President Julie Sullivan, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey welcomed hundreds of community members to St. Thomas Wednesday during the third annual Breakfast with the Mayors.
“Archbishop John Ireland founded this university on the premise of hope. He founded it because he believed education was the foundation for hope, hope for better lives, stronger communities, more resiliency and inclusion,” Sullivan said. “We are invested in ensuring that this community, Minneapolis, St. Paul, greater Twin Cities, is one where every individual, every family, can prosper. That’s a long and tough journey. We want to celebrate the accomplishments on that journey, but also to recognize the hard work and to do that work side by side.”
The two mayors echoed that statement, celebrating the work in their cities and the metro area in the past year – and partnerships with the private community that helped accomplish much of it – and the hard work needed in the years ahead.
“I’m enormously proud of the work we’ve done together, the momentum we have right now not just in St. Paul, but in the Twin Cities metro area,” Carter said. “Other levels of government, they’re marked by division, by discord, by a hyperpartisanship that gets in the way of getting even the most simple things accomplished, those things we already agree on. … We are demonstrating in the Twin Cities metro area, in St. Paul, that when we meet people who speak different languages, come from a different country, have different religions and faith beliefs … that it’s an opportunity for us to build our local economy together. That’s what we’re doing.”
“You don’t get anything done without working together. At times I sound like a broken record; these public-private partnerships get to be almost cliche. They work,” Frey said. “I was at the U.S. Conference of Mayors a week ago. I was talking to mayors from around the country about the relationship they have with their chamber of commerce, with the business community, and how their communities were or weren’t willing to step up when the going got tough and on a continuous basis. They were all envious of the relationships we have with you, of your willingness to step up … You all have been there and these partnerships work. I very much look forward to that partnership continuing.”
Much done, much to do in Minneapolis
Frey described 2019 in Minneapolis as “an incredible year filled with highs and lows,” pointing to several of the successes and ongoing challenges the city faces across many areas. He pointed to the Minneapolis Navigation Center as an example of both: After opening late in 2018 it helped move 55% of those there – nearly 95% who were Native American – into more permanent housing, a marked increase from the average placement rate of 15% for comparable programs, he said.
“That’s the tough work that cities have to do," Frey said. "We are dealing with these issues every single day. When you have federal and state policies that are making this incredibly complex and pushing things under the rug, who’s under that rug? It’s mayors, it’s city employees, it’s all of us.”
Frey highlighted the success of the city’s first Black Business Week and ongoing investment in its Commercial Property Development Fund.
“We had a focus in 2019 on economic inclusion. Economic inclusion is the implementation of specific solutions that undo the legacy of institutional exclusion of black, native communities and people of color,” he said. “We are prioritizing these communities as primary beneficiaries and partners in this work.”
Frey also emphasized Minneapolis will continue to prioritize affordable housing.
“I’m proud to say in the first year [as mayor] we invested a record amount of money, about $40 million. This year I can say that $40 million did something," he said. "We had over 1,000 new units of affordable housing through that money that are going to come online. We have a focus specifically on deeply affordable housing … that housing so people who are experiencing homelessness have the next rung on the ladder to pull themselves out. We made a push to have affordable housing throughout all the quadrants in our city. … It should be in every quadrant of our city. We have made efforts to make that a reality.”
St. Paul momentum, willingness to change
Carter similarly spoke with optimism about the momentum of St. Paul in recent years, naming off nearly a dozen examples, from the opening of Allianz Field in the Midway area to the ongoing development plans of the former Ford plant site.
“We have progress on so many levels, it excites me,” he said. “I get to go to so many ribbon cuttings and groundbreaking ceremonies, and it shows me something is happening in St. Paul. … We ought to be proud of that.”
Carter spoke about attending last week the opening ceremony of a St. Paul location for The Coven, “a new co-working place for women, trans and nonbinary community members. It’s electric. … It’s a reimagination of who we are,” Carter said. “It brought me back to what I heard from people about I don’t look mayoral enough. I get what they meant. You look at the wall of what our former mayors have looked like, and I don’t. … We get these ideas in our mind of what an executive looks like, what a businessperson looks like, what an entrepreneur looks like. I was at The Coven and they were rejecting all of that, and that’s good for our economy.”
Carter discussed the need for ongoing investment in children and families in St. Paul, pointing to initiatives like College Bound – an investment of $50 into a college savings fund for all children born in St. Paul – and the upcoming Families First program, which “targets our lowest income families that we’re going to make an investment of $300 in you to stay stably housed and keep that same child in the same place” so they’re not changing schools multiple times during a school year, he said.
“Often someone asks me if I had a magic wand, what’s one thing we can do for kids in our community that would make a transformational difference?” Carter said. “‘What’s the one thing?’ That’s the most wrong question we could ask. When we love children, when we know what music they like, we know their idiosyncrasies, the question is, ‘What are all the things we can do for our children?'”
“Sometimes these changes make us uncomfortable,” he added. “Our pathway to the bright, transformational, equitable, bold city we desire, cannot be traveled in the narrow four walls of our comfort zone. We have to get outside our comfort zone.”