UPDATE: Cunningham and Ellison land Northside council seats, unseating incumbents
By Kenzie O’Keefe | Editor
Additional reporting by Staff Reporter Cirien Saadeh
Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremiah Ellison were declared the unofficial winners of the Ward 4 and Ward 5 city council races on Wednesday afternoon, November 8. Though there was no winner declared in either race on election night, both saw a path to victory.
Minneapolis uses ranked-choice voting, which asks voters to rank their top three choices for each race. If no candidate receives over 50% in the first round, the lowest-voted candidates are eliminated one at a time. Their votes are then given to the candidates who received second choice selections from those voters. As soon as someone receives over 50% of the vote, they are declared the winner.
WARD 5: On election night, Ellison looked likely to win by a substantial margin
Though Jeremiah Ellison hadn’t yet been declared the winner of the Ward 5 council race, the tone at his post-election party on Tuesday night, Nov. 8, was celebratory. In the first round of voting, Ellison clinched just over 47.3% of the vote. His closest competitor, incumbent council member Blong Yang lagged behind with 38.3%.
“The numbers look good. It would be hard for Blong to come back at this point,” said Ellison on Tuesday night.
In the face of his likely loss, Yang seemed conciliatory and diplomatic. Ellison said he received a “really gracious” call from Yang, congratulating him on the outcome. Down the street at his own post-election gathering at Banana Blossom Café and Bakery, Yang told North News: "I've been campaigning for a year. I'm glad that it's done. It's not looking good but we'll see. Tomorrow I'll rest, take care of my council duties and then I'll go from there."
Ellison is celebrating more than just a personal victory. He spent the bulk of his post-election speech crediting many people for his success. “We sought to increase the electorate, and we certainly did that,” he said, adding that his own campaign was comprised of many people who engaged with the political process in Minneapolis for the first time.
In his post-election speech, Ellison also shared a thought from one of his favorite authors, Junot Diaz: that denying people reflections of themselves at the cultural level can make them feel like monsters. “This campaign was about building a couple of mirrors. Placing a couple of mirrors in this community so that people can see that they can govern. That they can lead. That they know what’s best. That they know what they deserve,” he told the crowd.
Ellison may technically be a political newcomer, but he is no stranger to politics. His mother, Kim Ellison, holds an at-large seat on the Minneapolis Public School Board. His father, Keith Ellison, is a US Congressman. “I’m just so excited. I’m so very proud,” Kim told North News on Tuesday night.
“He’s an Ellison. He’s a diamond in the rough. He’s going to speak a lot,” said his uncle, Anthony Ellison, who was in attendance at the party.
Georgianna Yantos, a Northside resident and DFL supporter, sat at a table at Ellison’s party, watching the results roll in with a smile on her face. “It’s what I hoped,” she said. “It’s like deja vu for me. I started with the Ellison family, supporting Keith Ellison …back in 2006.”
WARD 4: Results were too close to call on election night, but Cunningham prevailed
Incumbent city council member Barbara Johnson and her most formidable challenger in Ward 4, Phillipe Cunningham, were nearly tied after first round results were tallied on Tuesday night. Johnson landed 42.9% of the vote. Cunningham came in with 40.7%.
Cunningham didn’t want to speculate on the outcome of the race on election night, but said he felt “great” and “overwhelmed with gratitude.” Like Ellison, he credited community power for creating a more competitive race in Ward 4 than many expected. Johnson has held her seat for two decades and is the city council president. “Folks were saying this was an unwinnable race, but we’ve been focused on building power with the community,” said Cunningham.
The Johnson campaign declined North News’ request for comment on Tuesday night after the preliminary results were revealed.