Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey
Gary W. Reichard
Summer 1998 (Volume 56, number 2 Pages 50-67)
Despite his popular image as a left-leaning Democrat, Hubert
H. Humphrey had a long and successful political career that demonstrated
his ability to maneuver between extremes and find compromise solutions
to challenging problems. This singular skill manifested itself
repeatedly during Humphrey's service as a U.S. senator and as
vice president. But never was it more evident than during his
emergence into politics as mayor of Minneapolis, a period often
overshadowed by his national career.
Elected in 1945, the 34-year-old political neophyte had to contend with the
daunting challenges that faced most large American cities immediately after
World War II: a drastic housing shortage, reconversion to a peacetime economy,
labor-management strife, widespread vice and police corruption, the flight of
affluent taxpayers to the suburbs, and outdated governmental infrastructure.
Humphrey approached these problems in ways reminiscent of the Progressive
movement of the early twentieth century. Eschewing traditional ward-based tactics
to avoid being labeled partisan, he succeeded in building a base of support in
Minneapolis that included business leaders, civic groups, labor unions, and
Amazingly, he accomplished this feat despite having played a leading role in
the successful merger in 1944 of Minnesota's Democratic and FarmerLabor parties.
Indeed, Humphrey's achievements during his two terms as mayor were perhaps the
greatest tour de force of his brilliant political career.
At the time of his election in 1945, Humphrey had already run
unsuccessfully for the mayor's office. Entering the 1943 campaign
at almost the last minute, he brought no political experience
and limited funds. On the other hand, incumbent Mayor Marvin L.
Kline was highly vulnerable to challenge, since he was distrusted
by labor and, though a Republican, lacked personal support among
the city's business leaders. In addition, Kline's passivity in
dealing with corrupt liquor and gambling interests made him an
inviting target for a reform candidate.
When the affable young Humphrey decided to run, therefore, he
received encouragement not only from his fellow students and teachers
in the political science department at the University of Minnesota
but also from such diverse quarters as George P. Phillips of the
Central Labor Union, George E. Murk of the musicians union, and
prominent business leaders.
In these circumstances Humphrey's challenge was to build a broad base of support
among usually incompatible economic interests while promising active government
leadership. Though a strong proponent of New Deal policies, he was not yet
publicly identified with any political party and could thus maintain the
non partisan stance needed for such a campaign. He attacked Kline for failing
to deal with crime and police reform but also focused on politically neutral
issues such as the need for postwar planning, economic development, and reform
of the city charter. On charter reform, especially, Humphrey played to many
political camps, admitting that he had no "concrete proposal for governmental
reorganization" and calling for a "period of time for study [to] guarantee that
conservatism and progressivism may each have its day in court ... [and] that the
decision we reach will be a mature one." Like reformers of the Progressive era,
he emphasized the need for "comprehensive governmental machinery to supervise a
planned program of development." And he did surprisingly well for a novice:
after finishing second to Kline in a field of eight candidates in the primary,
he lost the June 1943 runoff by only 6,000 votes out of 115,000 cast.
Despite some reporters' speculation that Humphrey might try for a higher office,
he immediately set his sights on taking city hall in 1945. Now his partisan leanings
became more visible and pronounced. While supporting his growing family and paying
off a $1,200 campaign debt by teaching political science at Macalester College in
St. Paul, he rose to leadership within the state's ailing Democratic Party. Playing
a notable role in the party's 1944 convention as state campaign manager, he helped the
Roosevelt-Truman ticket carry Minnesota by more than 60,000 votes in the November
elections. His key role in the merger of the state's Democratic and Farmer-Labor
parties into the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) enabled him to line up important
labor supporters in the Twin Cities and across the state and to secure direct
assistance from Democratic State Chairman Elmer Keim and, through Kelm, Democratic
National Party Chairman Robert Hannegan. Within Minneapolis political circles,
however, he continued to strike a nonpartisan posture, concentrating his efforts in
the months before the May 1945 primary on learning more about "the formal structure
of city government" and becoming better acquainted with Minneapolis's most powerful
In his second mayoral campaign, Humphrey put together an effective
team and perfected the "consensus strategy" he had tested out
two years earlier. He named attorney Ralph E. Dickman, a member
of both Hennepin County's board of commissioners and the city's
planning commission, his campaign manager; Arthur E. Naftalin,
a friend from the university, signed on as publicity director;
and William Simms, formerly office manager of the Hennepin County
Welfare Department, agreed to be a "plant" in the county attorney's
office, gathering evidence of police corruption in preparation
for the cleanup that Humphrey had pledged to undertake if elected.
