A day in the life of Mayor Bergson

Last Monday was surreal. Not only was I shadowing Mayor Bergson from sunrise to sunset, but I was shadowing him from sunrise to sunset on the day of his last State of the City address.

Last Monday was surreal. Not only was I shadowing Mayor Bergson from sunrise to sunset, but I was shadowing him from sunrise to sunset on the day of his last State of the City address.

And, as if he wouldn't have been busy enough practicing and rewriting his speech, he was also frantically trying to set up funeral arrangements for his brother Kevin, who was found dead Friday in his Superior home.

One would expect a somber mood, but, aside from a brief moment in the late afternoon, Bergson kept his feelings to himself.

Even more surprising, barring one short meeting, he granted the Budgeteer total access.

Here are the highlights from 17 pages of notes:


8:07 a.m. Mayor arrives carrying a Diet Coke Fridge Pack. Apologizes for being late, saying he had a "rough weekend" dealing with family matters.

8:17 a.m. Jeff Papas, the mayor's communications manager, comes into the mayor's office and asks if his speech is done yet. Bergson explains that they're on draft No. 24 and, oh yeah, they've been working on it "for a couple of months."

I ask if copies will be made available when it's finished. Sure, but "not that anyone wants one," he says, laughing.

Sensing a good time to fire off a few questions, I ask him about something curious he had e-mailed a few weeks ago when I first approached him about the possibility of doing this story: "I'll be here that day later because it is a long day ... so let's say 8 a.m." No joke.

Bergson explained that he used to come into the office around 6:30 a.m., but grew tired of that after too many days stretched past the 10 o'clock hour. Understandable.

Now, in his fourth year as Duluth's mayor, does he still enjoy coming to work? Definitely, he says, he loves his job.

He rattles off a number of former jobs -- including, but not limited to, C-store clerk, taxi driver, vacuum cleaner salesman, hotel desk clerk, referee, railroad switchman -- saying he didn't love all of those.

As if on cue, he runs through his life story. He talks candidly about his uncle, his hero, an ambulance driver and fill-in deputy on the weekends who was murdered when Bergson was just 13. He talks about his parents' early divorce (and remarriage last year), life on the force and of running for the mayor of Superior expecting to lose.


"We messed up and won," he jokes of the campaign that was solely intended to get his name out there.

The mayor pauses only briefly to grab each of us a Diet Coke -- the first of many.

Bergson said it would be nearly impossible to win re-election (I just had to ask) with the retiree health care issue floating around, although his administration has a solution to that and the Great Lakes Aquarium, another one of the three big problems it inherited.

8:43 a.m. Bergson snatches the day's News Tribune from his secretary's desk. "The other paper," he smirks. "They gave me a 'D' on retiree health care."

9:06 a.m. Papas returns for a timed run-through of the State of the City speech. It sits at 14 pages with regular font, but Bergson says he's "as blind as a bat," so font size is increased to 20 points/39 pages.

9:39 a.m. Speech is done. Now Bergson is hammering out the language in the violent crime section.

"It's not OK to have three murders," he says. Although the cut sentence was nowhere at all close to sounding like the mayor was OK with any amount of murder, it's interesting to see firsthand how carefully politicians have to word their statements regarding heavy issues.

9:46 a.m. John Hall, the city's chief administrative officer, enters. There is some concern about an AFSCME protest. Bergson isn't worried, but said that with family in town a sideshow would be disheartening.


9:56 a.m. Multitasking begins. While on a call explaining the theme of the night's SOC address ('50s optimism), he silences the BlackBerry buzzing on his desk, flips around to his computer, starts hammering out something on his keyboard and says, "I'm sick of 'Duluth is such a bad place to do business.'"

10:01 a.m. Papas returns, saying Hall needs to see him. No need, Bergson says, per the previous phone call there will be no picketing of the SOC event. He then proceeds to field calls from his two remaining brothers about funeral preparations.

Papas takes this time to make fun of me for coming on one of the mayor's busiest days.

We then hear Bergson tell his brother, "Bring your NoDoz. This is a Jim Oberstar speech."

A few minutes later, when Papas explains the effect of increasing the font size, Bergson says, "Yikes! Forty pages."

10:10 a.m. Mayor cracks open his second Diet Coke and proceeds with second run-through of speech.

10:11 a.m. Has Papas stop the clock. A change wasn't made.

It's OK, though, because during this brief intermission his BlackBerry rings again.


10:13 a.m. Starts clock up again for ... 5 seconds. Spots another problem. Up and running again in 10 seconds, though.

10:35 a.m. Stops clock. "Sentences don't start with 'and,'" he tells Papas.

10:44 a.m. Speech ends.

10:59 a.m. Following some more condolences from colleagues and more funeral preparations, Bergson explains that he started drinking about six Diet Cokes a day when he was a detective in Superior: those 2 a.m. wake-up calls required something to keep him up.

This segues into how he met his wife, Jacqui. He was moonlighting as weekend security at Superior's Casa Blanca, where she was tending bar.

Although "she hates politics and politicians," she offered some suggestions for his SOC speech.

11:12 a.m. Bob Dylan oozes out of the mayor's CD player. It's the "North Country" soundtrack. Nice.

