Three months ago, Sara Grewing was recruited to be chief of staff for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Many — even some of us supposedly well-connected at City Hall — had never heard of her. But it turns out she’d previously worked for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, first in the Hennepin County attorney’s office and then on her successful Senate campaign.
After the Senate win, Grewing worked for Klobuchar as state director, opening four offices in the state and helping hire staff. She’s also been a lobbyist for non-metro Minnesota cities.
Grewing, 31, was raised in St. Cloud (where her eighth-grade English teacher was her mother). She majored in vocal performance at the University of Minnesota, then earned a law degree at William Mitchell.
We spoke with her recently at Anita’s Cafe in Landmark Center about her job and background.
Q. How’d you end up in St. Paul mayor’s office?
A. My husband is a St. Paul kid from the West Side, and we live in St. Paul. I’d been watching some innovative things happen here in local government. Amy’s biggest skill has always been delivering results. So when the job opened up here, I knew it would be an opportunity to take my skills and work with the exciting things going on in St. Paul.
Q. Ann Mulholland had been Mayor Coleman’s chief of staff for 18 months. Now she’s been promoted to deputy mayor. What’s the breakdown in duties?
A. I run the mayor’s office and drive the mayor’s initiatives on education, environment [and] Invest St. Paul, and I handle intergovernmental relations. Ann manages the department directors, more of the nuts and bolts of city government.
Q. What are some of the challenges in the new job?
A. People expect local officials to get things done, so we have to take on the tough battles and show people that we are getting things done. To do that, I’ve got to learn more about the city council. I didn’t know any of them before. And I’m meeting the Ramsey County commissioners and the St. Paul [legislative] delegation.
Q. How are you liking it after three months?
A. I love my job and love the team Mayor Coleman has put together. It reflects who the mayor is, his love for the city and his desire to get things done. There’s very little ego on the staff, no jockeying for position, and that’s nice.
Q. Was your family immersed in politics?
A. Not especially. Our family is very social justice- and faith-oriented, but we didn’t sit around the table talking about how Reagan beat Carter.
Q. How did your political bent arise, then?
A. I caught the bug when I had a fellowship — a glorified internship, really — with Sheila Wellstone during my first year of law school at William Mitchell. She was working on domestic violence and I’d go to shelters with Sheila and really see some of the sad things that were happening. When the fellowship ended, I wondered: What’s next? And I thought, I want to prosecute this.
Q. So what was next?
A. I went to work for Amy in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office during my second year of law school. I saw the innovative things she was doing in elder abuse, stopping truancy and I.D. theft.
Q. After several years in the Hennepin County attorney’s office, you left briefly.
A. I went to lobby for the coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, helping 64 of the large non-metro cities with legislative issues. All those cities rise and fall together. Then when Sen. Dayton announced he was not running for reelection, I went back to work for Amy on political and policy issues. When she was elected, I stayed on for much of the transitional work.
Q. There’s a lot of acting in politics, I suppose, but you really have been an on-stage performer, in school and in school and community theater productions. What were some of your favorite roles?
A. My high school favorite was Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man.” I was Abigail Adams in a community theater production of “1776.” In college, I was in the international premiere of a Finnish operA. It was modern and not the most accessible.
Q. So what was it like having your mother as a teacher?
A. It was great. My mother is a tremendous teacher [she’s a principal now] and everyone loves her. She can be really tough — possessives vs. plurals, you better get that right — but it was great to see Mom in that arena, where she was so admired. Even at 14, I recognized that this was a unique opportunity.