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Sharon Sayles Belton

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Sharon Sayles Belton

Sharon Sayles Belton
45th Mayor of Minneapolis
In office
January 1, 1994 – December 31, 2001
Preceded by Donald M. Fraser
Succeeded by R. T. Rybak
Minneapolis City Council President
In office
Minneapolis City Council, 8th Ward
In office
Personal details
Born (1951-05-13) May 13, 1951
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Political party Democratic-Farmer-Labor
Occupation Senior Fellow, Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice

Sharon Sayles Belton (born May 13, 1951) is an American community leader, politician and activist. She is Vice President of Community Relations and Government Affairs for Thomson Reuters Legal business.[1]

She served as mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1994 until 2001.

Early years

Sayles Belton was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota. One of four daughters of Bill and Ethel Sayles,[2] she lived for one year with her mother in Richfield, Minnesota, where she was the only African-American in East Junior High School. She then moved to south Minneapolis to live with her father and stepmother. She attended Central High School, volunteered as a candy striper at Mount Sinai Hospital, and later worked as a nurse's aide. She was briefly a civil rights activist in the state of Mississippi.

Sayles Belton attended Macalester College in Saint Paul, where she studied biology and sociology. She later worked as a parole officer with victims of sexual assault. Like her grandfather Bill Sayles, she then became a neighborhood activist.[3] She is married to Steven Belton, with whom she raised three children: Kilayna, Jordan, and Coleman.[4]


In 1983, Sayles Belton was elected by the Eighth Ward to the Minneapolis City Council. She was inspired by working with mayor Donald M. Fraser. She represented the state at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, where Minnesota politician Walter Mondale was nominated for President of the United States. A member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Sayles Belton was elected city council president in 1990.

In 1993, she announced her candidacy for mayor. With the help of three phone banks and a staff of ten, she was elected, the first African American and the first female mayor in the city's 140-year history, defeating DFL former Hennepin County Commissioner John Derus. She was reelected in 1997, defeating Republican candidate Barbara Carlson. Sayles Belton held the position for two terms, from January 1, 1994, to December 31, 2001.[3]

W. Harry Davis, a fellow civil rights supporter and the city's first African-American mayoral candidate, said she had a difficult job ahead of her, "because crime was running rampant" in the mid-1990s. The city was able to reverse the crime wave by allocating resources to public safety from other departments and importing a computerized strategy used in New York City that sent officers to high crime areas. Although the initiative drew accusations of racial profiling, under police chief Robert Olson the rate of serious crime had dropped 16% by 1998, the best one-year reduction in twenty years.[5][6]

Sam Grabarski of a downtown business council told Minnesota Public Radio that Sayles Belton was capable of convincing investors that downtown is a "safe haven for investments of the scale that it takes to build one million-square-foot office towers."[5] She helped to bring a Target retail store, the U.S. Bancorp Center, and the American Express Business Center to the Nicollet Mall. She helped to create the Block E entertainment and shopping redevelopment on Hennepin Avenue where for ten years a parking lot had stood on prime downtown real estate.[3][5]

The city addressed archaic utilities billing, outdated water treatment and neighborhood flooding. By the end of the decade, Minneapolis had increased property values, the city had its first increase in population since the 1940s, and there was reversal of a "50-year economic slide." Fraser credits Sayles Belton with stabilizing neighborhoods amid racial tensions, supporting the school system, and being an able and savvy city manager. Critics opposed the use of city subsidies for downtown development, said to total $90 million combined for the Target store and Block E.[5][7]

Sayles Belton continued to enjoy broad support from poorer constituents but lost popularity among the more affluent. In the 2001 election she lost her party's endorsement and the primary and was defeated by R.T. Rybak, a fellow DFLer.

After leaving the mayor's office, Sayles Belton became a senior fellow at the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice. The center is part of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

More recently, Sayles Belton worked in community affairs and community involvement for the GMAC Residential Finance Corporation, headquartered in Minneapolis. In 2010, she joined Thomson Reuters as vice president of Community Relations and Government Affairs, based in Eagan, Minnesota.


Sayles Belton is involved in race equality, community and neighborhood development, public policy, women's, family and children's issues, police-community relations and youth development.[8] She co-founded the Harriet Tubman Shelter for Battered Women in Minneapolis in 1978. She is a co-founder of the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She contributed to the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Clean Water Partnership, Children's Healthcare and Hospital, the American Bar Association,[9] the Bush Foundation, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and Hennepin County Medical Center by chairing or serving on their boards.[8][10]


  • Gertrude E. Rush Distinguished Service Award presented by the National Bar Association
  • Rosa Parks Award, presented by the American Association for Affirmative Action


  1. ^ "Thomson Reuters Names Sharon Sayles Belton VP of Community Relations and Government Affairs for Its Legal Business | Minnesota Business Magazine | Minnesota Business Blogs". Minnesota Business. Retrieved 2010-07-20. 
  2. ^ Minnesota Historical Society quoted by the African American Registry (2005). "Sharon Sayles Belton, the first Black and woman mayor of Minneapolis". Archived from the original on 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  3. ^ a b c Anderson, G.R. Jr. (October 31, 2001). "The Education of Sharon Sayles Belton". City Pages, Volume 22, Issue 1091. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d Olson, Dan (November 7, 2001). "The political legacy of Sharon Sayles Belton". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  6. ^ City of Minneapolis (1998). "Police Annual Report 1998 (PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  7. ^ Hughes, Art (October 24, 2001). "Profile: Sharon Sayles Belton". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  8. ^ a b University of Minnesota (February 20, 2006). "Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs: Sharon Belton". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  9. ^ *National Organization for Women (2007). "NOW National Conference 2002: Speakers". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  10. ^ Star Tribune (September 20, 2013). "New HCMC leader looks to improve systems, care and costs". Retrieved 2013-10-16. 

External links

  • Hill, Tony L., presented to the Midwest Political Science Association (April 2003). "Discovering Racism in Election Results: Methodology and Case Study, Minneapolis 1997 (PDF)" (PDF). University of Minnesota. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  • Hughes, Art (October 24, 2001). "Profile: Sharon Sayles Belton". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  • Olson, Dan (November 7, 2001). "The political legacy of Sharon Sayles Belton". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Donald M. Fraser
Mayor of Minneapolis
1994 – 2001
Succeeded by
R.T. Rybak
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