Elections officials were tallying ranked-choice votes for Minneapolis mayor Wednesday morning, after no candidate won enough in the first round Tuesday to declare a victory.

Mayor Jacob Frey held a significant early lead in the 17-person battle for the city’s top job after the first round of votes were counted Tuesday night. Two of his top challengers, though, had encouraged voters to rank everyone but him — and they wanted to see if their strategy would pay off when tallying continued Wednesday.

Community organizer Sheila Nezhad had the second most first-choice votes after Frey, followed by former state legislator and sustainability scholar Kate Knuth.

Frey, meanwhile, sought to project confidence. When he took the stage at his campaign party Tuesday night, he declared, “All right Minneapolis, we did it!”But some of Frey’s main challengers, who have argued the city is ready for a change in leadership, stressed that they wanted to wait to see the final results.

The pack of mayoral hopefuls spent months locked in an expensive fight over who would lead the city at a critical moment. The race was entwined with a debate over the future of policing and public safety in the city.

Frey had dramatically outspent his opponents headed into Election Day, although Nezhad, Knuth, AJ Awed and Clint Conner had each raised tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the battle for the city’s top post.

The municipal election had drawn far more attention — and money — than a typical race. Minnesotans and people across the country had been watching to see whether the city where police killed George Floyd and where violent crime has been on the rise would opt to replace its Police Department.

In addition to selecting the next mayor, City Council members and other local leaders, Minneapolis residents voted Tuesday on a proposal that could create a new public safety agency that would take a broad “public health approach” and would remove a requirement for the city to have a police department with a certain minimum number of officers. Voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the effort to move forward.

Meanwhile, another controversial charter amendment changing to city’s structure to give the mayor more authority over city departments passed.

While the public safety department measure failed, the mayor will still need to navigate demands for police reform. Frey told supporters Tuesday night that police reform is happening under his administration and must continue. He said changing the culture in the Minneapolis police department starts with replacing bad cops with good ones.

“There was this push to defund the police,” Frey said. “That movement has been roundly rejected, all of us now, can stop with the hashtags and the slogans and the simplicity and say, ‘Alright, let’s all unite around things that we all agree on.'”

Frey, Awed and Conner had all opposed the charter amendment to replace the police department, while Nezhad and Knuth supported it. Nezhad and Knuth had partnered on a ranked-choice voting gambit that some dubbed the “Don’t Rank Frey” effort, in which they encouraged voters to rank the two of them and leave the incumbent off their ballots.

“While results are still unclear we’re very proud of everything our campaign was able to do in the city this year,” Nezhad’s campaign manager Luna Zeidner said shortly after polls closed. “We know our success will be because we were consistent with our values and because we put our campaign resources into having direct conversations with residents across our city.”

Knuth told supporters at an election night event that while she is disappointed the public safety department charter amendment failed, she will remain committed to making Minneapolis a city where everyone feels safe.

The contenders had been making their final door-knocking and campaign literature push into the final hours of Election Day, hoping to increase voter turnout and encourage undecided voters to cast a ballot in their favor. Nezhad and Knuth continued to stress that the city is ready to head in a different direction. Frey has repeatedly defended his record, and said he has been meeting with residents and is confident he will win.

The 17 mayoral candidates’ campaigns have spent more than $1.4 million on the race this year, more than half of which was spent by the Frey campaign, according to campaign finance filings from last week. That tally does not show the full picture of spending on the heated race. Outside groups for or against the public safety charter amendment had also funneled dollars toward the candidates.

Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this story.

Faiza Mahamud

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