Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday accused City Council Member Robin Wonsley of lying when she told a media outlet that Frey has threatened to withhold city services like police and garbage collection as a means of political retaliation.
“This is a lie,” Frey said in an email to Wonsley that he copied to all 12 other council members. “Insinuating that I or my staff have ever said — or done this — is a lie. Our residents rely on the critical city services we provide and should never, under any circumstance, be used as pawns in a political game. Intentionally creating and spreading misinformation of this magnitude is beneath the office you hold.”
In an interview with Unicorn Riot recorded on video and posted online Monday, Wonsley leveled the accusations against Frey, but did not provide specific examples or evidence. In a Tuesday text to the Star Tribune, she said she was dealing with a family emergency and unable to immediately respond.
This is hardly the first friction between Frey and Wonsley, who are rivals on some of the city’s most contentious issues, but it’s rare to see a public blowup with such a spirited response from Frey. He’s generally aligned with the majority of council members, who see themselves as supporting a progressive agenda — but not one as far left as Wonsley.
Wonsley is allied with a group of council members whose goals, which include strict rent control and limits on police funding, have been blocked by Frey and the majority.
All council seats are on the ballot in this fall’s election, with the Frey-friendly majority potentially in the balance. Wonsley, who is running for re-election, is supporting several candidates who could, if they win, swing the majority of the council, including Soren Stevenson, who is challenging Council President Andrea Jenkins, a Frey ally.
The Star Tribune asked the rest of the council members if they are aware of any incidents fitting Wonsley’s description. As of Tuesday afternoon, none who responded said they had. Seven responded that they had “never” heard of anything like that.
“Never,” texted Council Member Andrew Johnson, who sometimes functions as a swing vote on the council. “And any suggesting that he [Frey] would do that has zero credibility in my opinion.” Council Member Michael Rainville said “it’s embarrassing to serve with someone who does not tell the truth.”
Unicorn Riot reported that Council Member Jason Chavez, an ally of Wonsley, “said he has not experienced or witnessed any threats or actions of revenge by Mayor Frey.”
What Wonsley said
Wonsley’s comments were in the context of the city’s new “strong mayor” system approved by voters, but she accused Frey of wielding the authority like the boss of a political machine. Wonsley, who has lived in Chicago, invoked her former city, accusing Frey of “matching Chicago political antics.”
“The mayor will like do retaliatory [expletive], be like, ‘I’ll send, I’ll limit cops in your ward,’ ” she said. “He’ll make threats to council members like that. … Or make threats to roll back the delivery of services like, you know, entrust his staff, like: ‘If you need trash cleaned up, OK, well let’s see how you like it or how your constituents like it if trash don’t get picked up for a couple of days.’ “
How Frey responded
In his e-mail to Wonsley, Frey wrote, in part: “Normally I do not take the time to respond to allegations you make about me. It would take up too much time, and garnering a response is clearly more of your aim than any particular policy agenda. However, the most recent interview you gave deeply impacts our residents’ trust in their local government, and I cannot allow this misinformation to go unchecked.”
He continued: “I appreciate that your colleagues have either refused to back up your lie, or, in the case of Council Member Chavez, he said what every other Council Member would say if telling the truth: that’s never happened.”
Frey asked Wonsley to “retract the lies” or offer specifics.
Council leadership responds
On Tuesday afternoon, Jenkins and Council Vice President Linea Palmisano, also a Frey ally, issued a joint statement. It reads:
“In a recent interview with Unicorn Riot, Council Member Robin Wonsley made numerous false allegations about the legislative body and the City enterprise as a whole. As a body, the Council has — and embraces — many different viewpoints, but collectively we strive to uphold basic values of decency, respect, inclusion, and truthfulness. Council Member Wonsley’s comments represent a sharp departure from those shared values.
“Facts matter. Telling the truth matters. We have seen the cost of sitting elected officials undermining democratic institutions by spreading misinformation for personal, political gain. As members of this body, we call upon Council Member Robin Wonsley to retract these false statements made against her colleagues on the Council, the Mayor, and City staff.”