Jeff Lunde admits that his track record as mayor of Brooklyn Park might rile some of his Republican compatriots.
Lunde supports the Blue Line light-rail extension between Brooklyn Park and downtown Minneapolis and is expected to back it Monday when the City Council votes on granting the Metropolitan Council local consent for the project, which many Republicans consider wasteful.
Disgusted by some GOP candidates’ disparaging comments about Muslims, the mayor called a meeting of the city’s faith leaders and residents to express solidarity.
Brooklyn Park joined two other suburbs to file a federal fair housing complaint charging the Metropolitan Council with racial bias. Lunde even flew to Washington, D.C., to enlist Brooklyn Park in President Obama’s call to help young men of color.
Lunde, 48, is unapologetic about his record, even as he seeks the Republican nomination to unseat DFL first-term state Sen. John Hoffman.
“I remind people my job is mayor of Brooklyn Park. It’s not a Republican job,” Lunde said. “I owe one group of people my best, and that is the residents of Brooklyn Park.”
Many colleagues and residents say that under Lunde’s leadership, the city is on the rise, businesses are flocking to town and the City Council and community are unified.
Lunde has been “a very good force in the city,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat. “There are some difficult realities faced by the City Council every day — poverty, immigration, race, foreclosures. He’s done a great job in managing some really tough discussions.”
Lunde has critics on both sides of the aisle. Leaders in the immigrant community like having his attention but say concrete results don’t always follow. Others believe his advocacy of light rail is wrong for the city; Council Member John Jordan said it’s not a good use of tax dollars because the city lacks “the density to make it a success.”
But Jordan said he believes that Republicans ultimately will embrace Lunde’s Senate run. “They are eager for a winner in that district. They are willing to take an 85 to 90 percent Republican to win. Jeff is going to be that guy,” he said.
Jobs and diversity
Lunde grew up in a small town in North Dakota, the son of parents who owned and managed a lumberyard. After graduating from North Dakota State University, he hoped to join the military, FBI or CIA. But asthma derailed those plans; instead, he finished a minor in Russian, pursued a master’s degree and interned for both of North Dakota’s U.S. senators.
Originally a Democrat, Lunde began to shift politically after he got a job, married and moved to Brooklyn Park. He said he was “a Jesse [Ventura] guy,” referring to the city’s most famous ex-mayor, and then became a Republican when George W. Bush ran for president. “I came to better understand where I stood: less government, more freedom,” he said.
In 2006 he took on a City Council incumbent and won, campaigning on an anti-crime, pro-jobs platform. Four years later he challenged Mayor Steve Lampi and lost big, with Lampi getting 67 percent of the vote. But Lampi died of cancer two months after starting his third term, and Lunde beat out 11 other candidates to win the special election.
Lunde said he came to the job with a passion for the city and its growing diversity. Roughly half the city’s population of 78,700 is made up of people of color. “I love my two sons being able to interact with different kids from different cultures. That’s our future,” he said.
According to city staffers, Brooklyn Park has added an estimated 3,000-plus good-paying corporate, manufacturing and health care jobs, largely along the Hwy. 610 corridor, during Lunde’s five years as mayor. Target is expanding its Brooklyn Park campus and Takeda Pharmaceutical has acquired a large biotech plant that will employ 190 workers.
Long plagued with a bad reputation, Brooklyn Park hired an outside consultant and embarked on a rebranding campaign. Residents report feeling better about their city, according to a recent survey.
Crime is at a 30-year low, so much so that Lunde has traveled the country to talk about the city’s success in lowering juvenile crime rates. He flew to Liberia on his own dime to get a better understanding of the Liberian immigrants living in Brooklyn Park, one of the largest such concentrations outside of Africa.
A casual style at City Hall
Some in the immigrant community say that while Lunde speaks eloquently on diversity and equity issues, the results often fall short. Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park, said that Lunde has been more involved with immigrants than any other mayor he’s known, but that income, job and housing disparities persist.
“Cross-cultural relationships are good, but when it comes to producing some measurable outcomes … the city can take a lot more intentional leadership,” he said.
Lunde, a sneakers-and-jeans guy, brings a casual style to City Hall. The Rev. Steve Larson, pastor at Redeemer Covenant Church, said the mayor is accessible but perhaps a tad too casual.
“I wish he would wear a tie every so often,” Larson said. “He and I laugh about that.”
“Jeff Lunde walks in and he’s cool. He never looks out of place. He’s personable. His personality plays well with the community,” Kiatamba said.
Having worked in technology and international sales most of his career, Lunde teaches technology at Hennepin Technical College and works as a volunteer coordinator at Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School, part of the Anoka-Hennepin schools.
His business pedigree helped lure new businesses to the city, colleagues said.
“His background in the computer industry has been helpful,” Council Member Peter Crema said. “He understands that when people have problems or needs, they have to be addressed quickly.”
When he ran for re-election in 2014, Lunde — who sought no political endorsements — defeated DFL-endorsed challenger Joy Marsh Stephens by nearly 20 percentage points.
Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann said Lunde would fit into his caucus even if some of his positions as mayor don’t strictly align with the party.
“I think he’s a great candidate. We are very supportive of him,” Hann said. “We like him. We’ve encouraged him. We hope he is successful in becoming the candidate.”
Hoffman said he’s ready for the challenge. The former Anoka-Hennepin school board member pointed to his success in getting state funding for education, road repairs and other projects in the district, which includes Champlin and Coon Rapids. Some of that funding helped draw businesses such as Olympus to Brooklyn Park, he said.
“I am proud to stand on [my] track record,” Hoffman said.