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Continued: Mpls. Mayor Hodges' husband a leader in racial, transit issues

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 19, 2014 - 6:53 AM

Now that Hodges has re­lin­quished her coun­cil seat, the pair are fi­nal­ly mov­ing in to­gether af­ter 2½ years of mar­riage, with the may­or leav­ing behind her rent­ed home in the 13th Ward to live in Cun­ning­ham’s longtime house in the Lyn­dale neigh­bor­hood. They lived a­part be­cause they rep­re­sent­ed dif­fer­ent areas of the city.

Cun­ning­ham has two a­dult chil­dren and four grand­child­ren.

Both di­vorced, they met in 2007, when Hodges ac­com­pa­nied her friend Bar­row to a good­bye par­ty for Cun­ning­ham when he was leav­ing his post as CEO of NorthPoint Health and Well­ness. They mar­ried four years later.

A rough start

His up­bring­ing stark­ly di­verged from that of Hodges, who is white and grew up in what she calls a “rar­efied” at­mos­phere in Minnetonka with two par­ents.

Cun­ning­ham, who is black and the fourth gen­er­a­tion of his fam­i­ly out of slav­er­y, was raised with four sib­lings by a sin­gle moth­er on wel­fare in Minneapolis. He re­mem­bers work­ers turn­ing off their gas in freez­ing weath­er, land­lords evict­ing them, and cyc­ling in and out of el­e­men­ta­ry schools. His moth­er moved the fam­i­ly to the South Side af­ter race riots on Plymouth Avenue, but the fam­i­ly strug­gled.

“I met lots of men at home, ” he wrote later in an an­thol­o­gy about black fa­thers, “but they were typ­i­cal­ly her­o­in ad­dicts passed out on the couch or shoot­ing up in the bath­room.”

By age 13, Cun­ning­ham was star­ing down a grim fu­ture. He dealt drugs. He stole. He skipped school and hung out with a gang. Fi­nal­ly, he ran away.

His life trans­formed af­ter his Un­cle Moe, a Marx­ist and Black Pan­ther, took him in. Moe and his friends helped Cun­ning­ham be­come a dedi­cat­ed read­er and writ­er and in­volved him in com­muni­ty pro­jects. Af­ter gradu­at­ing high school, Cun­ning­ham ran a co-op a­long­side his un­cle for black resi­dents of south Minneapolis.

Cun­ning­ham’s ca­reer took him far and wide, e­ven­tu­al­ly lead­ing him to gradu­ate with a public ad­min­is­tra­tion de­gree from Har­vard, and in­clud­ed lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the Minneapolis ci­vil rights de­part­ment and school sys­tem.

Con­nects eas­i­ly with peo­ple

He has been vice pres­i­dent of the North­west Area Foundation since 2007 and a­mong oth­er vol­un­teer po­si­tions is on the lead­er­ship team for Gen­er­a­tion Next, a coa­li­tion to ad­dress the achieve­ment gap that named out­go­ing May­or R.T. Rybak as its new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Those who work with him say he is con­stant­ly shar­ing the lat­est re­search and pour­ing over re­ports, though he also con­nects with peo­ple of all kinds.

“He can be in a room with low-in­come folks and con­nect with them be­cause that’s his back­ground, and he can be in a room with CEOs and con­nect with them be­cause he’s so well- re­gard­ed and well-ed­u­cat­ed … there’s noth­ing he won’t do. He will try any­thing, ” Bar­row said.

Cun­ning­ham and Hodges have busy pro­fes­sion­al lives. He spends up to a third of his time trav­el­ing for his job, while she was mak­ing calls on pen­sion ne­go­tia­tions on their wed­ding day. But they have a stand­ing date each Sun­day for brunch, and when they do have time to­gether they like to watch movies, work out, and spend time a­mong friends.

While Hodges is meas­ured with her words in public — she has joked about hav­ing an “in­ter­nal ed­i­tor” — Cun­ning­ham is more gre­gari­ous. But she lights up when talk­ing about him. Hodges told sup­port­ers at her e­lec­tion vic­to­ry par­ty that she was so in love with her hus­band and that he was the light of her life.

“I am very a­ware that I mar­ried up,” Hodges said in an inter­view, “and I’m luck­y for it every day.”


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