The candidate's persistent courting of John Cowles, publisher
of the Minneapolis Star-Journal and Minneapolis Morning
Tribune, paid particular dividends, as the Cowles papers
repeatedly stressed the breadth of Humphrey's coalition and, late
in the campaign, endorsed him. The highly positive press coverage
he received was due at least partly to Naftalin's success in feeding
finished pieces to friendly political reporters such as Matthew
W. (Mike) Halloran of the Star-Journal. Labor organizations,
veterans' groups, and business leaders all rallied to Humphrey's
cause. Leaders of the Central Labor Union, the Hennepin County
CIO, and the Minneapolis Railroad Brotherhoods, as well as the
800-member United Veterans of America and the even larger Veterans
Committee for Good Government all proved helpful. The most influential
supporter from the downtown business establishment, J. Bradshaw
Mintener, general counsel for Pillsbury Flour Mills, responded
succinctly to concerns expressed by fellow Republicans about the
young candidate's DFL ties: "Do you want the gangsters in here
or do you want a decent administration?"
Throughout the 1945 campaign, Humphrey emphasized the issues of government reform,
law and order, urban development, and housing shortages, calling for leadership to
"make this community act like a community." As would be true so often in his later
career, he chose to be relentlessly upbeat, adopting as his campaign slogan the
words of the contemporary hit song, "Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative."
He trounced Kline in the May primary election by almost two-to-one (49,550 to 26,091),
carrying all but one of the city's 13 wards, including Kline's home ward, and ran
ahead of most of the victorious aldermanic candidates. In the June general election,
Humphrey won resoundingly, receiving 86,377 votes (61 percent) to the mayor's 55,263
and again carrying every ward but one.
Momentarily departing from the nonpartisan posture of the campaign, the ebullient
mayor-elect characterized the outcome as a decisive victory for liberalism.
"The recent municipal election," he remarked after his triumph, "indicates that
the political trend in this area is toward progressive and liberal policies."
More revealingly but with less basis in fact, he suggested that the results
represented "a broad endorsement of the entire Roosevelt program." Even had this
been the case, Humphrey would have faced a difficult task. Although 8 of 13 winners
in the aldermanic races were labor-endorsed liberals, the liberal-conservative balance
on the city council remained so close—14 to 12—that any mayor would have to work for
consensus to be able to lead the city in new directions.
Minneapolis faced major problems in 1945, as did nearly all of the nation's
metropolitan centers. Historian Philip Funigiello has observed that, at the end
of World War II, "American cities—even the land on which they rested—
appeared more war-weary than the people themselves. They had stood the test, but
they had not been built for such a strain." Even though Business Week described
the Twin Cities in April 1945 as the "cities the war boom forgot," by the last
months of the war Minneapolis and St. Paul nonetheless were affected by all
of the major forces facing other large American cities. On the day of
Humphrey's inauguration as mayor, the Minneapolis Daily Times described the
daunting problems facing the city: "Employment, housing, community redevelopment,
traffic control, the veteran's readjustments to civilian life, industrial
expansion, municipal finance, law enforcement, the sound building of our park
and library and school systems—such are the difficult and diverse problems that
confront Minneapolis as Mr. Humphrey takes over at the city hall."
During the campaign, Humphrey had identified the city's most
pressing problems as widespread crime and a dire postwar housing
shortage. Soon these challenges were joined in importance by a
series of labor-management conflicts that threatened to cripple
key local industries. These three critical areas of concern consumed
much of Humphrey's attention during his first term. By the time
he ran for reelection in 1947, he had made major progress in
dealing with each of them.
Humphrey's conception of how communities worked led him to make police reform his top
priority when he took office in July 1945. As he explained in his inaugural address,
enforcement of the law was "not merely a matter of police administration" but a vital
ingredient of community health. "A peaceful and harmonious and law-abiding community,"
he told the city council,
comes only when people live in conditions which are conducive to normal and
healthy community relations. There is a direct relationship between a high level of
employment at decent wages and a respect for law. There is a direct relationship
between good housing, adequate parks and playgrounds, progressive schools, modern
library facilities, and respect for the laws and ordinances of this city.
The new mayor set two goals for improving law enforcement: to end police corruption
and to increase the size of the police force in order to combat rising levels of
violent crime and juvenile delinquency. His first step was to name a new police
chief whose integrity and loyalty would be above reproach. Humphrey's choice was
his friend and former neighbor, the FBI-trained head of the department's internal
security division, Edwin Ryan. The confirmation battle proved to be contentious,
however. Ryan had strong support from the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Law
Enforcement, headed by Bradshaw Mintener, but organized labor opposed the
nomination, fearing that Ryan's FBI background might dispose him to launch witch
hunts against the city's unions. Liberals closely aligned with labor thus joined
with conservatives, who hoped to embarrass the new mayor, and managed to stall the
confirmation for a week. Mayor Humphrey finally won the battle, with only three
liberals and one conservative voting nay. Decisive support on the labor side came
from the powerful Robert I. Wishart, leader of the city's largest CIO union and
chairman of the Hennepin County CIO. Humphrey's victory in this struggle was crucial
in establishing credibility as a leader, and he demonstrated superb tactical skills
in winning the necessary votes from the divided council.
