We sat down with Kate Mortenson, candidate for City Council in Ward 13, to talk about her background, why she decided to run, where she stands on a couple major issues like climate, public safety, transit, housing, and more. This is part of a series of interviews of people running for City Council – if you have any questions or feedback, use the “Add Context” box at the bottom of this piece.
Southwest Voices: What made you decide to run for office?
Kate Mortenson: I decided to run for office because I care about our voice in Ward 13. A year in which we’re dealing with redistricting and a two year term instead of a four year term, and we’ve just altered the way we do government is a really important moment to bring a contrast to what we’ve had from the last ten years for the voters to consider.
SWV: What has surprised you so far about the process of running for office since you announced a couple of weeks ago?
KM: I am surprised by how the inside and the outside operate. It was a hot second between my first conversation with someone who is connected to the inside of this process and the knowledge that everybody on the inside had about my interest to run.
Contrast that with how things go on the outside, where you really have an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that there really is an election this year. There is an opportunity to make a choice about what we have had for the last ten years, and to consider whether you’re happy with the status quo or trade for something different in terms of establishing your voice and values from Ward 13.
SWV: So is that how you see this race, inside vs. outside?
KM: On the inside piece, while it’s important to pay attention and respect people that spend so much time connected to politics and politicians, and who is running whose campaign, and where the different alliances are, I saw very quickly that that has very little to do with what the voters in Ward 13 are interested in or what they care about.
SWV: How do you feel about the Minneapolis Police Department?
KM: One of the first things people say to me when I tell them I’m running is “Thank you.” They are expressing an appreciation that I want to do this work. I think it’s important to recognize that individuals who are choosing to make a career choice in policing are making a significant choice. It involves peril. It involves sacrifice.
How I feel about the police department is that, while we have significant challenges, while even the United Nations is asking the federal government to do reform work, while I feel unsatisfied and impatient with the progress we’ve made, I do think it’s important to respect the call that people feel to be a police officer. It’s important to separate out the actions that are horrible and unacceptable from the people that are pursuing an honorable profession.
SWV: You wrote a public safety-focused editorial on the Star Tribune back in 2020. In it, you said “Our city’s future hangs in the balance.” Do you think that’s still the case, or has your view of the situation evolved?
KM: I wrote that editorial at a time when so many people I know from inside Ward 13 and across the city were watching these escalating activities of aggression and violence. Watching our police department have the crisis that it was and continues to have around numbers and enforcement activities. We were in a really perilous moment, and I wasn’t hearing leadership voices. I wasn’t hearing them.
When the mother of one of my team members, who is Black, was attacked at the supermarket in broad daylight, it felt like it was important to say that we’ve got to start taking steps and expressing this point of view. I will not choose between safety and reform. I want both. Not just for my community in Southwest Minneapolis, but for everyone across the city of Minneapolis.
I do not want my safety at the expense of someone else in our city. I want that reform to allow me and everyone else to be proud that this is our city.
That ended up being the third most-read article of the year. I got a number of calls from business leaders and others that were thanking me for putting out there, what they thought was a rational call for rational action.
I got a pounding from the social media side from people who were frustrated that, oh, a white lady is afraid to go to the grocery store. That really was not my message. My message was that we need safety for our people across the city. When any of us anywhere can’t go shopping in the city during the daylight without getting clocked to the ground, we all need to stop and ask ourselves what we are going to do.
SWV: In your announcement, you said “In our neighborhood, inadequate policing and basic city services is frustrating, even scary.” Can you elaborate on that a bit more?
KM: Sure. A city has some basic things they’re expected to do. Streets need plowing. Potholes need filling. Arguably, we’re not doing so great on either of those right now. It’s winter, yes, but it’s not only winter. We just aren’t in good shape with how we’re taking care of these basic things.
When it comes to policing, we aren’t where we need to be. We’re three years past one of the most significant crises that the world has ever seen. Being at the leading edge of innovation and reform and change – we’re much too late for that.
It’s that sense of urgency we’re not seeing. The community has been asked again and again what they need, and every time they say that we urgently need appropriate levels of policing and appropriate reforms and acknowledgement of the cultural issues that exist. It’s too late to be urgent.
How does that impact me? Crime is up in Ward 13. Year-to-date compared to last year. This time last year compared to now, we’re up in assaults, robbery, and car thefts. I have too many stories of neighbors who have experienced one of these three. It’s very distressing. But, at the end of the day, we’re ok. We’re still one of the safest neighborhoods in the city.
What does it look like, right next to us in Ward 10, which includes Uptown? What does it look like on Lake Street? What does it look like in the Little Earth area? What does it look like on the Northside? It’s unacceptable to me that we’re still struggling with crime that has not moderated.
I would think that when we have a vice president of the City Council that we would be able to do both improvements in Ward 13 and across the city. Again, I do not want my safety at the expense of anyone else’s.
SWV: What would your approach be to housing policy in the city?
KM: Minneapolis is an amazing city when it comes to open space and parks. There were visionary plans laid down by our city’s founders that we benefit from – but somewhat inequitably.
