Last month, Minneapolis lost a great citizen.
Albert J. Hofstede was the first and the only mayor elected from northeast or north Minneapolis. Al was elected as the Third Ward alderman in 1967. He served two DFL governors — Karl Rolvaag and Wendell Anderson. He was also the second person to chair the Metropolitan Council, a founding member of Catholic Elder Care and a partner in a very important public-affairs firm.
Al grew up in northeast Minneapolis and was a member of St. Anthony of Padua parish. He graduated from DeLaSalle High School and the then-College of St. Thomas and later served on the board of trustees for both institutions as well as for Our Lady of Lourdes. Al stayed active in his community up until his death. He started out as a neighborhood activist in northeast Minneapolis. Encouraged by his parish priest, Al led an impressive group of young people (several of whom also became elected officials) who supported a very controversial urban renewal program.
In the early 1960s, urban blight was common throughout America. Urban decay and federal policies favoring suburbs presented cities with significant challenges. Al’s group wanted to save its neighborhoods. With the support of then-Alderman Richard J. Kantorowicz, the city supported a federal urban renewal program that transformed the St. Anthony East and West neighborhoods. Today, these neighborhoods thrive in the shadows of downtown skyscrapers because of Al’s work decades ago.
Al went on to lead many of our civic fights to make Minneapolis a greater city. As mayor, Al made housing a signature issue. He made the need to renew, reinvest and recreate the housing stock of our city a central and core function of city government. When many urban centers were dying in the 1960s and ’70s, Minneapolis was fighting for its future.
The reason Minneapolis prospered at its urban core well before other places is because our city never gave up on the idea that it was a place worth fighting for and that the heart of the city was the hope of the city. Al worked to stop an unnecessary I-335 freeway through lower northeast Minneapolis. He pushed for a downtown football stadium. Al was also the guy who helped get a major university — St. Thomas — to locate in our city and give us what other world-class cities have — a real downtown campus for higher education.
Perhaps the best part of Al is this: Because he did so many things such as working for Govs. Rolvaag and Anderson, sitting on the City Council, serving as mayor and on the Met Council, as well as chairing nonprofit boards, he possessed incredible experience and wisdom. But he was also the kindest, most humble and decent person you would meet in public service. And for a city to lose such a person is a great loss. Today, we talk about civility in our public debate and public service. There was no more civil or decent person than Al Hofstede. At his funeral, one person observed that there wasn’t a mean bone in his body and that it was always about serving others around him to make our city better.
Al said many times that no one in our city should ever be enemies and that we should always act as friends in the place we call home. Al brought that mentality to everything he did. He certainly never saw a fellow Minneapolitan as an opponent or an enemy or a person who was wrong or someone to belittle or ridicule. But rather, Al saw all individuals as a person who had a family, who needed a job, who needed a place to live, who needed a way to get to work and to travel, and who wanted the best for their families. Some would call that a simple perspective; I consider it a profound way to look at public service.
Al also had a famous saying that you couldn’t run the city without the help of the state Legislature. Like his many efforts on behalf of others and the way he led his life, Al’s messages are ones that I continue to use in my work on the City Council. It is important that we understand that we are all connected — not only throughout our city but throughout our state, and even throughout our nation and world. And we should preface all we do with kindness, decency and humility.
Barbara J. Johnson is president of the Minneapolis City Council.