Ash Center: In His Own Words

October 1, 2012
Ash Center: In His Own Words
Victor Cedeño, HKS MPP 2013 and Ash Summer Fellow in Innovation, pictured with Mayor Rybak

Where the Relationship Between Citizens and Government is Defined

By Victor Cedeño, MPP 2013 – October 1, 2012

My priority for this summer was to get policy experience in local government in an urban setting. My policy interests are in the area of economic development and equity, so I chose to work for the city of Minneapolis because of its unique economic position. Although the Twin Cities metro has an enviable 5.8 percent unemployment rate, it ranks as the worst area in the country for racial disparities in employment (African Americans are over three times more likely to be unemployed than whites). Working for the office of Mayor R.T. Rybak, I experienced first-hand that cities are, as is often said, “Where the rubber meets the road” and where the relationship between citizens and governments is defined.

My initial task in the city was under the Department of Civil Rights. On my first day the City Council approved a resolution authorizing a deal between the city, state, and the Minnesota Vikings. The deal includes almost $1 billion for the design and construction of a new NFL stadium to replace the old Metrodome. In Minneapolis, all projects are subject to women- and minority-owned business participation goals as well as minority and women workforce goals. I was tasked with researching the capacity of Minority and Women Business Enterprises (WMBEs) in the area, and specifically look at capacity in relation to the new football stadium. The Department of Civil Rights wanted to know if there was something the city could do to help WMBEs find work on the stadium, so I worked with the Department to research the issue, explore what other cities have done, and examine what appropriate goals for a project of this size should be.

I was also able to work with the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED). I did research for the city’s technical team which assists the implementation committee for the new stadium. My work included exploring design procedures from other stadiums as well as financing for economic development surrounding the stadium.

Through my work with city departments, I was able to experience policy work directly. However, it was working with Mayor Rybak and his staff where I learned what it takes to run a city. The Mayor treated me like part of his policy staff and involved me on a number of issues including a new education initiative, public safety issues in downtown, housing and foreclosures prevention, and the budget. I participated in many high-level meetings and experienced first-hand how tough decisions are made. I gave my advice on important local and national issues, and helped with his budget speech.

During all this work, I realized how local government is different from other more detached levels. Whenever an issue came up, there was no report made or task force created. Instead, people came together to figure out what immediate action should be taken to benefit the people of the Minneapolis. There were few memos and a lot of phone calls as the Mayor and his staff brought multiple departments together to tackle issues.

At the conclusion of the summer I can look back at my experience and say I have a better understanding of a dynamic local government. Working with multiple departments and in the Mayor’s office I was able to see the city from multiple policy and political perspectives. My time in the city of Minneapolis has reinforced my desire to work in city government, and given me a good idea of where to start.

Victor Cedeño was a 2012 Ash Summer Fellow in Innovation