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Sharon Sayles Belton

In office
January 1, 1994 – December 31, 2001
Preceded by Donald M. Fraser
Succeeded by R. T. Rybak

Minneapolis City Council President
In office
1990 – 1993

In office
1983 – 1993

Born May 13, 1951 (1951-05-13) (age 58)
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Flag of Minnesota.svg Flag of the United States.svg
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 currently a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Roy Wilkins Center.


Early years

Sayles Belton was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota. One of four daughters of Bill and Marian or Ethel Sayles,[1] she lived for one year with her mother in Richfield, Minnesota where she was the only African 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 graduated in 1973 from 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.[2]


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 re-elected in 1997, defeating Republican candidate Barbara Carlson. Sayles Belton held the position for two terms, from January 1, 1994 to December 31, 2001.[2],

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 by importing a computerized strategy used in New York City that sent officers to high crime areas. Although the initiative drew accusations of racial profiling, by 1998 under police chief Robert Olson, the rate of serious crime had dropped 16%, the best one-year reduction in twenty years.[3][4]

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."[3] 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 from what was a parking lot for ten years on prime downtown real estate on Hennepin Avenue.[2][3]

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, with supporting the school system and with 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.[3][5]

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 and the city's current mayor.

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.

Most recently, Sayles Belton has worked in community affairs and community involvement for the GMAC Residential Finance Corporation, headquartered in Minneapolis.


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.[6] 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,[7] the Bush Foundation, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the National League of Cities by chairing or serving on their boards.[6]


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


  1. ^ Minnesota Historical Society quoted by the African American Registry (2005). "Sharon Sayles Belton, the first Black and woman mayor of Minneapolis". Retrieved 2007-01-13.  
  2. ^ 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.  
  3. ^ a b c d Olson, Dan (November 7, 2001). "The political legacy of Sharon Sayles Belton". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-18.  
  4. ^ City of Minneapolis (1998). "Police Annual Report 1998 (PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-01-18.  
  5. ^ Hughes, Art (October 24, 2001). "Profile: Sharon Sayles Belton". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-01-13.  
  6. ^ a b University of Minnesota (February 20, 2006). "Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs: Sharon Belton". Retrieved 2007-01-13.  
  7. ^ *National Organization for Women (2007). "NOW National Conference 2002: Speakers". Retrieved 2007-01-13.  

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Donald M. Fraser
Mayor of Minneapolis
1994 – 2001
Succeeded by
R.T. Rybak


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