April 14, 1913: Duluth converts to Commission Form of Government 

On this day in Duluth in 1913, Duluth began its era of commission form governing that would guide the city until March, 1956, when Duluth’s present form of Mayor/City Council government began. Until 1912 Duluth had been operating under a “Ward & Boss” system, in which its wards (four in 1870, nine by 1912) were each represented by two aldermen. In this old system, the mayor held much power and appointed many city officials, from the City Engineer to the Chief of Police. Often a mayor’s first task after taking office was to replace any city official that did not belong to the mayor’s 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. The biggest proponent of this new form of government was Marcus Cullum, thrice elected mayor under the old system. His fourth run for mayor was based on converting Duluth to this new style of governing. While his issues won by an overwhelming margin, he lost the election to Dr. J. A. McCuen. McCuen despised the new system, scheduled to go into affect in 1913, so he chose not to run for re-election. This opened the door for fellow Republican William I. Prince, who became the first mayor under the commission system. The commission system was abandoned in 1956 and today’s Mayor/City Council system was installed.

William I. Prince, Duluth‘s first mayor under the Commission System. (Image: Duluth Public Library)