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

Mayor-elect Jacob Frey
MinnPost file photo by Karen Boros
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.

“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.

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.

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Comments (16)

Nice Research!

Another question - will Mayor Frey be the first renter vs homeowner mayor?

He won't be either. In 150

He won't be either. In 150 years, Minneapolis mayors have enjoyed a lot of housing options. Most of the early mayors weren't homeowners. When George E. Leach first ran for mayor in 1921, he was a homeowner -- in Edina. He moved into the Leamington Hotel on the night he was nominated and maintained it as his official residence for his first two terms. He wasn't the first mayor to live in a hotel; William Henry Eustis lived at the West Hotel (now a parking lot at 5th & Hennepin) during his mayoralty. Hubert Humphrey was a renter in Marcy-Holmes when he was first elected mayor. Al Hofstede lived with his parents his first term as mayor. When Don Fraser was elected mayor, he lived in the house next to the one he was born in. Soon after, he bought the house on the other side and lived in it until retiring to a condominium in 2013, and so can claim to have lived on the same block for his first 89 years. Soon after Sharon Sayles Belton was elected mayor, she moved to a home on the Mississippi bought from the widow of former Mayor P. Kenneth Peterson (who was tragically killed in a car accident three days before Sayles Belton became mayor.)

On the move?

How long will it be before he leaves Ward 3? And where will he live next?

Guilty...

I'll admit it; I eliminated Frey from consideration based on the combination of his youth & being a relative newcomer. Perhaps he'll probe me wrong, but I don't think he has the life experience necessary for this job.

Here's hoping he does not probe you wrong!

I wish Jacob a long and scandal free run as mayor.

How long do you think a

How long do you think a person needs to live in a place before they can hold elected office (or specifically mayor)?

They Had Great Names, Back in the Day

I know it's not the way to pick, but I would not hesitate before voting for anyone named "Dorilus Morrison."

He doesn't know what he doesn't know

I think Jacob will be a good enough mayor. Not a great one, but he will probably do fine. But the reason he won't be great is because he has not been here long enough to develop a relationship with the people who created this place that he says he fell in love with in the space of one morning. Jacob called me the day of the election to ask me for my vote. To his credit, he talked with me for 10 or 15 minutes before I ended the conversation to go back to work. Jacob became a little agitated when I let him know my concerns about him being an opportunist and too new to town. He emphasized that while his past may not be here, he plans that his future is. He prides himself on his ambition. But his ambition lacks the soul of a home city built by people who have lived here for decades and generations. Jacob doesn't know what he doesn't know. He came here to be a consumer of what others created and he does not acknowledge them for that, or try to learn from them by hearing them. Rather he expresses resentment and frustration toward them for having questions about his motives. He startled me when he compared his coming here to the Somalis, Hmong and Latinos coming here. Jacob is hardly a refugee or post-refugee. The refugee and immigrant people seem to have come here not by choice, then struggled to learn this place, settle in and then step up to participate and lead. They are a product of the City in a way that Jacob is not as yet.

He's been here for nine

He's been here for nine years. How long, in your opinion, does someone have to live in a place before they are no longer "too new to town" to run for office?

Honestly? I think 20 years

Honestly? I think 20 years is about the amount of time I would be comfortable with. That's a good amount of time to have a history with a place.

Adult years?

Or can part of the 20 be as a child?

"Give me a child for seven years and I will show you the [adult]

Part of the 20 can be as a child. Childhood experiences are very relevant. I was one of 753 that still voted for Aswar Rahman as my first choice and he is 23 years old.

Weird

Rahman quit the race and endorsed Frey.

I’m not even sure if Rahman has lived in Minneapolis longer than Frey. He claims he dropped out of high school but graduated college at 19. He claims he worked for Rybak but Rybak has no idea who he was. Guy is all over the place.

Ridiculous

I find the whole idea of his moving to Minneapolis from somewhere else being an issue completely ridiculous. Frey had no control over where his parents raised him. As an adult, he moved to Minneapolis and close to make it his home. If anything, the fact he chose Minneapolis instead of his parents choosing it for him makes him more qualified.

To play off your comment,

If you don't mind? How many folks that live in Mpls. are actually from Mpls? Suspect most of the natural born made tracks to the burbs many years ago. Meaning, that he may very well be a very good representation of the majority of us transplant folks now living in the city. My understanding is, his wife is native Minnesota, but not Minneapolis.

For sure

If there was a way to track the history of every Minneapolis resident, I'm sure we would find plenty of migration from (and to) other places. I lived in Minneapolis years ago and currently live a few blocks from the Minneapolis border in St. Paul. If I moved across the river and ran for office, would I be an outsider? Is being from Minnesota good enough, or does it have to be within the Minneapolis borders?

I expect that Frey will be fine. Or rather, that his success or failure as mayor will have little to do with the length of his Minneapolis residency.