More than a decade ago, Jacob Frey was a young law student running through Minneapolis during the Twin Cities Marathon. It was his first experience in the city.
Now, Frey, 36, is running the city of Minneapolis in a new way: as its newest mayor – and also one of its youngest.
A Virginia native and an avid runner, Frey was elected in November 2017 and was sworn into office in January 2018. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate defeated incumbent mayor Betsy Hodges and more than a dozen other candidates on election night.
Before becoming mayor, Frey was a Minneapolis City Council member for the Third Ward. Prior to that, he worked as a civil rights attorney and became a social justice advocate in the Twin Cities.
One of the first things Frey plans to tackle as mayor is affordable housing in Minneapolis, he says. His priorities also include fighting segregation, improving the local economy and repairing the relationship between police and the Minneapolis community.
In January, I sat down with Frey to interview him about his goals, his experience with Minneapolis and about how young people can play a role in his vision for the city.
Q: Growing up as a teenager in Virginia, did you ever imagine becoming a mayor?
A: As a teenager, my passion was distance running. I was a track and field athlete in high school and got a scholarship to attend the College of William and Mary, so no, it wasn’t like a political aspiration.
My running career brought me a mentality and a connection between hard work and success. The brilliant thing that I loved so much about running is there is this direct correlation between hard work and success. If you work hard, you get better and better and better. If you work harder than the person standing next to you on the starting line, you are probably going to beat them. But that isn’t the case in larger society. It varies on how you grow up, who your parents are, what side of the tracks you grew up on, which in many instances determines your outcome in life.
Seeing that direct correlation that I saw in running is something that drives me. So did I know I was going to be mayor? No, I didn’t even know I would end up in Minneapolis, but there has always been a drive to work in the community.
Q: I heard your first experience with Minnesota was during a marathon. Can you tell me more about that?
A: I came to the Twin Cities and actually stayed in a hotel in St. Paul to run the Twin Cities Marathon. I remember thinking, “This is a pretty spectacular city.” They call it the most beautiful urban marathon in the country, and it really is. It is very much a city within the park.
So when I was looking around for jobs following graduation from law school, along with looking at some of your typical East Coast firms, I looked in Minneapolis and I got a job. I moved on out here.
Q: What is your vision for the city of Minneapolis, and how can young people play a role in that vision?
A. Not only can they play a role, they’re going to be absolutely critical to it. I hear a lot of people talk about all our young people don’t vote, young people don’t get involved, young people, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I went, wow, you know, it used to be the case that it was difficult to get a 100 young people to [be politically active], but we have seen that 20 of them can change the whole freaking world. We’ve seen it time and time and time again throughout history. There are plenty of people who said that [St. Paul] Mayor [Melvin] Carter and myself were too young to be mayor. I don’t think they have that mentality anymore.
Q: How can local politics become even more accessible to young people?
A: In terms of how they get involved, I think there’s broad scope, that isn’t running for office. Yes, it’s running for office, but it’s not just running for office. I mean we need young people who are running with great ideas to become entrepreneurs and CEOs of the next Medtronic. We need young people to be activists in the community and working around important social justice issues like affordable housing and police-community relations. We need young people to be police officers and public servants and work at the city. There’s a broad spectrum and I think people need to be involved. I think it’s the community that drives the decision as to whether a government is more accessible to young people and more than 50 percent of the population in the Twin Cities is younger than me right now. I believe in doing affirmative outreach to young people. It’s the same as if you are doing affirmative outreach to communities of color and to impacted neighborhoods.
We talk a lot about listening rather than talking. Listening is really important, but it’s also important that the engagement we do is not fake. If it happens early enough in the process and it’s real and genuine, then that engagement actually can be incorporated into a policy that is passed. I think that’s where we’ve been lacking in Minneapolis. Minneapolis has done a lot of outreach and engagement. Oftentimes the engagement, especially with communities of color, is tokenized or fake, and I want to make sure that if we’re doing outreach it is real and genuine.
Q: One of my peers recently interviewed Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. One of his priorities is improving the community’s trust in the police force. In your opinion, what needs to happen for that to improve?
A: I’ll say that Chief Arradondo is an exceptional leader. We are united in the mentality that there needs to be a shift in the way the work is done in our police department. It’s a few things.
First, we need additional accountability measures, and there is a pretty significant distrust in the police department, especially among communities of color. So that shift comes in the form of your policies. I believe that officers should have to exhaust reasonable alternatives before resorting to deadly force. I believe that just having a body camera or body camera policy doesn’t do any good unless the body cameras are turned on, or those policies need to be shifted and we need a culture shift on the department.
I’m also a firm believer that we should be expecting a whole lot from our officers, but if we’re expecting a lot from our officers, we also need to be giving them the tools to succeed and do their job. Right now a lot of them are just running from 911 call to 911 call, so they never have the opportunity to build out the positive relationships with the community. We’re going to be doing some work to narrow the gap between officers and the community. Putting them on consistent times and schedules so you know who your officer is and you know him or her by name. Things need to be moving in that direction.
Q: The Super Bowl is in a few days. How will you be enjoying the experience?
A: We’re actually still working that out. I won’t be at the game. I won’t be in the stadium anyway. I was planning on swinging by beforehand to shake a few hands and tell people to invest in the city, but then leaving before kickoff is the plan as of right now. I actually have to talk to my staff about watching the game on Nicollet Mall or in some bar in the area with the rest of the community.
Q: When you’re not busy with work, what’s your favorite thing to do in Minneapolis?
A: Honestly, I just like going out to dinner with my wife, or I like going for a run with a bunch of friends and then going out to dinner with my wife. We usually eat out because neither one of us are good cooks.
THE FREY FILE
Name: Jacob Frey
Occupation: Mayor of Minneapolis
Career highlights: Elected as mayor of Minneapolis in 2017… Elected as Minneapolis City Council member in 2013…Finished fourth in PanAm Games marathon in 2007… Moved to Minneapolis after running Twin Cities Marathon.
Find him on Twitter at @Jacob_Frey.