five opposed or abstaining from the vote. The five who voted in opposition included four new council members: Payne, Chughtai, Robin Wonsley Worlobah, and Jason Chavez, who were joined by Ellison, now starting his second term.
One of the big winners, in terms of leadership assignments and getting the heaviest workload, is Palmisano. She is now vice president, chair of the Committee of the Whole, chair of the Government Structure Subcommittee, vice-chair of the Budget Committee and chair of the Audit Committee, which will be taking on a bigger role under the government structure charter change. Council Member Andrew Johnson will also be chairing more than one committee: the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee as well as the Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) Special Committee.
Two of the newcomers, who were clearly opposed to the public safety amendment, will be chairing committees: Koski will chair Budget and Vetaw will chair Public Health and Safety. Those following the Water Works facility set to locate in East Phillips may find it notable that Chavez will not be serving on the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.
The group of five council members who were united in opposition to Palmisano as vice president and abstained from voting on the committee assignments, showed unity in other ways in January. The clearest example was an op-ed that they jointly submitted to the Star Tribune, calling for a strong rent control ordinance.
It is hard to know the significance of the 8 to 5 split on the council and how it might impact policy decisions in the future. If the eight who supported Palmisano were to stay united on other issues and align to support the mayor, it could be a formidable coalition and make overriding a mayoral veto impossible.
That, however, seems unlikely when it comes to controversial issues. Most of the eight supporting Palmisano opposed the Public Safety amendment, for example. This is the case with new council members Michael Rainville, Vetaw and Koski, who seem more closely aligned with Palmisano, Goodman and the mayor on political issues. Three others, however – Johnson, Jenkins, and Jamal Osman – are on record as supporting a new Public Safety Department and could be less predictable swing votes on a variety of issues.
When asked about the 8 to 5 vote, Council Member Johnson said, “I don’t think people should read much into this.”
Especially as the group of five more progressive and socialist council members want to pass policy changes, it may be more useful to recognize a 5-3-5 split in the council. As critical issues come forward like rent stabilization, the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Agreement, and funding for public housing (all of which were called out in the recent op-ed), as well as the need for an overhaul of police oversight and government restructuring, this could put the three potential swing voters in unique positions of influence and power. Jenkins has already demonstrated that she can get support across the spectrum. One challenge will be getting to seven votes to pass any legislation, and the bigger challenge will be getting to nine votes to override potential mayoral vetoes.
As Johnson put it, “I think everyone realizes how important it is to work together, and that is where we need to be.”

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