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  • "You Can't Legislate the Heart":Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig and the Politics of Law and Order
  • Jeffrey T. Manuel (bio) and Andrew Urban (bio)

In 1969, four-term Democratic-Farmer Labor (DFL) mayor and former University of Minnesota political science professor Arthur Naftalin declined to run for a fifth two-year term as the mayor of Minneapolis, leaving the contest open amid the social turbulence of the late 1960s. Naftalin was a close associate of former Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey and a practitioner of Humphrey's brand of liberalism. They believed that government's role was to manage and coordinate different interest groups within society, such as business leaders, members of organized labor, and racial minorities, so that the city would function efficiently and social conflict could be avoided. By allocating money to various social programs, they believed urban problems such as crime and poverty could be solved.1 In an unexpected move, Charles Stenvig, a 41-year-old detective in the Minneapolis police department and president of the police federation, threw his hat into the ring as an independent candidate for mayor. Running an unconventional campaign that spent little money and relied on volunteer labor, Stenvig won the 1969 election by pledging to "take the handcuffs off the police" and to crack down on "racial militants," criminals, and student protesters.2 Capturing 62 percent of the vote against a moderate Republican opponent, Stenvig shocked the city's political establishment with his convincing victory. Running again as an independent in 1971, Stenvig defeated Harry Davis, Minneapolis's first black mayoral candidate, receiving a remarkable 71 percent of the vote. After losing to DFL candidate Albert Hofstede in 1973, Stenvig [End Page 195] reclaimed the mayoralty for a final two-year term in 1975, only to lose a rubber match to Hofstede in 1977. By the end of the 1970s, Stenvig's political career was effectively over.

Stenvig was not alone as a law and order mayor in 1960s and 1970s urban America. As historian Michael Flamm argues, the crime issue moved from the national to the local level after the 1968 presidential election.3 In the wake of urban riots in Watts, Detroit, and Newark, conservative white politicians across the nation successfully attacked liberals for their permissive attitudes toward social protest. Conservatives also blamed liberal politicians for the increase in individual criminal acts that occurred in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, which conservatives argued reflected the fallacy behind liberals' approach to crime. In Los Angeles, Mayor Sam Yorty used the Watts' riot as a platform for a law and order campaign in the 1969 mayoral election. Philadelphia's Frank Rizzo followed Stenvig's move from the police force to city hall in 1971, despite allegations that as police commissioner Rizzo employed brutality and public humiliation as tactics against Philadelphia's black residents. The widespread success of law and order candidates in American cities in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s highlights the continuing politicization of crime at the local level well after the national turmoil of the late 1960s had died down.

In addition to highlighting the rise of law and order mayors in the 1960s and 1970s, this article focuses on how Stenvig successfully opposed liberalism's reliance on social scientific explanations to address issues such as crime. Stenvig's idiosyncratic brand of populism proved immensely popular with voters when compared to the technocratic expertise of the liberal politicians whom he

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Figure 1.

Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig at a victory party. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

[End Page 196]

challenged.4 Stenvig argued that technocratic solutions, and the sociological explanations they rested on, were an ineffective remedy for Minneapolis's urban problems in the 1960s and 1970s. As a police officer only recently removed from the beat, Stenvig affirmed and embodied the unmediated, practical knowledge of the street and everyday experience. In his rhetoric, Stenvig attacked liberals' wonkish attempts to apply theoretical knowledge to "real world" problems and dismissed the notion that politicians needed to rely on the expertise of academic professors, business leaders, and community activists to govern. This article demonstrates that the cultural resentments...


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