As expected, this launches into a conversation about his favorites in music (Dylan, Zeppelin, Skynyrd and Linda Andersson, a musician from Duluth sister city Vaxjo, Sweden) and film ("Field of Dreams," "Cool Hand Luke" and "Bang the Drum Slowly").


11:24 a.m. Another Diet Coke for all and it's off to the Mayorcave. OK, this isn't technically the name of City Hall's underground garage.

Anyway, while in the Mayormobile, we take a quick tour of a few of the city's many projects. Between stops we talk about, among other things, the odds of the city getting Dylan to play at Bayfront Festival Park and the amazing, free views our city offers.

11:50 a.m. Arrive at Uptown Hair Salon in Piedmont Heights. The mayor wants to freak them out a little by being early.

Noon (sharp) Bergson's in the chair with stylist Jeff Mealey.

12:47 p.m. Lunch at Big Daddy's Burgers. Mayor picks up DNT from counter and looks over score card again. Despite the aforementioned "D" and the "C" for "increasing recreation" -- which we both agree is a little harsh -- he says Duluth's media has mostly been fair to him throughout his mayorship.

In the background, a college student eats the infamous $12.99 Belly Buster and gets Polaroid taken for hall of fame.

1:13 p.m. At J.C. Penney for new white dress shirt. He wasn't kidding when he said their burgers were messy. "Typical Bergson: slob," he joked.

1:19 p.m. Back on the road. This man wastes no time.


1:32 p.m. Return to City Hall. Talk about his kids (both sons are adopted, housed more than 40 foster children during Superior mayorship) and travel (Bergson has been to all four of Duluth's sister cities).

1:49 p.m. More e-mails, phone calls.

1:55 p.m. Papas wants to know if he'd do a live shot with WDIO. No problem. "I said, 'Why don't you just carry his speech?'" Papas jokes.

1:57 p.m. Karen Cheetham, the mayor's secretary, brings him a cup of cherry Twizzlers Bites: "This'll cheer him up."

2:01 p.m. Tells Papas and I about subway hero Wesley Autrey. "This guy's one in 100 million," he says.

2:29 p.m. I wonder (aloud) why Duluth doesn't have decent a mini-golf course. The mayor says good money could be made, and kicks around the idea of opening up one after he retires.

2:38 p.m. Despite fielding calls and e-mails all day, he says he still has 50 e-mails waiting for him. "Yi yi yi," he says quietly.

2:56 p.m. After a period of relative quiet, Bergson announces he's withered down his e-mails to those that arrived on or before 9:24 a.m.

2:58 p.m. John Hall goes over security detail. Mayor takes news with another Diet Coke.

3:01 p.m. Mayor meets with the Great Lakes Aquarium Blue Ribbon Mission Assessment Team. (Throughout the entire day, this was the only event the Budgeteer wasn't allowed access to.)

3:13 p.m. Mayor returns, explains that they were a little nervous about having me in the meeting because group member Marti Buscaglia, president and publisher of the News Tribune, didn't even let her reporters in.

3:34 p.m. I mention that he can see exactly how the aquarium is doing at any given time (its parking lot is in full view from his office). He said that when it's empty, it's empty, but said it fills up on rainy days. He added, "Unfortunately, this past summer it didn't rain too much."

3:56 p.m. More Diet Cokes. Before we head over to the DECC, we watch a ship pass through the shipping canal. "I never get tired of it," he had said earlier about his office's view.

True to form, he would occasionally turn to that lakeview window as he was regaling me with details of his life -- as if scripted for an Oscar-worthy presidential biopic or posing for some unseen photographer.

Examining some flowers on the table meant for his brother's funeral, the mayor gave a hint of the emotions he had been suppressing all day.

He said we best move before he got teary-eyed.

Along the Skywalk trek to the DECC, Bergson nods and says "hi" to anyone who makes eye contact.

A man walking behind us can be overheard saying, "Hey, that's the mayor."

I recall a story Bergson had told me earlier in the day. During dinner with Bill Watson, a University of Minnesota Duluth alumnus who went on to play for the Chicago Blackhawks, hockey fans kept on coming up and asking for autographs, etc.

When he had asked his friend if that bothered him, he replied, "It will only bother me if it stops."

4:26 p.m. After running into Jacqui, the mayor enters Lake Superior Ballroom, nearly two hours before he will present his SOC address.

Surrounding the empty seats are booths manned by 20 of Duluth's nonprofit organizations.

City councilors, reporters and speech attendees slowly filter in, but there's not a lot of action.

4:57 p.m. News 6's Kellie LaVoie could be seen running to grab the mayor, for her planned interview in three minutes. "I'm coming," he called back.

More hobnobbing ensues.

5:30 p.m. This time it's the mayor's turn to run. It's for round two with LaVoie.

5:47 p.m. More suits enter the ballroom. It's getting a little hectic.

5:48 p.m. It's official: I've lost the mayor.

5:58 p.m. WDIO grabs the mayor for a quick interview.

6:02 p.m. Councilor Roger Reinert attempts to assemble the council by making some crack to the effect of, "Councilors, stop shaking hands and kissing babies and get up here."

6:37 p.m. Mayor begins SOC address. All goes according to plan (no protests).

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