Emily Koski is the councilmember for Ward 11, which runs along the southern border of Minneapolis. It includes the Tangletown, Windom, and Hale neighborhoods and is 90 percent homeowners. I visited with Koski on October 13, 2022. That week, a group of unsheltered residents had set up their tents outside of City Hall in protest of recent encampment clearings and were attending City Council meetings, demanding to speak.
On the day I visited Koski, she had chaired a Budget Committee meeting in the morning. We talked in her office before and after the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee meeting, which I attended, and we also met up at the Nokomis Farmers Market pop-up event that evening.
For our interview time in her office, Koski was prepared with printed notes, ready to report on what she had accomplished in her first 10 months in office.
“I like connecting with the community, I like problem solving, I like helping people, I like making connections,” Koski said. “I get to do those every single day.”
In our time together, we talked about the issues that matter most to her constituents, what she is most proud of, and how she approaches issues at City Council that don’t directly impact her constituents.
While our time together happened in the fall, I find that the snapshot in time is a fascinating moment to look back on, freed from the energy of the moment.
“Every day is totally different,” Koski told me, as we sat in her tidy office in City Hall.
She finds time to run at least two to three times a week in the morning. She likes to see her kids off to the school bus, too. She tends to review her daily calendar the night before.
Her office is decorated with framed pictures of her family and Minneapolis and civic-themed art, including an homage to former Minneapolis City Councilmember Doré Mead.
“Sometimes I have time to eat, sometimes I don’t,” Koski said about fitting lunch into her day. The point is proven as we lose track of time, cramming lunch in before she is off to the Public Works and Infrastructure committee meeting.
An unprecedented week for council
It was a unique week to be observing a councilmember. Encampment residents, concerned residents, and people with Communities United Against Police Brutality were attending council meetings, demanding to speak about recent encampment clearings. They were upset that the Minneapolis Police Department and Public Works crews were razing encampments. Having the public spontaneously speak at council meetings typically isn’t allowed. So that week, each meeting was handled differently, depending on who was chairing the meeting.
Koski explained to me that she and Vice President Linea Palmisano had preemptively planned to allow residents to speak if they showed up to the budget committee meeting that morning (no one did).
Going into the Public Works & Infrastructure committee meeting, Koski spoke with Councilmember Andrew Johnson the day prior about a plan, too.
Protesters indeed showed up to the Public Works and Infrastructure committee meeting that day. .
“I wanted to make sure that we gave the community time to speak,” Koski said. “The bottom line is we want the community to be able to have time to speak freely to us and connect to us. We want them to have that space."
As the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure committee, Johnson preemptively allowed people to speak during a designated time at the committee meeting. The community’s action and Johnson’s decision to hold an impromptu public comment session in the City Council chambers was unprecedented.
“This is clearly so important to the community and many community members,” Koski said in reaction to people coming to City Hall to protest.
She also acknowledged that other residents are concerned about the safety of the encampments.
“The reality of this is, there are always multiple truths,” Koski said. And that is where Koski sits. Yes, there are unhoused people that don't want their encampments cleared, but Koski said she also has constituents who don't want the encampments to be there.
As a councilmember you are holding “many other truths in your hands at the same time and thinking and weighting out all of those truths,” Koski said, after the Public Works and Infrastructure committee meeting.
Before the meeting, I asked her what it’s like to work with people on the council that are dealing with issues that don’t trickle down to Ward 11.
“Encampments are a good example. It hasn’t trickled down to Ward 11,” Koski said. “But what I love about Ward 11 residents is that they care really deeply. They care about that, they care about the community violence, they care about the encampments. We have homeowners who own property in other areas in the city who might be affected by the encampments or any of the community violence. So our crime might look different, but they care deeply about what’s happening in other parts of the city.”
Koski also mentioned the behavioral response team as an example of something that Ward 11 isn’t impacted by, but is of interest to her constituents. And she is paying attention to the program because she knows it is being utilized throughout the city. The day after our interview she was scheduled to go for a ride-along with Canopy Roots, the organization contracted to operate as the CIty’s behavioral response team.
Koski also attends the 3rd and 5th precinct roll calls, which are essentially pre-shift meetings for police officers. “Just to connect with officers,” Koski said.
“Ward 11 residents want alternatives to policing, they always want police reform, and they also want police….So that’s my job, right?” Meaning, it’s her job to observe, interact with, and learn about the different facets of public safety because they all impact the residents of Minneapolis in some way.
In 2022, she dedicated three of her monthly community meetings to the public safety, inviting people from the Office of Violence Prevention, Park Police, Minneapolis Fire Department, and Human Trafficking Prevention (a one-person team) as well as Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander.
Koski is proud to be a woman in office. As we talked, I noticed that she had on a Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissent collar pin. I asked why she wore it.
“After the overturn of Roe V. Wade, I just started wearing it,” she said.
Koski noted that the current City Council is majority female and the most diverse council to date. “It reminds me we have to stick up for each other.”
Koski even bought additional pins to give to fellow councilmembers.
“We still have a lot of ceilings to break,” Koski said.
Someone told Koski that you have to ask women seven times to run for office.
“How many times do you have to ask a man?’ I responded. “This sounds like a joke.”