Ryan proved to be a bold and effective chief, forcing the resignations of several
members of the force he knew to be "on the take" and vigorously implementing
Humphrey's order to smash the city's illegal gambling operations. This order was
followed literally, as detectives raided gambling establishments and physically
destroyed roulette wheels.
In late July, while the police department was carrying out these raids, the
mayor asked the grand jury to examine the city's nearly 300 liquor licenses,
checking especially for multiple-licensing violations. The object of eliminating
multiple licenses was to end organized crime's control of most liquor establishments
and thereby to improve Minneapolis's unsavory reputation. The grand jury's late
August report charged gross negligence in the issuance of licenses and called
for establishment of a separate licensing bureau in the police department
and a liquor-license committee in the city council. In the end, this
campaign met with only partial success. Although some of the city's most
visible vice operations were shut down during Humphrey's tenure as
mayor, the notorious racketeers Kid Cann and Tommy Banks continued to hold
With Humphrey's support, Chief Ryan also took decisive steps against juvenile
delinquency. He vigorously prosecuted liquor sales to minors, increased evening
patrols in areas frequented by young offenders, and enforced the city's 9:30 P.M.
curfew for minors. Complementing these aggressive actions, the city council
approved addition of a social worker and four patrolmen to the juvenile division
of the police force, and Humphrey established a civilian juvenile-welfare
commission to oversee the activities of all youth-related agencies. The mayor also
pressed for improved recreational facilities in the city.
Humphrey also urged the city council to approve enlargement and reorganization of
the police department. He pointed out that many cities of comparable size had police
forces twice as large as the one in Minneapolis. To strengthen his case, Humphrey
linked the need for more patrolmen with the goal of reducing unemployment among
returning veterans. These arguments met with only limited success, however, due
to the projected cost of expanding the force. Instead of agreeing to the 30
percent increase in personnel (an addition of 150 officers to a force of 500),
the council augmented the number of uniformed police by only six percent (to
531 officers) by late 1946. This battle continued into Humphrey's second term,
when the council finally approved an increase to 581, still far short of the
mayor's original request.
By contrast, efforts to reorganize the police department were much more successful.
In May 1946, citing recommendations from a law enforcement advisory committee,
Humphrey issued an executive order establishing a chain-of-command system to
replace the chaotic and inefficient structure in which virtually every division
of the force reported directly to the chief. This change, together with Ryan's
insistence on modern, FBI-inspired record-keeping techniques, dramatically
improved the efficiency of Minneapolis law enforcement.
A signal of Humphrey's growing credibility as a crime-fighter was the ease with
which he won council confirmation of Glen W MacLean as police chief when Ryan
resigned to run for county office in May 1946. Another important indicator of
Humphrey's success can be found in FBI statistics. While the rapid postwar
population growth in Minneapolis was accompanied by increases in the number
of robberies, both murders and aggravated assaults declined during his final
two years as mayor. Homicides, which had totaled 9 in 1945, 10 in 1946, and
12 in 1947, numbered only 6 in 1948 and 3 in 1949. In that same five-year
period, aggravated assaults totaled 31, 47, 46, 26, and 23, respectively.
Violence and vice, of course, did not disappear from Minneapolis during
Humphrey's mayoralty, but the city made significant progress in shaking
off its reputation as a crime capital.
The pervasive post war housing crisis commanded even more of
Humphrey's attention than did crime and police reorganization.
Like most other urban centers, Minneapolis was overwhelmed by
a flood of homeless veterans returning from service, many with
young families. In September 1945 the city's housing needs were
estimated at 80,000 units; according to the Star Journal, the
shortage was even worse than in war-boom cities such as Washington,
D.C. Before his election, Humphrey had visited with federal officials
and studied housing programs in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee,
Louisville, and Cleveland. Soon after his inauguration he offered
a three-point plan to deal with the crisis. It included: a door-to-door
campaign "to list every available room and every possible living
quarters now unused in the city"; action "by all responsible federal,
state, and municipal authorities along with private social agencies
to obtain temporary pre-fabricated and emergency-type housing"
under terms of the wartime Lanham Act; and "immediate action by
responsible authorities to secure a greatly increased number of
private housing units." The mayor also traveled to Washington
again in an effort to secure federal funds for the city.
Progress in solving the problem was slow. In October 1945 the federal government
ended controls on building-material allocations, thus freeing private developers
to begin new construction, but shortages persisted. Moreover, builders strongly
preferred to construct more profitable higher-priced housing than badly needed
low- and moderate-price units. Nor was federally sponsored housing forthcoming.
Despite strong lobbying by the United States Conference of Mayors and various
veterans' organizations, Congress failed in both 1945 and 1946 to pass the
Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill, which would have provided for construction of
low-rent public housing.
Undeterred, Humphrey worked to obtain surplus wartime housing for the city.
