In recognition of Women's History Month, here is a look back at the political career of Sandra Means, the first Black member of the Rochester City Council. These are excerpts from Post Bulletin articles published during her first candidacy and terms of office.
A sense of purpose distinguishes Sandra Means, both in her job and as a political candidate.
"I truly am a person that cares about people," she said. "I want to be a good listener and a thoughtful decision-maker."
Since 1994, Means has worked as human rights coordinator/adviser for Olmsted County and the Rochester school district.
"I'm a pretty positive person," she said. "I believe in the good of people, and I like to live my life that way."
As council member, Means said, she'd engage neighborhood organizations and other local leaders in making decisions.
"We're all in this together," she said. "What's good for the neighborhoods is good for me, it's good for you, whether you belong or don't belong."
If elected, Means, who is Black, would be the only minority city council member and one of only two women on the council.
"I hope I'm not slotted in a role," she said. "The message is: I'd like to serve Ward 6."
Rochester's newest council member, Sandra Means, was sworn into office Monday.
And her introduction to elected office was a gentle one, with a meeting that lasted only 45 minutes and with no contentious public hearings on the agenda.
Means, elected last month to replace former 6th Ward councilmember David Senjem, joked afterward about it being her "honeymoon" period, then added, more seriously, that the easy meeting was something of a letdown.
"I didn't expect it to be so quick," she said. "I was prepared for a marathon session."
Excitement kept her from sleeping well Sunday night, she said, and "I was so excited all day, I could hardly concentrate."
After the meeting, Council President John Hunziker gave Means a few pointers: Wear your name tag on your right lapel (it shows up better when you lean forward to shake hands), tidy your files six times a year and refrain from committing yourself until you've heard all sides of an argument.
"There's a lot to learn," Means said, "but I think I have the capacity, the intellect, to go ahead and grasp it."
Seventeen months on the Rochester City Council have been enough to show Sandra Means she'd like to serve a while longer.
"It's been enriching," she said. "It's been enlightening. It's been absolutely fascinating. I really want to serve a full, four-year term. I can only get better."
Means, the first black member of Rochester's City Council, was the voters' choice in a special election last year to replace a departed council member.
Means, whose background is in human relations, brings an uncommon perspective to the council table.
"We all have this rigidity of how we think things should be done," she said, "but we should never forget that human element. That's my job on the council -- to make sure we never forget."
A religious invocation -- a prayer -- is being added to the Rochester City Council's regular agenda.
The prayer, instituted at Mayor Ardell Brede's request, will be given for the first time at the council's Jan. 3 meeting. The Rev. Norman Wahl of Bethel Lutheran Church will offer the prayer.
Council members were not involved in the decision and, in many cases, not aware of the addition until asked about it late Thursday and Friday.
The decision and how it was made troubled council member Sandra Means.
"I embrace my faith," she said, "but there are other people who don't. ... We represent all the people."
Voters in Rochester’s Ward 6 have a distinct choice for city council this election.
Incumbent Sandra Means is a mild-mannered, friendly person who puts civility first and says she sees the best in everything.
"Maybe I am not the best person, but I’ll tell you — I chose this community, and I work hard," Means said. "It’s not always at the council table. It’s at my computer or on the streets."
Means is one of two women on the city council and is Rochester’s first Black council member.
"Sometimes, I feel like there’s a heavy weight," she said. "I try to live up to the expectations."
Mostly, though, she says, she tries to serve as a good councilmember regardless of her demographics or background.
"I think the people in the community expect me to be fair and unbiased," she said. "I would never want to be selected for something based on who I am. You hire based on qualifications."
Sandra Means was nervous all through the 2008 campaign season, but on Tuesday she could finally break a smile.
"I’m just delighted," she said.
Means was elected to a second full term as the Ward 6 member of the Rochester City Council. She defeated challenger Gary J. Smith by nearly a 3-to-2 margin.
"Gary ran a noble campaign," Means said. "I’m glad I prevailed, because I think I’m the best representative for the ward."
Means is the city’s first Black city council member. In victory, she tied her performance to Barack Obama’s.
"This has just been a phenomenal day," she said. "Not only with our new president being elected, but I, too, get to serve again. It’s challenging and it’s rewarding."
Sandra Means, the city's first Black city council member, was raised in Detroit, where she saw race riots and tanks roaring through city streets. She counts her move to Rochester in 1973 as the "most marvelous experience," where her family no longer had to contend with such painful discriminatory practices as red-lining, as she did in Dearborn, Mich., and Detroit.
When her family moved into their Rochester neighborhood, it found itself surrounded by a eclectic group of neighbors. One of them was from Iowa, another from Mississippi and another was Jewish. And together they shared dinners and experiences together, forming a bond that Means said she counts as "one of the true highlights of my life." In such interactions she sees the potential for greater understanding among the races.
"That didn't mean that there were not issues in Rochester," Means said. "This is only a minute example of how we can work together more effectively by having conversations and building trust and building the bridge to greater trust."
As the longest serving member of the current Rochester City Council, the decision for Sandra Means to leave the council at the end of her term was not an easy choice to make.
Means, who represents the city's Ward 6, announced Tuesday she would not seek another term in the upcoming November election. At the end of her current term she will have served nearly 14 years as a member of the council, and still, there are opportunities ahead that tempted her to run again for re-election.
"There are so many things to look forward to, but for me, it was just time to let someone else have a voice. Selfishly, it's hard to give that up, but the reality is it's somebody else's turn," Means said in a Wednesday interview with the Post-Bulletin.
As a city council member, Means has marked her service with her personal values and character: a deep and abiding love for the community of Rochester, and a restless desire to share the opportunities and experiences she has had with every other member of the community.
"My passion has been that we have good relationships with the citizens in this community — and that means all the citizens in this community — and when there are opportunities, we have to make sure that we cast a broad net so that we reach folks who need and want some of the services and some of the opportunities that are available in the city. For me, that's most important," she said.
"I hope I've had an impact on broadening the scope of understanding while I'm on the council," she said. "The opportunity (for others) is there. I'm always speaking out and others are encouraging nontraditional people that may be interested in local government."