We are at an inflection point. Are we a city that’s on the rise, or are we a city that’s going to plateau or decline? A lot of that has to do with the availability of housing. If we do not provide a place for people of all manner and range of need to live, people will not be able to come to the city to make that next chapter of their lives. People will not be able to stay in this city. Then our economy cannot grow. If our economy cannot grow, if we cannot be vibrant, then that is the beginning of the undoing of the promise of Minneapolis. I would like to be a part of ensuring that we are a city on the rise.
SWV: Do you agree with the 2040 Plan as it’s currently constructed, or is there anything that you would like to tweak or change?
KM: I have spent a lot of time in recent months talking to our neighborhood businesses in Ward 13. I’ve talked to lots of neighbors in Ward 13 that are experiencing the effects of the vision of the 2040 Plan. As visions go, I love it, directionally. More walking, less individual use of cars, I think it’s a great vision for the future.
On the other hand, as we are implementing the changes in an asynchronous way in the early stages, some of these steps are causing real challenges for people today. Challenges for our senior citizens who, even if they’re healthy, can’t walk six blocks to buy a ladder at the neighborhood hardware store. We need that neighborhood hardware store, we need our major businesses nodes for our neighborhoods. We can’t push them out as the price of progress, and say it’s because we put a new type of road coming through with no parking spaces.
The last time I checked, you can’t bring a ladder home on a bicycle. So, what is that decades-long family business going to do? That’s the type of thing where I think we need an advocate to assist our businesses and our residents in their unique circumstances.
Even as we pursue a long-term vision, we can be aligning that vision with the present reality. It’s going to be ten to fifteen years before we accomplish that vision, and we don’t want to chase out a decade of city living for our older community members and these vibrant businesses that are struggling with this sea change without any support.
SWV: Drilling in on that point about business nodes, there have been a lot of things we hear about, like where the bus rapid transit stops will be or the new larger commercial building where Zumbo is in Linden Hills. What would your vision be for the core of the Linden Hills business node in the next few years?
KM: It’s an especially challenging time for neighborhoods like Linden Hills. There is an idyllic quality in Linden Hills that goes back to the Mary Tyler Moore house that’s actually in Linden Hills [Editor's note – it is technically in Kenwood]. I’m dating myself. I love to ride my bike into Linden Hills. I get my ice cream cone, I pop over to the children’s book store, I grab a cup of coffee.
There’s so much good that’s developed in Linden Hills the last couple of years. In the next few years, there will continue to be positive developments and things that people experiencing the unintended consequences of change will be uncomfortable with. I think it’s really important that we pay attention to those unintended consequences. Those experiences that people are having on the margins of these big leaps forward matter. They matter. They need to be understood, considered, and responded to.
In the big picture, we are all looking at more density in our city. What that looks like in Linden Hills compared to Lake Street might be dramatically different, and it should be. To completely change the character of a neighborhood involves loss for individuals who have decades-long investment in their home and in their community.
Change is hard, but change is still coming, even though it’s hard. I believe that there’s always more we can do to help people what those changes mean for their business,for their neighborhood, and for their home.
One other thing. Some of the public transportation that’s becoming accessible in the Linden Hills neighborhood really does excite me. It means that more young people are going to choose to live in the Linden Hills neighborhood. It’s going to keep that neighborhood cool, and hip, and cutting-edge. I think that the mature families in the neighborhood see that and that adds new energy. I think that’s something we can look forward to.
SWV: What would you do as a councilmember about addressing climate change?
KM: We have an opportunity as a City Council to consider things like climate change in every action that we take. I think it’s important and incumbent on us that as we make decisions about whether to renovate or tear down, whether to invest in one form of transit or another, we need to do that in light of climate realities.
Thinking of climate as a separate challenge apart from the realities of how we’re living our lives today, and our investment in future-facing Minneapolis, I think there’s a risk of misalignment where we lose either support or efficiency of how we’re building that future. Climate is extremely important, and just like our youngest children and oldest adults, needs to be considered along with race and equity.
I wonder as we start these separate tracks with a focus on things like climate and things like senior members of our community, how are we making sure that our priorities are being woven into decision-making today?
Our region has huge climate advantages. I say that with the understanding that there is always more to do and we need to defend and increase those advantages. But, we’ve got water. There are parts of our country that do not have water. We have plentiful water because of the Mississippi and our Great Lakes. Our geographic placement is such that we may actually get a second growing season. In the climate winners and losers, we have some advantages, and we also have to recognize that that’s not where it ends. We have to continue to press for improvement and mitigation.
I view climate as an attractor for residents, and I view our climate reality as an attractor of businesses, because we are so well-positioned through water and the changing seasons.
SWV: The city may have a good chunk of transit money coming to it from this legislative session at the Capitol. How would you prioritize spending that money on the city’s transportation system?
KM: I don’t think I would change or alter any of the major transportation priorities that the city has. More resources is wonderful. The variety of points of view and arriving at the conclusion like buses on Hennepin, that’s an example of the challenges of working these things out. I think we’ve worked out that situation to a good conclusion. There isn’t something in terms of transportation that I would immediately try to stop or start.
