National political group gives $500,000 to campaign to replace Minneapolis Police Department

By: - February 3, 2021 3:05 pm

A Minneapolis Police Department squad car at the scene of a fatal car crash at the intersection of 36th Avenue North and Aldrich Avenue North in Minneapolis on May 1, 2019. Photo by Tony Webster.

A newly registered group called “Vote Yes 4 Minneapolis” reported a single $500,000 donation to campaign for a proposed charter amendment to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a new department under the control of the City Council.

The massive contribution for a municipal election came from progressive activist billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, according to campaign finance documents. Vote Yes 4 Minneapolis will likely be guided by a coalition of groups which have been active in the defund police movement since Floyd’s death including Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block.

The contribution is more than double the $234,000 Mayor Jacob Frey has on hand for his reelection campaign. Frey, who announced recently that he’s running for reelection, has been the most prominent voice in the city opposing the proposed charter amendment, which would strip control of the police department from the mayor’s office.

The big outside money underscores Minneapolis’ position at the center of a national debate over defunding police since George Floyd was killed by police in May.

Following Floyd’s death, Frey and a significant number of Minneapolis City Council members have staked out competing positions on the future of the police department.

Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have promised transformational change through policy reforms, while City Council President Lisa Bender and many of her colleagues have pushed for starting over and rebuilding the department from the ground up.

Last June, the council moved to put a ballot initiative before voters to eliminate the police department and create a new department of community safety and violence prevention under the purview of the council. Under the city’s existing charter, which is like the city’s constitution, the mayor has control over the police department.

The effort was stymied by the city’s Charter Commission, an unelected body tasked with reviewing changes to the charter.

In August, the Charter Commission blocked the amendment from going before voters in the 2020 election by deciding to take more time to review the proposal before issuing the necessary recommendation.

Three City Council members — Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder — renewed the effort to put the question before voters this fall, when all 13 council seats and the mayor will be on the ballot.

The City Council has not yet voted on sending the proposed charter amendment back to the charter commission. Activists are also considering moving forward with a citizen-led ballot initiative to replace the police department.

The Charter Commission must review all proposed amendments to the city’s charter, although its approval is not required to put a proposal before voters.

Meanwhile, the Charter Commission is also drafting its own, somewhat oppositional, ballot initiative which would give more power to the mayor.

Minneapolis voters may also be asked this fall if the city should be able to enact rent control.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.