Notes from Norm: A Mayor Still Matters
The job of a Mayor in any City is, in my opinion, the most important political job in all of American government.
Whether a small town of a few hundred people or New York City there is no more critical public service role than being the Mayor.
It is the Mayor who sets the tone for the direction of the City. It is the Mayor whose needs to put forward the vision for a City and then give those empowered to achieve it the powers, the resources and the leadership necessary to achieve it.
As the Mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, the Capitol City of the State of Minnesota, I was fortunate to have built a team around me that was smarter and more talented than me.
It was that team that helped turn St. Paul around.
They helped created the partnership with the private sector to develop the environment in which nearly 20,000 new jobs were created – restored taxpayer confidence by holding the line on taxes and spending – and sent a message that we would make St. Paul safe, clean and affordable for anybody who wished to be a citizen of our community.
In 1993 I was elected Mayor of St. Paul, while across the river, in Minneapolis, the City elected Sharon Sayles Belton.
The first female Mayor of Minneapolis.
The first African American Mayor of Minneapolis.
From 1994 to 2001 Mayor Sayles Belton led her City through some of the most difficult and challenging times.
Like St. Paul, Minneapolis was facing a surge of gang violence.
Her own City had been gaining a national reputation as “Murderapolis.”
We both understood that to get our respective cities back on track, and to create a clear sense, and reality, of safety for residents, employees, employers and visitors, we needed to create partnerships for our community.
We did so. Each in our own way. But, we recognized that our job wasn’t to look for others to solve the challenges facing our city, it was our job to create the vision for how we would overcome those challenges – and we would embrace the opportunities for the future of our City.
Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton was honored this week for the job she did as Mayor of Minneapolis.
As 300 peopled came to City Hall she was honored with a bronze bust this week to commemorate her service and her successful tenure as Mayor of Minneapolis.
A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in describing what Mayor Sayles Belton is up to these days struck me as evidence of just who and what she was long before she became the first African American woman to serve as Mayor of Minneapolis.
“Sayles Belton is now a vice president for community relations and government affairs at Thomson Reuters and head usher at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.”
What stands out isn’t that she is the Vice President for Community Relations and Government Affairs at Thomson Reuters.
It’s that she serves as the Head Usher at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.
This daughter of St. Paul, Minnesota and the leader of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the power and the catalyst and the beacon of strength and leadership that the nation’s 46th largest City needed most at one of its lowest times.
Today, St. Paul ranks as the 66th largest city in America.
Those of us living in St. Paul have never despaired that we weren’t as big as our “twin” across the great Mississippi River.
In fact, those of us in St. Paul know that the Bible mentions St. Paul many, many times – and not once does it mention Minneapolis.
But, if it did it would likely reference Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton for her role in having the courage to run for Mayor at a time when far too many people still believed a woman wasn’t up to the job.
And, at a time when far too many people believed an African American should never hold the job.
Sharon Sayles Belton didn’t care what or who they believed in or didn’t believe in.
She believed in herself.
I know that as the Mayor of the City across the river from her I believed in her.
We didn’t always agree. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on every issue. But, at the end of the day I knew that the Mayor across the river was the best partner I would ever have to make the City on my side of the river the best City it could possibly be.
Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton – the Head Usher at the Park Avenue Methodist Church – made everyone who mattered a believer in her leadership.
She reminded us then, and reminds us still today, that the most important elected job in America is Mayor.
And, she reminds all of us today, including those seeking to be the Mayor of Any City, USA, of this important reality:
“You’ve got to be able to talk to the loudest and the angriest voice and you have to do that with integrity. And then you’ve got to figure out a way of bringing that harsh and angry voice together with the men and women who are committed to protect and serve the community…If you don’t do that, you’re never going to really get started to reconcile and find common ground. The truth of the matter is that there is common ground, but you have [to] go find it.”
Sharon went out to find it.
And find it she did.