Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park both made history in the November elections as both Twin Cities suburbs elected Black mayors. Brooklyn Center is a first-ring suburb outside Minneapolis. Brooklyn Park is the sixth largest city in Minnesota, also located north of downtown Minneapolis.
April Graves will become Brooklyn Center’s first Black female mayor, while Hollies Winston is the first-ever Black mayor of Brooklyn Park. Both will assume their respective offices and duties in January.
The MSR in separate interviews recently spoke to the two mayor-elects.
April Graves’ entry into politics came at a personal turning point in her life. “Back in 2014,” the Brooklyn Center mayor-elect recalled, “I had only lived in Brooklyn Center for three years. I had gone to a women’s leadership retreat, which was really kind of a transition period. I had left my first job after college, but that job just wasn’t the best fit for me.
“I went to a women’s leadership retreat, which kind of reinvigorated some of my confidence,” Graves continued. She later ran for the Brooklyn Center City Council and won.
She originally thought about running for the school board, “so I looked at the city council and I realized that it was very old and very White and that the people that were running were also older and quite White. There weren’t any women running. I thought that doesn’t make any damn sense.”
Graves defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Elliott by eight percentage points in November. In January, she will take over as mayor, which is a part-time position. Graves works full-time for the City of Minneapolis, and the position is essentially that of another city council member who presides over meetings.
“The mayor [of Brooklyn Center] has the same power as the rest of [the] city council members—one vote. The decisions that the council makes, including the mayor, are implemented by the city manager and the city staff,” explained the mayor-elect.
“The main thing to me, and why I decided to run [for mayor], was because I wanted to work more collaboratively with the council, with the community, and all the diverse stakeholders,” Graves said.
Brooklyn Center’s racial makeup is 49% White, just under 26% Black, and 14% Asian. Ever since Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer there in 2021 the city has undergone several changes, including limiting the mayor’s power during emergencies.
“Even before Daunte Wright was killed we were already doing work on policing, and we have a community policing framework,” Graves noted, adding that she also supports small businesses, community health, wellness and safety, and expanding youth job programs.
“That work is ongoing, and I will be taking over some of the work that the [present] mayor called the Implementation Committee, which is mainly like a planning committee but helping to make recommendations…”
“I’m also going to continue to work on small businesses and our residents, and build our tax base, really advocate a lot for entrepreneurs, small businesses, creative business incubator spaces, providing small business loans and grants, and support around financial management,” Graves pledged. “Continuing to do that work and do it even better.”
The fact that Graves soon will be Brooklyn Center’s first Black female mayor isn’t lost on her. “[It was] probably the biggest campaign I’ve ever had,” Graves admitted. “A level of intensity during the campaign that I hadn’t felt in the past, a lot of pressure from other people to do this or don’t do that, or did you try this or why don’t you try that.
“Even during the campaign, I had to be very clear…about my boundaries. I’m a single mom. I work full-time for the City of Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention. I’m already on the city council, so I have responsibilities as a council member and I [also] was running a campaign.
“ I had to let people know the campaign is important but it’s not my whole life,” Graves said. “I’m not just Black. My mom is White. My dad is a Native, so I tried to acknowledge who I am without leaving out any part. But I know its significance, and I feel like I’ve already been a trailblazer. I was one of the first women to get elected to office locally.
“I think it’s very significant and I’m ready for the challenge,” the mayor-elect added. “I think the most important thing that I need to do is just continue to be myself. Because that’s really what got me to this point.
“I don’t really have ambitions of higher office in the future,” Graves said. “We are doing system-level change. We recognize that culture change and individual level trust and relationships building had to be a part of that process.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.