Obituary: DFL strategist Lauren Maker stood 'up to the machine'

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 6, 2012 - 9:25 PM

She practiced family law but city politics was her passion.

Lauren Maker knew how to get politicians elected in Minneapolis, but she never hesitated to turn them out again if they disappointed her.

After a lifetime in progressive politics, Maker died hours after suffering a brain aneurysm on July 27 while attending a Minneapolis riverfront event as a member of the upper riverfront advisory committee. She was 59. A memorial gathering is scheduled at 4 p.m. Friday at Boom Island Park, 800 NE. Sibley St.

Maker entered politics young. As a student at Mounds View High School, she attended a rally in support of liberalizing the state's abortion laws in the days before the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision.

While at the University of Minnesota, she found her way into the political ferment of a city switching in the 1970s from two-party rivalry into DFL hands. She became a political strategist first on the South Side and later on the North Side, where she lived first in the Hawthorne and later the Victory neighborhoods.

"She loved this city, and she loved mixing it up in the bare-knuckle politics of the North Side DFL," said Ed Felien, a community newspaper publisher and Maker's political comrade. "She wasn't afraid to stand up to the machine. She never ran from a fight. And she didn't mind losing if she could go down swinging."

And she could change sides. She campaigned for Earl Netwal for City Council in 1973, then for Jackie Slater to oust him in 1977 and then grew disenchanted with her. She helped elect Judy Corrao to the council and served as her aide, but later sued her for repayment of a loan and helped Kathy O'Brien unseat her. She lost faith in candidates when they "sided with the downtown booty boys," according to a 1981 Minneapolis Star article.

Her introduction to North Side politics came in the epic 1983 battle in which upstart Sandra Hilary ousted old-guard incumbent and steamfitter Patrick Daugherty for a council seat. One pivotal role Maker played was to develop a sample ballot that the Minnesota Supreme Court decided too closely resembled the DFL ballot. It ordered a new election, but Hilary increased her winning margin.

Maker's luck didn't hold in her own political ambitions. She finished fifth of six candidates in a 1994 run for judge in which the incumbent was her former boyfriend. She was unable to win DFL endorsement for the Park Board in 1997. But she managed Council Member Dean Zimmermann's re-election campaign to within 46 votes of a win, despite a federal bribery investigation of Zimmermann.

She earned a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 1980 and made her living as a family lawyer, working from an office on W. Broadway until an auto accident left her with a head injury severe enough to cause her to close her practice. She chaired the state Bar Association's family law section in 1993-1994.

She was a founding member of the DFL Feminist Caucus and lobbied at the State Capitol for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She worked in the Minneapolis city coordinator's office with sister cities and planned special events. She later worked for the city's Department of Civil Rights and just five days before her death publicly criticized its management.

"She had a spark, occasionally devious, but a spark nonetheless that kept her curious and connected in vital ways to the world," said former city coordinator Steve Bosacker, who supervised her.

In her personal life, she favored hats, cats, gardening and cooking for a table full of friends. She is survived by a brother, Ross, of St. Paul; a sister, Julie Blade of White Bear Lake; three nephews and one niece.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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