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December 3, 1912: Duluth Drops “Ward & Boss” Government

On this day in Duluth in 1912, Duluthians voted to approve a new city charter that would provide for a commission form of government. The vote was close, with 5,523 cast in favor and 3,422 against—and 5,511 votes were needed to carry the measure. Duluth had been operating under a “Ward & Boss” system, in which its seven wards were each represented by two aldermen. In this old system, the mayor appointed many city officials, from the City Engineer to the Chief of Police. Consequently, often when a mayor was elected, he replaced any city official that did not belong to his political party with someone who did. Under the new system, five elected commissioners would be in charge of different aspects of city government: public affairs, public works, public safety, public utilities, and finance. The mayor would also serve as commissioner of public affairs. It was seen as a more efficient form of government—both in performance and cost—and was thought to be better for the labor class, as “all five commissioners will have to look out after the working man’s interest just as much as they will the rich man’s.” An election took place the following April 1, and Duluthians chose William I. Prince mayor and commissioner of public affairs, Roderick Murchison commissioner of public works, W. A. Hicken commissioner of public safety, Fred Voss commissioner of finance, and Leonidas Merritt commissioner of public utilities.

The seal for the City of Duluth, established (for the second time) on March 2, 1887.