Targeting 107 government-owned trailers in Lima, Ohio, he appointed a planning
committee to work on the project. The Mayor's Housing Committee, including
representatives of government agencies, business, labor unions, and the
construction industry, established a nonprofit corporation, Minneapolis
Veterans Trailer Housing, Inc., to set up a colony in north Minneapolis.
Because the city was barred by state law from financing housing, the costs
of moving the trailers were met by a $30,000 revolving fund provided by the
Hennepin County chapter of the American Red Cross, reimbursable from trailer rentals.
The surplus trailers reduced the housing shortage only slightly. "The housing crisis
in Minneapolis continues to intensify at a most alarming rate," Humphrey told the
city council in December 1945, "and the need for immediate and effective action
becomes more and more urgent with the passage of each day." Predicting that the
number of homeless would swell during the spring as more war veterans were discharged,
he urged the council to declare a housing emergency and empower the board of public
welfare to handle the problem. Additional funding would be necessary, he continued,
for a number of vital activities: to provide sites for free, demountable dwelling
units available from the federal government; to conduct a survey of "vacant or
partially vacant public buildings"; to convert these spaces into living accommodations;
and to keep the war housing bureau functioning. Like the proposal to expand the police
force, these ambitious aims ran into the problem of lack of city revenue. The most
the council would do was to approve a city referendum for fall 1946 on a charter
amendment to establish a municipal housing authority capable of issuing bonds for
In early 1946 Humphrey went directly to the people for help, launching an elaborately
orchestrated "Shelter-a-Vet" campaign that urged Minneapolis residents to open their
homes to veterans and their families. Staffed by volunteers, the drive evoked
patriotic themes and utilized modern advertising techniques, including full-page
illustrated advertisements in Minneapolis newspapers captioned "Wanted: A Friendly
Door for a Homeless Vet!" and "Where Do We Sleep Tonight, Daddy?" The campaign even
had a theme song, "A Place to Hang My Hat," written at Humphrey's request by a
returned Minneapolis veteran, Jack LaSalle. The drive produced steady, though
unspectacular, results and provided housing for about 3,000 veterans and family
members by the end of 1946, less than a third of what was needed, by the mayor's
Although Humphrey believed that only passage of a charter amendment setting up a
city housing authority would allow Minneapolis to meet its housing needs in the
long run, he continued to seek short-term relief. In August 1946 he created yet
another special panel, the Mayor's Emergency Housing Commission, with the multiple
charge to: determine local emergency housing needs and goals; facilitate relations
among government agencies, veterans' groups, and builders; coordinate the work of
local housing-referral centers; and investigate changes in building codes and zoning
ordinances to expedite construction. Admitting later that he lacked the legal authority
to do so, Mayor Humphrey also obtained from the federal government more than 400
additional trailers, prefabricated houses, metal barracks, and quonset huts for use
by families of veterans attending the University of Minnesota.
In November 1946 Minneapolis voters defeated the proposed housing-authority charter
amendment by nearly 6,000 votes, and at year's end the housing crisis remained
unresolved. Humphrey continued to press for federal action and tried repeatedly
to get the city council to approve the issuance of housing bonds. Eventually the
council approved 72 housing starts but appropriated no funds.
Only gradually was Minneapolis's housing shortage resolved. As in many other
cities, a major factor was the migration of affluent residents to the suburbs,
taking much of the tax base with them. But few metropolitan mayors were more
energetic, more creative, or more visible than Humphrey in the struggle to solve
the postwar housing crisis, and his actions gained him national attention as a
"can-do" political leader of tremendous promise.
Labor-managment strife was another critical issue that repeatedly
demanded Humphrey's attention as mayor. His statewide efforts
on behalf of the Roosevelt-Truman ticket in 1944, his well-publicized
role in creating the DFL Party, and his close association with
Robert Wishart and other local labor leaders all stamped him initially
as a friend of organized labor. Upon his inauguration, despite
his campaign emphasis on consensus politics, an influential labor
organ named him a "voice" for unionized labor in city government,
pointing out that he was a card-carrying member of the American
Federation of Teachers (AFT).
But whatever his private sympathies, Humphrey had no intention
of confronting management on behalf of the unions. Conscious that
he needed to retain business support, he chose to serve as a mediator
in the many labor disputes that erupted during his first term
in city hall.
Accordingly, Humphrey met with local labor leaders in October 1945 to develop
procedures to be followed when strikes threatened. He followed up with a letter
to Chief Ryan clarifying the role of the police in labor-management relations. The
rules called for unions to give the mayor advance notice of any potential strikes
and for the mayor to inform Ryan that a police presence might be needed. "We will
not choose sides or act as a means of force to settle a dispute," Humphrey wrote
to Ryan. "It is the responsibility of labor and management through the offices
of Federal and State government to settle all industrial and labor disputes."
