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Brede wrapping up 16 years of support as mayor

December 18, 2018

For being the city’s No. 1 cheerleader, Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede has been criticized and praised.

He said he’s been comfortable in the ambassador role since taking office in 2003, and he knows people appreciate it, occasionally even more than he realizes.

“After 16 years, I still sometimes maybe don’t give full credit to what that title — mayor — means to some people.” he said, recalling the countless interactions he’s had with residents throughout the years.

Whether it’s a 100th birthday party or an international convention being held at the Mayo Civic Center, Brede said he’s always worked to be a genuine representative of the city.

It’s a part-time job that he’s called a “full-time joy,” but it’s more than he expected when he won the seat in the 2002 election.

Brede said he anticipated being able to do the job while still working part-time for Mayo Clinic.

That belief lasted less than two months, and he soon sought to retire.

“It isn’t just the meetings you go to, there’s more to it,” he said of being mayor.

Those who have worked with him cite his dedication to doing more than the minimum.

Stevan Kvenvold, who served with five mayors as former Rochester city administrator, said Brede was easy to work with and represented Rochester on many levels, from meeting with local residents to being involved with state and national organizations.

“It was a pleasure to be associated with him,” Kvenvold said.

Rochester City Council President Randy Staver called Brede a guiding force for the council.

“I’ve always appreciated that Ardell is kind of a rock, in the sense that he’s very honest, he’s very empathetic, and he shows great concern for people, regardless of who they might be,” he said, noting Brede will be missed in City Hall but change brings new opportunities.

LOOKING FORWARD

Now facing his second retirement, Brede said he’s not sure what his future holds. He said other retirees have suggested taking a few months off before making any big decisions.

With the recent death of his wife, Judy, he acknowledged there’s likely merit in the idea that he take his time to adjust to the changes in his life.

However, he said he wants to stay connected. He said he’ll be available if the new mayor, Kim Norton, calls, but he also might look into becoming an ambassador for the League of Minnesota Cities.

Other options are also likely to emerge. After all, calls started the day after he announced he would not seek a fifth term.

“The next morning, I got an email from an organization in town that wanted to do lunch to talk about a seat on their board,” he said.

While he hasn’t committed to anything, the mayor said he expects to remain dedicated to local arts.

EMBRACING THE ARTS

Brede has established a legacy based on his support of arts in Rochester.

“Without his support, we probably wouldn’t have advanced the arts as quickly as we did,” said Bari Amadio, CEO of the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust.

She noted public art has grown from a few civic offerings to opportunities found in businesses, churches and other places where people gather throughout the city.

In turn, she said, studies show the local commitment to the arts has had an economic impact and can help attract new residents to the city, as well as visitors.

Brede’s dedication is reflected in the creation of the Trust’s Ardee Awards to recognize artistic achievement in the region.

When it comes to artistic endeavors, Brede has personal history of dabbling in painting, photography and calligraphy, as well as a high school career as a saxophonist, but one of the most personal undertakings has been supporting the proposed conversion of the historic Chateau Theatre into an arts venue.

He said it’s one of the things he wishes could have been completed in his final term.

Talking about it in the days following his wife’s funeral, he noted it was the site of their first date when they saw “A Summer Place” in 1959.

With that memory, he said he wants to stay involved in the Chateau Theatre effort as it unfolds.

It’s not the only thing he said he wishes he could have accomplished before leaving office.

FAILED EFFORT

“I’m disappointed we were never able to pass prayer before council meetings,” he said. “I thought about it even a couple times this year.”

He pitched the idea twice in 16 years, once pulling it when he realized more information was needed to convince others it was doable.

“It’s not an issue of church and state, although many people think it is,” he said, noting challenges have failed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said the plan called for a short prayer before the official meetings started, with an effort made to include all Rochester’s religious communities to highlight the city’s diversity.

His second attempt went to a vote but failed to get the required council support.

VETO HISTORY

While he acknowledges he hasn’t been driven by policy as much as some of his election challengers, or even the next mayor, Brede has put his foot down at an increasing rate in his final term, issuing seven vetoes in the last four years.

During his first term, he only issued a single veto. The former Planning and Zoning Commission member objected to the addition of a sign for a Southwest Rochester business in 2005.

Vetoes remained rare in the following years, and Brede noted sometimes just a threat of a veto was enough to encourage city council members to reconsider their actions.

Brede said such encourage has become a key role for the mayor in a system that doesn’t give him a direct vote.

“You can influence, and you can support — or you better support, which is what I think we ought to do,” he said.

As he heads into his final city council meeting tonight, Brede said he will likely continue reflecting on the past 16 years, citing more achievements than regrets.

Brede, along with council members Ed Hruska and Mark Hickey, are being recognized at 6 tonight in the rotunda of the city-county Government Center as they prepare for their final council meeting.

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