The Life of Brian Herron

Brian Herron has battled racism, hatred, and self-doubt. But none of that prepared him for the Minneapolis city council.

Eventually, however, he was laid off, and the madness came again. He went back to the church where his personal miracle had occurred and again found it locked. This time he ended up in a nearby field shrieking at God: "What do you want?" A breeze came up and Herron says he heard a voice say, "Go ye therefore into the world preaching the gospel." Herron weeps as he tells the story. He stood there in the field and bargained with God. Fine, he says he eventually replied. He would minister, but not in a church.

He called home and asked his father if he could come stay. "I know you all have heard this before," he said, insisting he was ready to rebuild his life. "I said I had money for a bus ticket if my father would only come pick me up. He said, 'Son, I'm sending you a plane ticket.'"

Curtis Herron says his son exaggerates the extent of his youthful misdeeds. "He's so much more mild than I am, he's so much less strident than I. At my age I am a reconciler. But in my youth I was not. I was a polarizer, I was angry. I don't see that in him. I think that's remarkable, and I often tell him that he has a wisdom I admire. Maybe he got it from his mother, but he didn't get it from me.

Wing Young Huie

"Brian is able to get a lot more done. He's not an assimilationist, but he's not confrontational."

Back home, Herron married Pilot City Health Center intake worker Lisa Wilson and began considering himself a father to her son and her young brother, who lived with the couple. He quickly landed two jobs, one as a hall monitor at Minneapolis's South High School, the other at a plating company. But the job he really wanted was with the Minneapolis Police Department's Community Crime Prevention/SAFE unit. His application was turned down.

"They said I needed experience," he explains. "The old me would have said, 'See, white folks don't want me.' The new me said, 'How do I get experience?'" C.C.P./SAFE suggested a $5-an-hour internship; he didn't blink at the figure, still impressed that "I'd get paid to get neighbors to talk to each other." In 1990 he was offered a job replacing C.C.P. specialist Jim Niland, who left his position to take a seat on the City Council.

Not long into the job, Herron says, his supervisors suggested that he was going out too much without his uniformed partner, and that they were concerned about his safety. But he lived in the neighborhood, Herron says he patiently explained, and it was important for him to be seen without police.

At the same time, he adds, he gained an appreciation for how hard it is to be a cop: "I went from hating the police to understanding what they do and how they operate. I saw my role as a bridge between the police and the community. I always felt like I was in the middle."

Retired MPD Ofcr. Steve Revor, one of Herron's C.C.P. partners, recalls that he and Herron often "put across a kind of good-guy, bad-guy" image when dealing with troublemakers. "I think sometimes when people would say, 'I'm never gonna deal drugs again,' he'd actually believe them," he says, and adds that Herron was never able to let go of a case. "He'd be on the telephone talking to one individual who had a problem and he'd sit there for an hour listening to one person on there bawling," says Revor. "The job was his vehicle for being able to go out and help people."

In 1993, Herron's third year with C.C.P., Sharon Sayles Belton announced she would vacate her 8th Ward council post to run for mayor of Minneapolis. "We needed somebody good in that seat. We couldn't let just anyone take it," says Wizard Marks, a longtime neighborhood activist and founder of the recently shuttered Chicago Lake Safety Center. She and other community workers approached Herron. "He's sweet-tempered, very personable, he's got a dimple--which never hurts," she grins. "People genuinely like the man because he's straight-up. He doesn't make outrageous promises."

At first Herron resisted the idea of running. Friends told him he "dressed too black," that he cared too much what people thought of him. "My wife said, 'You know they're going to look into your past.'" And Herron knew it wouldn't be hard to find his transgressions. "But I said, 'I want young people to see that you can make mistakes and rebound from them.' We always talk about what great people Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were, but we never talk about the mistakes they made getting there."

Marks recalls election night 1993. Herron's people were assembled at the Johnnie Baker American Legion Post on Fourth Avenue. At about 9 p.m. the early-return numbers hit critical mass: Herron was beating neighborhood activist Alice Anderson by a landslide. "We were all jumping around hooting and hollering and screaming. Brian looked like a deer caught in headlights," she remembers.

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