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Tyrel Clark: It's good to be the mayor ... again

"It's really about helping people in the community," said Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark.

Tyrel Clark
Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Eyota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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EYOTA — Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark is a competitive man. Just ask his family, Clark says. They refuse to play Monopoly with him.

In the political arena, Clark was Eyota's 30-year-old baby-faced mayor when he won the city's top political job for the first time. It was the first of three consecutive victories for the two-year job. Then he made a stab for the Legislature and was thwarted twice, once as a DFL candidate for the state House and later seeking the party’s endorsement for state Senate.

“Actually, I ended up being Randy Brock’s campaign manager,” Clark said when he didn’t get the endorsement, as if a full accounting of his losses during that time needs to include that. Brock, a former KTTC-TV news weatherman, ended up losing his House race.

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Today, the still-youthful-looking Clark is back to being mayor. And, no, Clark doesn’t feel being mayor is second-fiddle-status job to his desire of being in the Legislature.

Two weeks into his fourth stint as mayor of Eyota, a 2,000-person bedroom community 14 miles east of Rochester, Clark sat down with the Post Bulletin and explained that it’s not just his competitive fires that draw him into the political arena.

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When you ran for mayor for the first time, you were relatively young for a mayor. What has been the impulse to get involved in politics?

When I was younger, my mom was on the school board and I always thought that was really interesting. You really get a chance to have a voice for what you believe in, what you care about. And, really, that’s how I looked at running for office.

How do you view your efforts at getting into the Minnesota Legislature? Do you see it as a period of thwarted ambition?

When I first ran for mayor, I was 30. I didn’t know how long I was going to be doing it for. I thought six years was a good amount of time. Give the opportunity to some others to lead in the community. At the same time, I wanted to see if I could make the Legislature . I knew it was an uphill battle, but at the same time, it was still a lot of fun to do. I lost, which is fine. It gave me a kind of a two-year respite, to allow me to focus on what’s important. The family also appreciates it.

Tyrel Clark
Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Eyota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

So you don’t see being Eyota as being a second-choice political option?

I don’t see it as a second choice at all. First off, I’m pretty humble. I was humbled that I got the opportunity to win again, because once you run as a partisan person (for the Legislature; being mayor is a non-partisan job), some people don’t give you the opportunity to have work in local politics again, because you’re branded one way or another. And the truth is, Eyota is nonpartisan. That stuff doesn’t matter. It’s really about helping people in the community.

What do you like about being mayor of Eyota?

Well, I love Eyota. I love the history of Eyota. I love that we’re at a point where we are just open to ideas of what we can be. Eyota is an older community, but it’s got a lot of younger people, and at the same time, one of the biggest attractions is the (K-12) school system, which means we’ve got a lot of school-aged people coming into town.

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Rochester’s downtown is in a stagnant state , in part because many of Mayo Clinic’s staff are now work from home. Has that decision benefited small towns like Eyota?

I think so (Clark, by the way, works as an IT analyst at Mayo and now works from home). Like grocery stores. When I was in Rochester, if my wife wanted me to pick something up from Target or wherever, it’d be on my way home. Now we go to the local grocery store in Eyota, because that is the most convenient. For a lot of people, that’s very true as they don’t go into Rochester as much. It’s really more of a special trip.

You’ve known the depths of despair in politics and the thrill of victory. Is there an addictive quality to politics?

Losing is no fun. My family won’t play Monopoly with me, because I’m too competitive. There is a competitive nature to politics. But at the same time, people will know if your heart's in it for the wrong reason. If you’re just in it for the title, then they are not going to vote for you. If you’re there to help people, then they’ll vote for you. I really enjoy helping people. There’s a sense of satisfaction from that that is pretty close to the same sense of winning.

What is an example of the things that benefit a community like Eyota?

When we finally got a dentist in town. That was really a big deal. We had been searching for dentists for like 20 years. And it was thanks to a Post Bulletin article . We had created an incentive plan to bring one here, but until we had an article in the PB, that really got dentists looking at Eyota. It was a pretty big deal. And, then, your stories about people in the community that hadn’t seen a dentist for five, six years that are finally seeing a dentist because it was just around the block. It was a huge thing.

Tyrel Clark
Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Eyota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

It’s very grassroots, isn’t it?

We had an old volleyball pit in the city park that wasn’t being used. So we took it out. And we had some 6-year-old kids come to our meeting and say, ‘We liked that. That is our favorite sandbox. Could we have it back?’ So we actually brought it back. We made it half the size of what it was because they didn’t need a whole volleyball court. It was easy to make the 6-year-olds happy.

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Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to news@postbulletin.com .

Tyrel Clark
Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Eyota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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