'The best thing I’ve ever done' — Sandra Means reflects on 14 years of public service
Next Tuesday's election will be the first time in more than a decade that Sandra Means will not see her name on the ballot. The Ward 6 council member is retiring at the end of the year and letting someone new take her seat.
Means was first elected in 2003 to fill the remaining term of Dave Senjem, who had been elected to the state senate. Her victory marked the first time an African-American woman had been elected to the council.
We sat with Means to talk about her career in politics, how Rochester has changed since she moved here in 1972, and the challenges ahead as the city embarks on the 20-year Destination Medical Center initiative.
Note: Minor edits have been made for flow and clarity.
On getting involved
One thing I think that everyone needs to understand is that when you move to a new city, and you move alone, you have to be involved; so I wanted to be involved. I had been involved prior to moving here and I wanted to continue that, so I went to the school and I asked the principal what I could do to be of service. My first volunteer job here was as a room mother, great books leader, whatever they needed and that was awesome. I also worked at IBM, for the school district and of course for the county [before] I was elected.
I believe you have to connect if you want to be reasonably satisfied with a community. Nobody likes to live in isolation, so you have to make that first step.
I have just been a joiner and a learner, and hopefully I have been a provider as well. And I think that’s what I needed to do, and that helped me become a part of this community and get to love this community.
Running for office
I thought ‘I think I’d like to be a ward representative’ and I had many people who encouraged me and many supporters who encouraged me, and that gave me the wherewithal to move forward.
[Now] we have probably more ethnic and religious diversity than we had when I moved here and that’s always been a boost for us. We have a wonderful, wonderful ward and I’m going to be very sad to leave.
Destination Medical Center plans
The biggest issue to be addressed with DMC, in my opinion, is transportation and how we can have a more efficient way of getting people to work. Dr. Noseworthy [wrote] that we were going to double in size in the next 20 years or so and we really need to plan for the future, and that will be I think the biggest challenge for DMC. It’s not building the different sites downtown.
The future of Rochester
The city is destined to grow and must grow. And we must realize this vision of a Destination Medical Center and how that’s going to be a benefit not only to the people in Rochester, but to the people in greater Minnesota, in southern Minnesota and obviously the state.
I think we will be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest, and obviously that will take some time to develop, but I think we need to change. We need to work on our environment, our safety, our roads and bridges, traffic, housing, having good workforce housing, how are we going to get to work, how many hotels are we going to need. We should continue to be progressive, yet try to maintain a semblance of a small city. But indeed we are the third-largest city in the state and in 20 years, who knows, we may even be the second-largest city in the state.
Winning the Minnesota Women in City Government 2016 Leadership Award
What can I say? I didn’t expect any of it. But I thank the people who thought enough of me and cared for me to submit my name for consideration. It’s very very humbling. I didn’t expect it, I didn’t solicit it but it’s just an honor.
This was my passion. I said the one thing I can do as an elected official is to encourage other women to consider their roles because I think our voices are different and our experience is different, and [we can] bring another dimension to elected office, especially at the local level.
Retirement from politics
Why now? I think it’s time for another person to share their experiences. Anyway, after this many years I think it’s time. I’ve done a lot in my career. I’ve had great jobs, been a part of great communities, met outstanding people from all aspects of life. I’m going to spend time with my husband, who’s been my best friend and companion all of these years, and my grandchildren; and I want to try something different.
I’ll tell you I’ve had mostly highs on the council. I’ve learned so much. It was so different from what I’d done previously in my working life, in campaigning for this position. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
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(Cover photo: Sandra Means / The Med City Beat)