Former Superior Mayor Ciccone retires after 31-year career with city

If she could rent one billboard or air one commercial, Margaret Ciccone's message would be simple: "Pay attention to your government." In 31 years of employment with the city of Superior, Ciccone rose from clerk/stenographer to city clerk to mayo...

If she could rent one billboard or air one commercial, Margaret Ciccone's message would be simple: "Pay attention to your government."

In 31 years of employment with the city of Superior, Ciccone rose from clerk/stenographer to city clerk to mayor and, after a recall election, back to the position of city clerk. Friday, she cleared out her office. Ciccone will be on vacation until her official retirement in August.

"We're sad to see her go," said Terri Kalan, who moves into the position of acting city clerk. "We're losing a huge amount of our history."

Even one of the leaders of the recall election focused on the future, not the past, when asked to comment on Ciccone.

Although they had their differences, said Dick Van Rossem, "I wish her well."


Ciccone grew up in Duluth and moved to Superior after getting married. Her work history stretches back to age 14 and includes jobs as sous chef, waitress and electronic assembler. She earned an associate degree in accounting.

Former City Clerk Cecile Helsel hired the young mother as clerk/stenographer in 1977. Although there were plenty of applicants for the job, she said, Ciccone stood out.

"I had seen her in the hallway, her little boys with her," Helsel said. "She made a good impression."

It continued to improve.

"She really was a good employee for the city," Helsel said. "I could always depend on Margaret."

Ciccone found her niche in public service.

"I stuck with it because I liked it," she said. "I like diversity ... knowing what's going on in the city."

She rose to the position of city clerk in 1988 with her finger on the pulse of Superior. The clerk's office oversees voter registration and elections, issues 40 different licenses and keeps track of city records -- contracts, leases and city council reports.


"We are the recordkeepers," she said.

With her youngest son poised to graduate from high school, Ciccone threw her hat into the ring for mayor. She wanted to find a solution to city financial troubles, felt the need to serve her community and now had the time to devote to public office.

"It was the right time to do it," she said.

Taking office in 1995, she immediately turned her attention to bringing financial stability to the city and working with the council.

Rani Gill, who moved to the mayor's office with her as executive assistant, said Ciccone brought a different perspective to the position -- a woman's perspective.

"I really enjoyed working with Margaret, maybe because she was always so willing to listen," said Tom Fennessey, former city councilor. He called her a teambuilder who used her interpersonal skills to get councilors to work together.

"Her agenda was always for the betterment of the city," he said. Former councilor Linda Bruce said she appreciated Ciccone's upbeat personality and direct approach.

"Margaret doesn't play games," Bruce said. "She says what she thinks."


Ciccone said she brought unity to the fractured council and to department heads, although "I had my own problems after a while."

Van Rossem, in particular, often butted heads with the new mayor.

"For some reason, we clashed in a big way," Ciccone said.

As mayor, she saw the city's first Special Area Management Plan approved. The SAMP opened up development on wetlands if other areas were converted into wetlands. The SAMP provided access to the Tower Avenue corridor and other areas of the city. City soccer fields sprang up, a link to a Japanese sister city was forged and Connors Point was designated an industrial park.

"I drive around sometimes and I think, 'Oh, yeah, I was a part of that,'" Ciccone said.

Her term was a time of downsizing and consolidation for city and county departments, as well. "The first four years were so much fun," Ciccone said, but the second term was harder. "You want to help and please everyone, but you can't. You have to do what's right for the community; you can't pick and choose."

Two years into her second term, a recall election took place.

"She was not deserving of that whatsoever," Fennessey said. When the dust settled in 2000, former City Councilor Sharon Kotter was in the mayor's seat.


While the recall was "crushing" at the time, Ciccone said, in hindsight it was a good thing. "When you're mayor, you're pulled in 12 directions -- or more -- on a pretty regular basis," she said. "It does take a lot out of you because you're mayor for 24 hours. l look back at it and think, 'I must have done what I was supposed to do as mayor.'" Ciccone said she appreciates the democratic process that allowed it to happen, regardless of the results.

"I always talk about the power of the people," she said. In this case, "a few people were able to turn over a strong government and make a change." Like previous mayor Bruce Hagen, Ciccone had taken a leave of absence from her city position to become mayor. She took a cut in pay, and some employees were jostled around on her return to the city clerk's office. "I think it'd be hard for anyone to make the transition back," Kalan said. "She handled it with grace and dignity."

Those who know her weren't surprised.

"Things happen," Bruce said. "She tends to make the best of them."

And Ciccone said the recall offered a lesson to the public.

"Hopefully, people will learn it's important to participate," she said.

"One person makes a difference."

As both city clerk and mayor, Ciccone has fostered public participation in government through her involvement with Public Education Government Access television.


Public access allows more people to be involved in the government process, Ciccone said, because they can view the proceedings from home. She envisions that access going global.

"Hopefully within the next year the council will have streaming [online] video," Ciccone said.

But the former mayor won't be in office to see it. After she retires, she plans to spend much of the summer in her garden.

"I want to be home," Ciccone said. "I want to see if I get bored." Bruce said that won't happen.

"Just because she's retiring, Margaret is not going to fade from the community," the former councilor said. "She's involved in so many things, she won't have a chance to be bored."

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