Seeking to reassure both sides, he continued, "We should ever keep in mind that
if police officers are used promiscuously in labor disputes, neither management
nor labor will assume the responsibilities that belong to them in settling such
There is no doubt, however, that Humphrey sympathized with striking workers in
nearly every case and considered it unjust that wages failed to keep up with
price increases after the war. This was obvious in the innovative "Minnesota
Formula" he developed to deal with labor-management strife: in any situation
where a breakdown of collective bargaining threatened, a mayoralty appointed
committee (with equal representation from labor and management) would intervene
to "eliminate any known inequities in the conditions of work and wage
classifications." This was to be followed by an automatic 10 to 15 percent
increase in "straight-time hourly earnings ... given in the form of the same
cents-per-hour boost to all workers." Relative wage increases would be greatest
for lowest-paid workers. At the end of the year, the situation was to be reviewed
and the contract revised, if necessary.
The Minnesota Formula got a thorough trial when Minneapolis experienced postwar
labor unrest as severe as anywhere in the nation. No work stoppage tested Humphrey
more thoroughly than the protracted Minnesota teachers' strike of early 1948, led
by his own union, the AFT. It posed special difficulties not only because it
affected citizens all across the city but because it broke out just after
Humphrey had committed himself to run for the 1948 Democratic Senate nomination
and was therefore spending considerable time out of the city. The immediate cause
for the strike was a proposal by the board of education to shorten the school year
by two weeks in both spring and fall of 1948 to make up a projected $2 million
deficit. The AFT countered this transparent pay cut with a demand that the minimum
salary be raised from $2,000 to $3,000 and the maximum be raised from $4,200 to
$6,000. The city's non-union teachers, though not joining the strike, supported
AFT demands for restoration of normal school terms and higher pay.
Humphrey, who for two years had been advocating a one-percent city payroll tax to
enhance revenues, saw the teachers' strike as vindication of his advocacy. It also
provided him further evidence (along with the continuing housing crisis) that the
city needed to modernize its charter by granting more power to the mayor to deal
with crises. Only such reform, he argued, would permit the management changes
necessary to produce adequate funding for schools. "It is absolutely essential
that it be clearly understood," he announced as the strike began on February 25,
"that the City of Minneapolis either through its City Council or through its
school board, is powerless to meet the financial requirements of providing
decent education for its children.... Frankly, our hands are tied." When the
strike dragged on, the mayor intervened directly. Two weeks into the walkout,
on March 10, he wrote to the school board president, Morris C. Robinson, to
urge settlement, arguing, "We can't operate schools without teachers."
Calling for raises for the lowest-paid teachers to be funded by a bond issue,
Humphrey once again sounded the theme of community responsibility: "The issues
involved in this dispute can be and must be resolved.... Surely we must have
faith in each other. A contract is no better than the integrity of those who
sign it and negotiate it.... The people of this city have every right to expect
that a settlement will be reached within the next day or two."
The teachers' strike ended on March 22 with an almost complete victory for the
AFT. The board rescinded the four-week cut in the school schedule and agreed to
increase both the minimum and maximum teachers' salaries over the next two years.
Humphrey may have moved things along by calling for mediation, but in the end a
more important force in producing settlement was an ominous warning from District
Court Judge Lars 0. Rue that the parties should "use the best conciliatory methods
you can for the welfare of the city."
Mayor (and Senate candidate) Humphrey, however, received credit for the role he
had played, which in turn enhanced his credentials with organized labor at a
critical political juncture.
As mayor, Hubert Humphrey may have wanted to side with the workers in times of
labor-management conflict, but he was consistently pragmatic in his response
to the city's major strikes, including stoppages by communications workers,
electrical workers, and hospital workers, among others. He later recounted:
"I constantly used ... the prestige of the mayor's office, what talents I had,
to keep the whole situation flexible, to keep it from jelling and solidifying
into irreconcilable positions." As Humphrey saw it, employers, as the more
powerful party, bore special responsibility to decide "'what kind of America
they wanted." Speaking at a labor rally in Duluth during November 1946, he
asserted that "labor is here to stay and it's not going to be shoved around."
Union-busting, he added, would "only lead to the kind of dictator-led mob rule
such as we saw in Hitlerite Germany and in Russia following World War I.
Combining idealism with pragmatism n his handling of labor issues, Humphrey
successfully walked the political tightrope between unions and employers. His
empathy for workers, especially the lowest paid, ensured that his union support
remained strong. The city's business leaders, too—whatever their private
suspicions—appreciated his ability to keep peace between unions and management.
Humphrey's success in producing the community harmony about which he so often
spoke proved to be an important political asset when he ran for the Senate in 1948.
As mayor of Minneapolis, Humphrey had no choice but to deal with the issues
of crime, housing, and strikes, but in two other important areas-race relations
and municipal—government reform—he acted out of the strength of his personal
convictions. This commitment to using government to bring about social justice
would characterize Humphrey's political approach throughout his career.