The tensions between people that use their car, people that use their bikes, and other forms of transportation are healthy and robust conversations that need to continue. What I hope will come from them is an alignment of our future state with the reality of people’s lives today.
SWV: What would you do differently than Councilmember Linea Palmisano?
KM: The key difference is in how we express the voice of Ward 13. I would describe myself as brave and bold. I’m also compassionate and empathetic. I’m an action and results person. I feel that we can and should be going further faster than we are on things like safety and reform.
One example is police overtime work. It can be off-duty or in a program called “buyback,” where police can be purchased by special needs like Target Field or at a football game. We have police buyback happening in some of our neighborhoods right now.
As a city, we already pay for the police through our taxes. We don’t have enough police to provide safety across the city. Yet, the police are able to go through buyback to do extra duty in places like Lowry Hill. I think this is an unacceptable situation.
We shouldn’t be approving buyback beyond the needs of, for example, our stadiums and our sports games, until we have safety across the city. In the same budget discussion where the incumbent questioned with concern the buyback program, she also approved a program to send our police to the Lowry Hill community to provide them safety. I would not do that. I do not want my safety to be at the expense of someone else’s safety.
Another issue has to do with off-duty policing. This is something we have known through the Audit Committee going back to 2020 that’s highly problematic. Right after Derek Chauvin was arrested for murder, we found out he had made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, upon which he hadn’t paid any taxes. He did that with side gigs.
These side gigs are hugely problematic, they are not regulated, and this has been known for a long time. It is, just now, being lifted from the queue for attention. It has been a challenge for too long. We’ve had ten years of understanding the situation and we’re finally just now getting around to doing something. So, I think a sense of urgency is a major difference between us.
Politically, I’m not hugely different. In Ward 13, when we’ve had a challenger, that challenger has represented a very different political point of view. What I bring is a sense of urgency, accountability, and follow-through. I think the people of Ward 13 want to see results.
The last thing I would say is that I feel that the people of Ward 13 have experienced ten years of a certain way. That way is the status quo. These times we’re living in force us to ask ourselves – is this the best we can do? Is there the potential that we could do better? I believe it’s on us to make that choice for better.
SWV: What would you bring from your background outside of politics into this job?
KM: I’ve had the opportunity over the last dozen years to be really connected in different parts of the city. I am a participant in every ward of the city, like when we were putting together the NCAA Men’s Final Four. I’ve spent years supporting anti-poverty initiatives at the grassroots, on the Northside of Minneapolis.
These experiences have given me friendships and working collaborations from all across the city that bring together non-profit, philanthropy, government, business, and community. When you bring all of those forces to the table, there is a force multiplier of opportunity that I think we’ve left on the table.
Being on the outside of government has given me the opportunity to build fabulous relationships with so many people that want to see changes to this city and think we need a few changes to the levers and the dials of how we’re leading from Ward 13 to really unlock the opportunities.
SWV: What’s something about you as a person that you think most people don’t understand about you?
KM: I understand that if you put me next to the incumbent, most people won’t be able to tell who is who. We might just both look like two fortunate white women from a wealthy part of the city. There is a certain amount of identity politics.
What frustrates me about that is that my heart is a heart for community. I served in the Peace Corps right after I finished my degree in journalism after growing up on the East Coast. When I first moved to Minneapolis, I had to work a midnight to 8 a.m. job in news to get my career going. During the day, I was doing television commercials. There’s actually a Great Clips and Edina Realty commercial somewhere in the archives that I had the opportunity to be in.
I love hard work. I’ve never been a nine to five professional. Working in news is not nine to five. Working in the Peace Corps, solving problems with rubber bands and a paper clip, is not a nine to five job. Running the Men’s NCAA Final Four, certainly not a nine to five job. Working on statewide coalitions for the kids most in-need, not a nine to five job. For me, it’s a lifestyle of passion and commitment to see our communities do better. When people tell me it’s not likely, or it won’t happen, or it’s too hard, that just makes me double down.
That’s something people should know about me. I’ve been called a hustler, and I take it as a compliment. I’m ready to hustle for Ward 13, and for Minneapolis.
SWV: Anything other issues you’d like to cover?
KM: I want to support our neighborhoods. I already talked about considering the needs of local businesses upon which we rely. I did not talk about supporting our neighborhood associations. They are absolutely a critical glue for the individual neighborhoods that they serve. They’re an important connecting point between the communities they serve and the city. They’re the nearest form of government.
I would like to see us restore the 50% cut that our councilmember and others proposed to our neighborhood associations and use the equitable funding formula. Everyone needs a certain base amount, but some communities need more, because they don’t have the stable consistency that neighborhoods like Ward 13 have.
It breaks my heart that we’ve stretched our neighborhood associations like we have. We’ve scared them to where they need to be less localized in their representation. Some of them are thinking of merging. It becomes a bit watered down and challenging to represent the desires of people ten blocks this way and ten blocks in the other direction.
[Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece shared data from across the 5th Precinct, where robberies are down. That note has been removed as the statistics shared about Ward 13 are accurate.]