Mike Elliott spent the moments leading up to his mayoral inauguration Wednesday night visiting with his friends, supporters and now constituents.
He posed for photos, hugged his Brooklyn Center neighbors and shook the hands of nearly every person inside the octagon-shaped Constitution Hall at the Brooklyn Center Community Center.
Elliott, an immigrant from Liberia, was sworn in as Brooklyn Center’s ninth mayor in a room decorated with the reds, whites and blues that make up both his birth and home countries’ flags.
As the first person of color to lead the state’s most diverse city, Elliott embraced the opportunity to talk about what he calls the city’s greatest strength.
The city, he told a crowded room of about 250 people, mostly Liberian-Americans, “is unique. We represent the future of Minnesota. ... The impression I got from Brooklyn Center is this: We are a united people.”
Elliott, 35, came to Minnesota from Liberia at age 11 with his family, and now will lead a community of 30,000 that is home to many other immigrants. He’s been widely held up as representative of a younger, more diverse wave in state politics.
Brooklyn Center, population 30,800, has a median age of about 32 and diverse demographics — 42.5 percent white, 28.2 percent black, 14.9 percent Asian, 10.1 percent Hispanic and 3.47 percent of mixed heritage, according to Data USA.
Elliott defeated Mayor Tim Willson in the Nov. 6 election, winning with nearly 55 percent of the vote. Willson, who had served as mayor since 2007, had defeated Elliott in the 2014 election.
The new mayor attended Brooklyn Center schools and graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul with a B.A. in international management and a minor in political science. He has worked as a small-business owner and founder of Fastforward Education, a foundation focused on fostering academic success in Brooklyn Center schools.
“This victory is not just for Liberians, but for Africans and all of us,” the Rev. Francis Tabla told the crowd at Wednesday’s celebration.
During the two-hour program, Tabla was among several who took to the podium to offer wisdom to the new mayor.
One pastor said a leader is someone who is forgiving, fair and just. Another implored Elliott to use his role to “open the doors” for others.
State Rep.-elect Samantha Vang, a DFLer whose parents were Hmong refugees, called Elliott a “new voice” for the city.
Elliott thanked the people in his life who gave him confidence and demonstrated qualities of leadership.
He thanked his grandmother for showing selflessness during the First Liberian Civil War, when she fed her grandchildren instead of herself. He thanked his eighth-grade English teacher for giving him the courage to run for student council president and his high school principal for teaching him to help his fellow struggling students.
“Minnesota welcomed us,” Elliott said about his immigration to the United States. “And Brooklyn Center put arms around us.”
George Larson, former principal at Brooklyn Center High School, said he couldn’t be prouder of his former student.
“You’ve got a good mayor, and he’s going to do his very, very best,” Larson said.
He closed off his nearly 30-minute speech with a reference to the children’s show “Bob the Builder”: “How can we make Brooklyn Center the best place to live in Minnesota? Can we do it? Can we do it? Or rather can we build it?”
The crowd shouted “yes” to all three questions.