Our view: New mayor, council members offer a fresh start for Rochester

January 4, 2019

Rochester city government gets a makeover next week when a new mayor and two new city council members are inaugurated.

It’s the first inauguration ceremony for Rochester, a community-wide event that will recognize the democratic process by which we elect leaders.

How significant are the changes? For starters, Kim Norton will be sworn in as mayor after 16 years (four terms) of leadership by Mayor Ardell Brede. Also being sworn in are new council members Sean Palmer and Patrick Keane, and incumbent council member Nick Campion.

This ceremony represents a new start for Rochester. The city council has been sharply divided on a handful of issues in recent years, and perhaps the new faces will make for new alliances, fresh viewpoints and, if nothing else, new opportunities to build bridges.

All of that should make for interesting viewing, but we think the most significant development for the city’s future is the election of Norton. We’ll get this out of the way: Yes, she’s the first woman to be mayor of Rochester. But in our view, she was elected because she was the best candidate.

Norton, who served on the Rochester School Board and then in the Minnesota House of Representatives, comes to the office of mayor with a wealth of experience in government. She has seen, from these vantage points, how government works or doesn’t work, and how it affects citizens.

Just as importantly, Norton, while she was elected to the Legislature as a DFLer, was never a partisan firebrand in St. Paul. Her strength, in fact, was working both sides of the aisle. She wasted little time on political posturing, instead preferring to push toward solutions.

For better or worse, Norton’s name is tied to the Destination Medical Center legislation that she helped guide through the Legislature. That initiative, which is designed to make Rochester and Mayo Clinic the foremost medical destination in the country, is in the process of remaking a large part of downtown Rochester.

The project has not been without its naysayers. As Norton herself noted in a recent Post Bulletin interview, DMC is “the easy scapegoat for every problem.”

That’s the nature of big projects: They’re big targets. That’s also the nature of change: It never happens easily.

The size and scope of DMC is ushering in a new era in Rochester. We think the inauguration of Norton and new council members offers the same potential. We’re eager for them to get to work after next week’s ceremonial start.

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