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‘Not from here’: Turns out a lot of Minneapolis mayors fit Jacob Frey’s path to office

Many of the city’s mayors were born in the city, and many were born elsewhere. We’ve put it all in a table for your perusal.

Mayor-elect Jacob Frey was born in Oakton, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He relocated to Minneapolis in 2008 when he was 27 years old.
MinnPost file photo by Karen Boros

“They said we were too young, too ambitious, not from here,” said Mayor-elect Jacob Frey on election night, rattling off some of the perceived criticisms he overcame on his path to the victory.

While I don’t remember anyone specifically telling me, “I’m not voting for Jacob Frey because he’s not from here” over the past few weeks, I was struck by the idea that this might have been an underlying criticism of Frey as a potential mayor.

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Frey was born in Oakton, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He relocated to Minneapolis in 2008 when he was 27 years old to take a job at Faegre & Benson.

It’s unlikely this really affected many residents’ thinking, but who knows? People vote or don’t vote for candidates based on all kinds of reasoning. Perhaps I am overthinking this more than the average Minneapolitan, as I am also a transplant – I moved here at the age of 25 from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As I imagine is the case with many transplants, there is always a small part of me wondering if I’m really Minneapolis enough.

So I began to wonder: Where were the mayors of Minneapolis born?

Fortunately, after looking into it, I have the answers for you.

The answers generally follow the demographic trends of the past 150 years. Many mayors were born in the city, and many were born elsewhere. Here is the complete history of Minneapolis mayoral birthplaces, in handy table format:

NameBirthplaceMoved to MplsTerm beganTerm ended
Dorilus MorrisonMaineBefore 186718671868
Hugh G. HarrisonIllinois"18681869
Dorilus MorrisonMaine"18691870
Eli B. AmesVermont"18701872
Eugene McLanahan WilsonVirginia (present day W. Va.)"18721873
George A. BrackettMaine"18731874
Eugene McLanahan WilsonVirginia (present day W. Va.)"18741875
Orlando C. MerrimanNew York"18751876
A.A. (Doc.) AmesIllinois"18761877
John De LaittreMaine"18771878
Alonzo Cooper RandMassachusetts"18781882
A.A. (Doc.) AmesIllinois"18821884
George A. PillsburyNew Hampshire"18841886
A.A. (Doc.) AmesIllinois"18861889
Edward C. BabbMaine"18891891
Phillip B. WinstonVirginia"18911893
William H. EustisNew York"18931895
Robert PrattVermont"18951899
James GrayScotland"18991901
A.A. (Doc.) AmesIllinois"19011902
David P. JonesMinneapolis-19021903
J. C. HaynesNew York187819031905
David P. JonesMinneapolis-19051907
J. C. HaynesNew York187819071913
Wallace G. NyeWisconsin1885 (?)19131917
Thomas Van LearMaryland1899 (?)19171919
J. E. MeyersOhio188819191921
George E. LeachIowa (raised in Mpls)-19211929
William F. KunzeSleepy Eye, Minnesota189019291931
William A. AndersonWisconsin190919311933
A. G. BainbridgePennsylvania1900 (?)19331935
Thomas E. LatimerOhio1915 (?)19351937
George E. LeachIowa (raised in Mpls)-19371941
Marvin L. KlineNebraska192519411945
Hubert HumphreySouth Dakota193719451948
Eric G. HoyerSweden191919481957
P. Kenneth PetersonMinneapolis-19571961
Arthur NaftalinFargo, ND193519611969
Charles StenvigMinneapolis-19691973
Richard ErdallMinneapolis-19731973
Albert HofstedeMinneapolis-19741975
Charles StenvigMinneapolis-19761977
Albert HofstedeMinneapolis-19781979
Donald M. FraserMinneapolis-19801993
Sharon Sayles BeltonSt. Paul (grew up in Mpls)-19942001
R. T. RybakMinneapolis-20022014
Betsy HodgesBaltimore199820142018
Jacob FreyVirginia20082018

A few cursory thoughts: The orange rows at the beginning of the document are mayors who came of age before Minneapolis was established in 1867, and so could not have been born in the contemporary city of Minneapolis. (Mayors highlighted in light purple were born or grew up in Minneapolis.) Most of them weren’t born in Minnesota or the Midwest at all – they came, like most of the state’s early white residents, mostly from New England, and Maine in particular.

The first mayor born in the state was also the first born in the city. David P. Jones, Republican mayor from 1902 to 1903, and again from 1905 to 1907, was born in 1860 in the town of Minneapolis, a few years before the city was incorporated. He attended Minneapolis Public Schools, and then the University of Minnesota. He was also the last mayor born in Minneapolis for a half-century.

From J.C. Haynes in 1903 to Marvin Kline during World War II, most of the men who served as mayor fit a similar profile: born in the East or the Midwest, and then settling in Minneapolis sometime in their early adulthood for college or post-graduate professional opportunities. This pattern cuts across the political spectrum. Socialist Thomas Van Lear (1917-19) arrived in Minneapolis at around the age of 30 from Maryland via the U.S. Army to work as a machinist, and his successor, the arch-nationalist J.E. Meyers (1919-21), arrived at age 26 from Ohio to attend law school. Buzz Bainbridge (1933-35) arrived sometime in late adolescence from a traveling circus to work in the theatrical community, and ultimately managed the Schubert Theater on Hennepin before getting involved in electoral politics. Hubert Humphrey, one of the city’s favorite sons, arrived quite late in life – after a curtailed freshman year at the U in his early 20s followed by family financial difficulties, he returned from South Dakota to complete his political science degree at age 26. He was mayor less than a decade later.

From the late 1950s, beginning with Republican P. Kenneth Peterson in 1959 through R.T. Rybak in the early 2000s, nearly every mayor was born and raised in the city of Minneapolis. (Exceptions: Arthur Naftalin, mayor in the 1960s, was born in Fargo and came to the U as an undergrad; Sharon Sayles Belton was born in St. Paul and spent much of her youth in Minneapolis.) Not surprisingly, most of this period coincides with the city’s peak population, when the majority of residents of the metropolitan area were born in Minneapolis.

Betsy Hodges was born in Baltimore, Maryland. By the time her family moved to the western suburbs in 1969, the city had lost nearly 100,000 residents, and the population of the suburbs like Wayzata had grown significantly. Hodges followed a trajectory similar to many in her generation: graduated high school in a suburb, left the state for college, and moved back to the city as an adult. In Hodges’ case, she settled in southwest Minneapolis, which she later represented on the City Council.

As for Frey, my guess is he will be the first of many mayors over the next decade or two born outside the metro area, and relocated to Minneapolis for college or work in their 20s or 30s. As long as there are universities, Fortune 500 companies and political advocacy groups here, young people will be moving here and getting involved in civic life. If the population of the core city continues to creep back up to its midcentury peak, it’s likely to follow a similar cycle to the one here: a series of transplants who came of age in the 2000s and 2010s, followed by a series of Minneapolis babies. The 59th, 60th and 61st mayors of Minneapolis are most likely running around a schoolyard or playground somewhere in the city right now.

Correction: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect birthplace for Betsy Hodges. Thank you to Tony Hill, Ph.D., for pointing that out.