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Our View: Hazama left lessons for leaders

We heard from a few of them who told us what traits and principles of Hazama’s were reflected in their own work.

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From Moses W. Fay to Kim Norton, 45 men and women have served as Rochester’s mayor.

It seems fair to say that none of them left as lasting an impact as Chuck Hazama, who died Sunday at age 89.

Hazama was mayor between 1979 and 1995, a time during which Rochester’s population grew by nearly half, the city earned a ranking as the No. 1 place to live in the U.S., and the shape of the city we recognize today as our own came into being.

Hazama and his 16-year term cast a long shadow – he was only about five and a half feet tall, remember – and the examples he set as a leader were carried forward by community leaders who followed. We heard from a few of them who told us what traits and principles of Hazama’s were reflected in their own work.

Sincerity matters.

Minnesota Sen. Dave Senjem got his first shot in politics – a seat on the park board – thanks to Hazama, and in a subsequent role as an elected city council member had a front-row seat to the mayor’s doings.

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“Chuck taught me that words, sincerity and individual attention really, really do matter,” Senjem said. One episode stuck out: When the Society of the 173rd Airborne came to Rochester 30 years after the city adopted the unit during the Vietnam War, the mayor scraped together enough money, from his own budget and through fundraisers, to produce a cheaply made medallion that read “Welcome Home, Sky Soldiers.”

“At an opening night ceremony at Mayo Civic Auditorium, Chuck gave a powerful welcome-home speech filled with love and appreciation,” Senjem recalled. “He then called each veteran to the stage and personally placed a medallion around the neck of each of the 1,250 soldiers. They walked off the stage in tears. It was so emotional.

“That night and on many occasions before that, Chuck taught me that it is not the value of the gift that you give but the love, sincerity, and appreciation one conveys when one gives it. Chuck was a master at being genuine, sincere and appreciative, in large part because that was who he was.”

Know your audience.

Jerry Williams, who became superintendent of the Rochester Public Schools in the early 2000s, recalls advice he received from Hazama during and after his years in school leadership. There was plenty of tactical advice, but more importantly the enduring power of the unspoken example.

“What stands out is that he knew his audience – who he worked for when he was mayor,” Williams said. “He responded in a very nonpolitical way that allowed him to get done what needed to get done with participation from a wide variety of people, regardless of which ‘side of the aisle’ they were on. Getting the job done was more important to him than appealing to a particular political ideology. I'm not sure he could do that today.”

Stay in your lane.

Stevan Kvenvold, Rochester’s city administrator through Hazama’s years in office, retired in 2017.

But he was new to the job in 1979, the year Hazama took office. Regardless, Hazama, from his office down the hall, let the city’s professional staff members do their jobs without his meddling.

“Mayor Hazama was not actively involved in the day-to-day administration of the city organization; he trusted the administrator and department heads to carry out the policies adopted by the mayor and council,” Kvenvold said. “Mayor Hazama was busy meeting, greeting and promoting the city. He was the face of the city.

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“It was my pleasure and honor to have served with Mayor Hazama.”

Give your all. And don’t complain.

Like Hazama, Ardell Brede was Rochester’s mayor for 16 years. Brede left office in 2019.

During his years, Brede packed his calendar with appointments and was ever-present at community events – just like Hazama.

“Chuck’s agenda was always service on behalf of the city he loved,” Brede said. “He was like the Energizer rabbit – but not for self, but on behalf of the city he loved: Rochester.”

Senjem, meanwhile, noted that Hazama could have done better for himself, in terms of compensation, had he stayed in the private sector. He “gave 16 of the most productive years of his life to the citizens of Rochester being virtually a full-time mayor. His retirement salary was $25,000 and his retirement pension was based on some average number less than that. He never complained or wanted more. His reward was the people he served.”

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Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama is pictured in this Post Bulletin file photo. Post Bulletin file photo

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