As mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges ’91 was the perfect choice to kick off the President’s Office lecture series that showcases Mawrters making significant change in their communities. Dr. Judith Porter made the introductions and, as Hodges’s thesis advisor at Bryn Mawr, took some justifiable pride in her former student. Describing Hodges “as a leader in creating a positive social impact,” Porter described the mayor’s remarkable rise—she was elected last year by an 18 percent margin after running a classic 21st-century, social-media campaign—and progressive administration. “She focuses on three clear goals,” explained Porter, “running the city well, growing a great city, and increasing equity. Her priorities are economic and educational equity, ensuring that the city works well for everybody and that all people in the city can contribute to and benefit from the growth and prosperity of Minneapolis.”  

For her part, Hodges prepared for her speech, held in Old Library in September, like a true Mawrter. As she explained to the packed house, “I did make my offering to Athena about 20 minutes ago, so this is going to go just fine.”

Following are excerpts from her remarks—which, no surprise, did indeed go just fine.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BRYN MAWR: I am deeply grateful every single day for the education that I got here because I learned things about the world that have proven useful as I’ve moved forward. I was one class shy of a theater minor and a double major in psychology and sociology. And, frankly, if you’re going to do politics, sociology, psychology, and theater are three very useful things to have some experience with.

HER CLASS RING: This ring has been with me when I have been in a meeting with the president of the United States. It’s been with me as I sat on a couch holding hands with the Dalai Lama. It was with me this summer when I was in Rome at the Vatican having an audience with the Pope. It was with me on election night in 2013 when I won by a wide margin in a race that people told me I could not win.

EQUITY EQUALS GROWTH: The IMF [International Monetary Fund]  did a study that found that countries that reduced their inequities 10 percent increased their growth spurt by 50 percent. Any political leader, any economic leader in the country would love to expand their growth spurt by 50 percent. And there’s a way to do it with just a 10 percent reduction in inequalities. Equity is a growth strategy in and of itself.  

THE COLLECTIVE GOAL: Imagine that, for some reason, our collective goal [is] that everybody is able to watch a baseball game. There’s a six-foot fence between you and the baseball game. Let’s say Bill de Blasio is standing there, and I’m standing there. And let’s say there’s a kid standing next to us. Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, is about 6-foot-7. I am 5-4, 5-5 or 5-6 if I’m wearing heels. The kid next to me, he’s 4-feet. Equality means we all get a box. Bill gets a box, I get a box, the kid gets a box. Equity is Bill doesn’t get a box, I get one box, the kid gets two.

If we want a growing and prosperous city and we want to maximize that growth and prosperity, then we need equity as the framework, not equality.

MINNEAPOLIS BY THE NUMBERS: Our [public] schools are 70 percent kids of color, 30 percent white kids. Graduation rates? White kids have close to 67 percent, American-Indian kids about 27 percent, Latinos and African-Americans about 37 percent. That gap is one of the biggest gaps in the entire country. The unemployment rates? The numbers past 2012 paint an even starker picture with white unemployment rates going lower and lower [not so with] African-American and Native American folks. We have a housing gap: 86 percent of white people own their own home; 14 percent of people of color own their own home.

If we just eliminated the gaps between now and 2040, there would be 171,000 more people with a high school diploma, 124,000 more people with jobs, and $32 billion more in personal income. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, we’re leaving $32 billion on the table. That is the price we’re paying for inequity and inequality.

PUBLIC DOLLARS FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD: My philosophy is about investing public dollars in the public good. I’m less about picking winners and losers in the private market. I don’t pay people to come build their business in my city. What I do is I build a city that people want to start their business in.

In general, when you invest in transit, you get 31 percent more jobs than when you invest in roads and bridges—it’s a growth strategy. When we were opening our second light rail line, which goes between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis, $2 billion worth of investment happened along that line before it even opened.  

THE EDUCATION SOLUTION: My Cradle to K Cabinet is designed to get to the first opportunity gap a kid faces. There is a 15 to 17 percent return on investment annually for investments in early childhood education. It’s one of the best investments you can make if you care about the future of your community. … The cabinet has come up with a set of recommendations about making sure kids are housed, that they have a healthy start, and that they have child development-centered childcare.

Minneapolis has a STEP-UP youth summer jobs program, [which works] with our civically minded corporate community as well as other employers. We have about 2,100 internships that high school juniors and seniors can get in the summers that give them soft skills, hard job skills, work experience.

JOBS FOR THE FUTURE: In Minneapolis, an employment training program called Build Leaders works with young men, African-American men mostly, age 18 to 24. They’ve gone part way down a wrong path, are eager to get back on a different path. We train them, and they meet with young men in middle school so they never start down the path. So there’s a lot of wins: the older men get job experience, job training—they have a job while they’re doing it—and the younger men get mentorship.

We have TechHire, which is focused on tech jobs [STEAM, science, technology, engineering, arts, and math]. We know that women, in particular, and people of color are significantly underrepresented in those fields. TechHire is a partnership with the White House and local employers to do accelerated training in these tech programs and then the employers agree to take graduates of those programs.

The City of Minneapolis was making it very hard to open and maintain a small business. So I spent a year going around the community with small business owners saying, “How have we made a hassle for you?” They were very happy to tell me the things the city was not doing right, and the stories were invaluable. We have a set of recommendations, and now we’re implementing them.

LAW AND ORDER: We have 25 percent of the world’s imprisoned population in this country—largely men of color. So what can we do about that?

Instead of putting a ding on a kid’s record, [Minneapolis takes] him to the supervision center where he gets an assessment. We find out what he needs—or we take him home first—but we don’t just take him to jail, especially not for a status offense like curfew or truancy.

I tripled money for restorative justice, where instead of going to court, a young person or an older person has a face-to-face process with the people against whom he or she committed the crime. It’s an extraordinarily powerful tool, and it works really well.

And then community relations. It is part of public safety to make sure the community feels safe calling the police. If you feel like you’re more at risk from the police coming than from whatever’s happening in front of you, that’s a problem.

PRESIDENT: I had just been elected and somebody called and said, “The president would like to meet with you and other mayors on December 13. Can you please check and see if you’re available?” And I said, “I will be available.” She said, “Don’t you need to check?” I said, “No. I do not need to check to see if I can have a private meeting with the president of the United States, Barack Obama.”

The president asked each one of us, “What are you doing? Why did you run? What are you about? What are you looking for?” I told him that I wanted Minneapolis to be the beacon for the country on how to get this right in terms of issues of racial equity and the gaps that we face in terms of growth and prosperity being inclusive growth and prosperity. I laid that marker down with the President of the United States, which felt pretty good.

Thanks, Bryn Mawr.