Deeply committed to erasing Minneapolis's image of racial and religious
intolerance, Humphrey had been so outspoken in his 1945 campaign that his
most prominent black supporter, publisher Cecil E. Newman of the Minneapolis
Spokesman, had advised him to "soft-pedal this civil rights stuff," adding
that he would rather see Humphrey securely elected "than to let some of these
bigots start attacking you as a Negro-lover."
Once elected, Humphrey turned quickly to the problems of the city's minorities,
especially blacks. After a brief trip to Chicago to consult with Mayor Edward
Kelly, he forwarded a draft Fair Employment Practices (FEP) ordinance to the
chair of the city council's committee on ordinances and legislation. In
doing so, as aide Arthur Naftalin pointed out to him, he had committed a
serious faux pas: "The proper procedure," Naftalin admonished his boss,
"is for you to address it to the Council and let the Council decide which
committee it ought to be referred to." Furthermore, added Naftalin,
"The way ought to be cleared on publicity before a premature release is
made that may embarrass the Council and accomplish nothing." Even after
Humphrey reintroduced his proposal through proper channels, the council
stalled, delaying adoption of the fair-employment measure until
January 31,1947. In the end, however, Humphrey's victory was complete.
The ordinance passed by a vote of 21 to 3and in its final form put
Minneapolis "in the lead nationally in the penalties provided for discrimination
in employment." In contrast to similar measures in Chicago and Milwaukee,
the only other two U.S. cities with them at the time, the new regulation
prescribed jail terms as well as fines for violators. Still, the extent
of the breakthrough for black employment in Minneapolis was very limited
for the first few years and was perhaps due as much to pressures from the
city's Urban League as to any other factor.
One of the most important forces behind enactment of the Fair Employment
Practices ordinance was yet another appointed committee of experts, the Mayor's
Council on Human Relations. Established in 1946 and chaired by Lutheran
clergyman Reuben K. Youngdahl (brother of a Republican federal judge who
was soon to become governor of Minnesota), the panel included representatives
from business, labor, and government, as well as one black and one Jewish member.
Charged by Humphrey to investigate "all cases involving discrimination," the
human relations council was highly productive. In addition to sponsoring
educational programs on race relations across the city, it assisted in a
training programs for the police department, helped to establish
nondiscrimination programs in veteran's housing projects, and secured
city-council endorsements of two other race-relations ordinances. The first
of these, adopted in mid-1946, called upon real-estate brokers "to eliminate
restrictive provisions [covenants] from plats submitted to the City Council
for approval," and the second, passed in early 1947, banned the dissemination
of hate literature in the city. Perhaps the most significant commission
activity was its extensive community self-survey of attitudes and practices
affecting "intergroup relations" in Minneapolis. In the spring of 1947
Humphrey succeeded in getting the city council to establish the Mayor's
Commission on Human Relations as an official body of city government, thereby
assuring its existence beyond his tenure in office.
Humphrey continued to press the issue of civil rights for minorities after
his easy reelection over a little-known Republican opponent, attorney Frank
Collins, in 1947. The continuing contributions of the city's human relations
council took on special importance. Much of the council's work was informal.
For example, Chairman Youngdahl met with employers to encourage them to remove
questions about race and religion from employment applications, and assistance
was given to nonwhites seeking veterans' housing. In early 1948 Mayor Humphrey
acknowledged the council for its contributions and reported with pleasure that
several other cities had established similar bodies. "Minneapolis and the Mayor's
Council," he wrote to Youngdahl, "have become a symbol of positive action to
insure human rights on the local level." Meanwhile, the Fair employment Practices
Commission (FEPC), which had been established to enforce the fair-employment
ordinance, followed up on discrimination complaints and worked with the city
attorney to draft a nondiscrimination clause for inclusion in all municipal
The practical results of these efforts, however, were limited. Formal complaints
to the FEPC were few—only 56 between June 1, 1947, and December 31, 1948—and
the agency settled only 19 in favor of the complainants, while dismissing 16
for lack of evidence. It is not clear that these low numbers reflected improved
conditions; rather, they may reflect fear of reprisals on the part of those who
suffered reportable instances of discrimination.
Throughout his mayoralty, Humphrey maintained his high visibility in the area
of civil rights. On number of well-publicized occasions, he took black guests
with him to previously segregated restaurants and service establishments, and
he worked successfully to end segregation in Twin Cities bowling alleys. As
president of the National Committee on Fair Play in Bowling, he tried to build
upon his local successes by getting the white-only American Bowling Congress
(ABC) to permit the 75,000 alleys operating under its sanction to open men's
competition to all bowlers, regardless of race. When the ABC did not yield, at
Humphrey's urging the Minneapolis and St. Paul Committees on Fair Play in
Bowling sponsored nondiscriminatory "All American Bowling Tournaments" in
April 1948 to dramatize the issue.