“They’ll just show up,” Koski responded.
We didn’t laugh.
Koski has a sentimentality to what she wears. Of note is a heart necklace that she wears with her mom’s name and birthdate on it. Her mom passed away when she was eight. The necklace was actually at home because it had broken from continuous wear.
Her mom, Barb, and dad met working at the very building we were in. Her mom worked for the City of Minneapolis and her dad was a city councilmember from 1968-1970 and then the mayor of Minneapolis in the 1970s. Koski was only a baby when her dad was mayor.
Her dad, Albert Hofstede, passed away in 2016, the same year she and her family moved from Northeast Minneapolis to Southwest. Her aunt, Diane Hofstede, was the Ward 3 councilmember from 2003-2013.
Koski said she didn’t decide to run because of her father’s passing and that when people asked her if she was going to run for office, “it wasn’t even on my radar.”
Of course she wishes her dad was around now that she holds the same office that he did, over 50 years later.
“It is hard, especially when you take on a job that he once did,” Koski said. “I would love to be able to tap into him and understand what he would have to say about so many different things. There were riots in the 60s and 70s, you know what I mean? There was a lot happening.”
Koski’s love of family was noted throughout our time together. As we sat down to chat, Koski asked me about my family and where my parents live (they live in Wisconsin). Koski told me that her family lives in California, her husband’s in Utah.
“It’s nice that you have a sibling here,” Koski said. “Minnesota is hard sometimes. Minnesotans can be really insular.”
Later in the evening, we met up for the pop-up Nokomis Farmers Market. It was misty and cold, her kids tagged along. People waved at her, excited to see her, and I hit it off with Koski’s daughter who was showing glimpses of teenage angst while still sweet enough to engage in conversations with a reporter about handmade aprons and Rice Krispy Treats.
At a pop-up Neighborhood Roots Nokomis Farmers Market on October 13, 2022, residents approach Councilmember Emily Koski wanting to say hello.
I asked her daughter Iris if it bothers her that her mom takes to her events.
“Not really, we normally get food,” Iris tells me.
As Iris’s mom tries to talk to me about why she likes being out and about in the community, Iris interrupts us with more important news. Iris’s friend is going to school the next day even though she is getting her tonsils out. Iris thinks that is weird.
At this point, Koski doesn’t get much in as her neighbors keep coming over to say hello. I joke with one neighbor that someone has to start telling me the dirt about Koski.
“So little dirt it’s actually annoying,” Joe, one of her neighbors, said to me.
Croix, Koski’s son, reveals that Joe was the one that convinced Koski to finally run.
“He was one of my seven asks,” Koski confirms.
At the market I learn that Iris is on the swim team and competes in the breast stroke. She informs me that chocolate Rice Krispie Treats exist, which, to her, aren’t the best. We peruse the handmade aprons and discover that many of the designs are very cute. I learn that Koski has a collection of vintage aprons she once adorned her apartment kitchen windows with, which she now hopes her kids will use at Washburn Millers games, where aprons are sometimes worn as spirit wear.
Croix keeps to himself but Koski does tell me he is on the drone team at Washburn. I tell Croix that he sounds like he is from the future. How did we go from tetherball to flying robots?
While the constant need to be on may wear out some people, Koski doesn’t seem bothered by it. In fact, it seems to work out really well with her family’s lifestyle.
“This is a job where you’re just integrated. Your life, your family, your work, your play, everything you do, is integrated. And I love that,” Koski said. Her family lives a block from Pearl Park where her kids often run down to play.
Koski said she is happy to answer people’s questions at social events in public. It’s not a burden to her. Some people are hesitant to approach her but she tells them, “It’s ok, we can talk about this.”
“I love learning and understanding and so sometimes that happens in a social situation,” she said.
Pride in community groups
When I asked Koski what she is most proud of in her first 10 months in office, she responded, “I am proud of the community groups.”
In a sleepier ward, it makes sense that one of Koski’s proudest accomplishments is establishing some solid community groups.
The Seniors Community Group is one that particularly stands out to Koski.
“They’re very consistent,” Koski said. She said they would meet weekly if she could.
The group has established kiosks around the community that connect senior citizens with resources, namely the Senior Linkage Line.
Koski explained that her team is always working on ways to connect with the community but she herself is a big fan of the newsletter. She said her team will get annoyed with her because she asks everyone if they are subscribed to her newsletter. It is the one direct way for councilmembers to communicate with constituents en masse.
Within her newsletters, she routinely highlights small businesses in every nook and cranny of Ward 11. It is a standout feature that is unique to her newsletter.
When we were talking in her office, Koski told me her dad was focused on helping working class people when he was mayor.
“My dad was there for the working people. I listened to somebody my entire life care deeply about people, working class people,” Koski said.
I can see glimmers of that influence in her small business spotlights.
When I walked into Koski’s office on that late October morning, I remember her telling me how important eye contact was. How she knew what it meant to hold eye contact with people, especially during council meetings. Later in the day, she pointed to a picture of her dad. He was surrounded by people, but he was talking to just one woman and she had his full attention. Koski pointed to that picture when she talked about his dedication to working people.
It’s wild what our parents teach us, even in a picture.