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A surprise in the Minneapolis mayor’s race? It happened 40 years ago

In 1973, the race for mayor ended with a last-minute shock and a surprise winner, although that was in a three-way race using the traditional voting system.

Will ranked-choice voting produce a surprise winner in this year’s Minneapolis mayoral race?

Forty years ago, the race for mayor in Minneapolis ended with a last-minute shock and a surprise winner, although that was in a three-way race using the traditional voting system.

Charles Stenvig

In 1973, incumbent Charles Stenvig appeared on a roll, likely to win his third two-year term, this time against Republican Gladys Brooks and DFLer Al Hofstede.

Stenvig came to politics from the Minneapolis Police Department, where he was president of the union. He ran on a platform of law and order and low property taxes.

Brooks was serving on the City Council, then controlled by Republicans, who saw that Minneapolis needed aggressive action to save a dying downtown and struggling neighborhoods.

Hofstede was serving as president of the Metropolitan Council and, despite his DFL endorsements, shared Brooks’ view that the time had come for drastic action or Minneapolis would become just another boarded-up American city.

“I thought Minneapolis was one of the few American cities that could be saved,” said Hofstede, looking back at the race. “I wasn’t there to find a job. I was there to save a city.”

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Anti-Vietnam War and civil rights demonstrations at the time had sometimes turned violent with tear gas and massive arrests. Residents were fleeing to the relative safety of suburban cul-de-sacs, businesses were leaving downtown, stores were closing and there were abandoned homes in almost every neighborhood.

Stenvig’s law-and-order stance appealed to citizens appalled by the violence of the protest movement and worried that high taxes would drive them from their homes. His supporters didn’t just like him — they adored him and viewed his opponents as their enemies.

Brooks and Hofstede campaigned vigorously, but Stenvig appeared to be headed for another victory.

Al Hofstede

The Sunday before the election, a Minnesota Poll published in the Minneapolis Tribune showed Hofstede with a 1 percent lead over Stenvig.

“It was a big surprise because nobody ever thought Charlie was beatable,” said Hofstede.

Brooks, who came in third in the poll, had a news conference to say it was important to remember that the goal in that election was to defeat Stenvig, and she encouraged her supporters to remember that goal when they went to the polls.

With support from Republicans, Hofstede, 34, went on to win the election and became the youngest mayor in Minneapolis history.

“She told me that she voted for me,” said Hofstede of Brooks. “She was a wonderful person. She was a very conscientious person, someone very respected.”

“I never disliked Charlie,” said Hofstede. “He knew what to say that appealed to the public. He had a good base.”

Two years later, though, Stenvig came back and defeated Hofstede, but that’s a story for another day.