It does not negate the sincerity or importance of Humphrey's early civil-rights
efforts to recognize that, as he looked forward to climbing higher political peaks,
he saw great advantage in maintaining his image as a leader in race relations. If
the results of his efforts in Minneapolis were limited, nonetheless his leadership
held symbolic and educational value for the city's white majority. Humphrey took
pride, as he noted to Youngdahl, in his membership in such national civil-rights
organizations as the National Committee on Segregation in the Nation's Capitol
and the National Committee for FEPC. He boasted that "in each instance these
national committees look to the Mayor of Minneapolis because Minneapolis has
done pioneer work in the field of human relations." Similarly, he wrote to
black publisher Cecil Newman in early 1948 to describe his activities on behalf
of civil rights, including speaking appearances in 27 states, and to emphasize
his continuing commitment. He wanted, he told Newman, to dispel "idle rumor and
gossip that I am letting down on my enthusiasm for such programs."
Only a few months later, what would become his lifelong public identification
with civil-rights issues was cemented by his galvanizing speech to the 1948
Democratic national convention.
In his final major mayoral crusade—to secure reform of the city's
charter in order to strengthen the hand of city hall—Humphrey
met with little success, despite the fact that he was probably
right on the issue. When he became mayor in 1945, the Minneapolis
city council was virtually all-powerful because of the existing
charter, adopted in 1920. From the beginning he advocated a transition
to a council-mayor form of government that would strip the council
of its existing boards and agencies and give to the mayor sole
appointive authority An important additional ingredient in his
plan was the establishment of centralized financial control through
an executive budget. To that end, in October 1945 he had appointed
a Mayor's Tax and Finance Commission to "examine the finances
and administration of the governmental departments of Minneapolis
and to make recommendations for a long-range financial program."
At the same time, a 15-member charter commission was established
to examine the possibility of revising the organization of city
government. In September 1947 the tax and finance commission issued
its final report, concluding that Minneapolis's "serious financial
situation" was primarily due to "a badly organized city government,
woefully lacking in financial control and weak in its administrative
setup, which is a severe handicap to any efforts at solving the
In December the charter commission submitted its own 84-page report recommending
revisions of the sort the mayor had been requesting. The report's synopsis
captured the spirit of what was being recommended: "The proposed charter gives
the elected Council all legislative powers, centering executive responsibility
in the Mayor.... It sets up a finance department along business organizational
lines. It requires that each city activity be confined to its proper department."
The proposal also recommended four-year terms for the mayor and aldermen and an
expanded structure of 14 administrative departments.
Humphrey faced a hard sell with business leaders and the public al large because the
cause of charter reform became inextricably linked with the prospect of higher
taxes and municipal spending for services. To the mayor, that was the point.
The city's inability to deal with the continuing housing crisis, the deficits
in city workers' pension funds, and the inadequacy of funds to expand police
and recreation facilities, for example, had convinced him that city government
had to be restructured. City hall had to be empowered to act decisively in
matters of public welfare and to permit a coordinated strategy for raising
revenues through taxation and issuance of bonds. Popular fears of higher
taxes frustrated Humphrey; he wrote to the chair of the citizens charter
commission that "the proposed charter offers other means of raising revenues
which will reduce the property taxes." He added that "practically every other
city in the country has these powers of revenue raising except Minneapolis."
There were other potent sources of opposition to charter reform, too. Labor
leaders, usually reliable supporters of Humphrey initiatives, had never been
enthusiastic about revision of the charter, fearing that a strengthened mayor's
office could fall into enemy hands. Others, particularly Republicans worried
about the mayor's future plans, charged that Humphrey was making a power grab
in order to strengthen his personal political position. (In fact, after the
1947 municipal elections, there was such concern in the evenly divided city
council that Humphrey would go on to higher elective office in 1948 that a
deal had to be struck about which faction would control the council presidency
and, thus, succession to city hall after his inevitable statewide victory.)
Such criticisms made the mayor understandably defensive. "What in the dickens
are you talking about when you say that the proposal of the City Charter
Commission for a central finance office means a dictatorship and a political
machine for the mayor?" he wrote to one such skeptic before the commission reports
had become public. "I am not at all interested in this charter proposal for my
future political life." A cartoon that appeared in a pamphlet opposing reform
captured these political themes: Humphrey appears as a monarch pulling the strings
of city council and virtually all city agencies, with the local press shown as
court jesters. In the lower corner of the cartoon, John Q. Public, crying,
"I voted wrong on [the] charter" dangles helplessly from a string held by the
Charter-reform forces, headed by the citizens charter committee led by the
ever-useful Bradshaw Mintener and Humphrey's friend John C. Simmons, hoped for a
vote in late March 1948 but ran into complications in the courts. A lawsuit filed on
behalf of taxpayers charged that revision could not be accomplished as its
proponents planned, that is, by submitting it to voters as a new charter
(which, under Minnesota's home-rule statute, would have required a four-sevenths
majority, or 57.14 percent of the vote), but should be treated as an amendment to
the existing charter (which would require a 60-percent positive vote).
