Exhibit focuses on controversial mayor

As mayor in the 1970s, Stenvig used force to resolve campus protests.

History graduate students Jeff Manuel and Andy Urban are bringing former controversial Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig back into the spotlight.

“Love or hate him, Stenvig (was) a contentious figure and everyone had an opinion about him,” Urban said.

where to go

Charles Stenvig Exhibit
What: “Law and Order: The Career and Legacy of Minneapolis”
When: March 8 to May 9, open Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free admission
Where: Andersen Library

In the 1970s, a period flagged by racial tension and student protesters, Minneapolis turned to Stenvig.

A former police officer, Stenvig was elected into office as an Independent candidate without any political experience. Manuel said his platform was based primarily on “law and order.”

“People desire different types of expertise at different times,” Urban said.

Manuel said Stenvig relied on the hype of social turbulence to get elected, using “shock techniques.”

He used fear as a way to boost his support base and “played off racial fears,” Urban said.

Heavily endorsed by the police force, Stenvig helped establish the foundation for the public safety debate that remains a major issue today.

To maintain his strong security stance, Urban said, Stenvig blurred the line between social advocates and criminals.

Stenvig was involved in multiple disputes about the best way to resolve campus protests. While the University wanted dissent handled from within, Stenvig felt otherwise.

During a 1972 Vietnam protest at the University, Stenvig used the National Guard to disperse protesters, who were tear gassed.

Efforts to reach Stenvig for comment for this article were unsuccessful.

About the exhibit

“Law and Order: The Career and Legacy of Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig,” includes divisive quotes, photos and videos from his time in office.

The two students created the exhibit because of Stenvig’s controversial leadership, but also because very little has been written about him.

Kris Kiesling, director of Archives and Special Collections at the Elmer L. Andersen Library, said the students used a variety of University resources, including the letters written in response to the Morrill Hall takeover in 1969, in which students occupied administrative offices to protest stalled rights negotiations.

Relevance to today

Although Stenvig left office nearly 30 years ago, the exhibit “complicates any easy assumptions about the political history of (Minneapolis),” Manuel said.

In a historically blue state, Stenvig served as the last non-Democratic mayor in Minneapolis. Although Stenvig ran as an

Independent candidate, Manuel said he stood at the forefront of the new Republican Party by emphasizing fiscal conservatism and the morality of politics.

Stenvig also incorporated religion into politics by recognizing God as his “chief adviser,” an issue that remains prevalent in today’s political landscape.

“We often forget rich local history when addressing larger national history,” Urban said.

Manuel and Urban will host a discussion of the exhibit Friday at noon in room 120 of Andersen Library.