Although District Court Judge Albert H. Emerson ruled against the challenge in early
February, his decision was overruled by the Minnesota Supreme Court on March 15,
just nine days before the scheduled vote. The charter commission was forced back
to the drawing board to recast the measure as an amendment (actually, 80 amendments)
to the original, and the timetable for the charter vote was pushed back to December
The court's decision proved the death knell for charter reform. As revealed by a poll
at the end of February, public support for the revision was soft at best; survey results
found that while 56 percent of the voters supported revision and another 4 percent
were "inclined" to support it, only about half of those questioned were paying
attention to the issue. The delay necessary to reframe the revision promised to
interrupt whatever momentum had developed in focusing voters' attention on the
question. Even more problematic was Humphrey's own shifting focus as 1948 unfolded.
Speaking at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in late February 1948, he clearly
signaled his intent to run for the U.S. Senate, pledging to "dedicate all my time
and all my ability to remove from office the senior senator from Minnesota, Joseph
A. Ball." To the frustration of his statewide supporters, however, he held back
from formally announcing for the Senate, pleading that the teachers' strike and
the charter-revision struggle made it, inopportune to do so. But in late April,
seeing the political necessity to make his choice clear, Mayor Humphrey announced
his candidacy over a special 11-station statewide radio hookup.
There was no way that Hubert Humphrey could both campaign to unseat an incumbent
senator and at the same time lead the fight to overcome the formidable phalanx
that opposed charter revision in Minneapolis. Thereafter, while touching base
in city hall as often as he could, the soon-to-be senator was caught up in a
frenetic speaking campaign both inside and outside the state, and revision
forces had to carry on their fight without much help from their charismatic
leader. One month after Humphrey's landslide victory over Ball in the November
Senate race, the charter-reform proposal, to no one's surprise, went down to defeat
at the hands of Minneapolis voters.
Despite the outcome of the crusade for charter revision, there
can be no doubt that Hubert Humphrey was an outstanding mayor.
Certainly he received much admiring comment from the national
media for his performance. In January 1949 Time placed the newly
elected freshman senator's picture on the cover and summarized
Humphrey's accomplishments in city hall. Minneapolis had been
"a wide-open town" in 1945, Time observed, but Humphrey moved
into the Victorian-looking mayor's office and started to rattle
the stained-glass windows.... Minneapolis closed down overnight,
even to the slot machines at American Legion hall. He pushed through
a city FEPC which made it a misdemeanor ... to discriminate in
employment. He warned management that he would not use police
to break up picket lines.
The more liberal New Republic focused on Humphrey's outstanding leadership in
improving race relations in his city, a role that had been heightened in public
attention by his rousing civil-rights speech at the 1948 Democratic national
convention. These assessments were appropriate. Hubert Humphrey's two terms as
mayor produced significant gains for the city of Minneapolis. Moreover, his
experience there shaped much of his subsequent political career. "For Humphrey,"
wrote longtime assistant Max Kampelman, "government meant the city and the state,
and not just Washington. His commitment to local government was basic and yet
frequently overlooked in later years by both his allies and his opponents."
Just as important as the shaping of political principles, however, was the honing
of innate political abilities and leadership skills that occurred while Humphrey
occupied city hall. "He had the genius for creating interest in public issues,"
remembered businessman Bradley Morrison years later. "He would dramatize issues
that he advocated—a wider range of issues such as, well, housing had been kind
of a feeble issue up to the time that Hubert seized it." Perhaps Kampelman best
summed up the special skills that Humphrey first displayed as mayor: "His style was
a combination of candor, persuasion, and then conciliation. It was inclusion and
involvement. Civility and decency did not mean skipping over disagreement, but
finding a common ground." Humphrey himself later analyzed his approach as mayor as
trying to be the voice of the community, to try to bring to the attention of people
of the community the scope and nature of the problems that confronted our city, what
the possibilities were for their solution, to present alternative programs, to
mobilize public support, and above all to organize the committees and commissions
which would actually follow through on specific proposals... So the mayor became,
in a sense... the conscience of the community. And while Humphrey's bipartisan
support did ebb during his second term in city hall, that falling away seems to have
had much more to do with his rising star in state (and even national) Democratic
Party politics than with a departure from his consensus approach to solving the
Hubert Humphrey never lost interest in city government. His capacious love for
public service would not allow him to do so, and urban problems held a fascination
for him throughout his years as senator and as vice-president. He did, however, begin
to chafe at the restrictions of the mayor's office. While ubiquitous and active as
ever in Minneapolis politics through 1947 and 1948, he was already launching his
next campaign. He later recalled that as mayor he had begun "to feel restricted,
limited to a local scene when my own interests were increasingly national."
But by early 1949 he had arrived in Washington, D.C., where most of the rest of
his working life would be spent. The first, and critically important, part of
Humphrey's political training had been completed, and the city of Minneapolis
was far better for it.