Flashback Friday: Remembering St. Paul's Supermayor

A bust of former St. Paul mayor Charlie McCarty remains in the office of City Council member Dan Bostrom, who was his driver during his time in office. Photo: Courtesy of Dan Bostrom
A bust of former St. Paul mayor Charlie McCarty remains in the office of City Council member Dan Bostrom, who was his driver during his time in office.

November 16, 2018 10:49 AM

The moments occurred often enough over Charlie McCarty's tenure as mayor of St. Paul that the details tend to run together in Dan Bostrom's memory.

Nevertheless, the longtime member of the St. Paul Police Department and current City Council member agrees the late-night, crime-fighting adventure reported to have occurred 48 years ago this week was certainly in keeping with McCarty's style.

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According to an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, McCarty and Bostrom, who was assigned to be the mayor's driver during his time in office, were coming back from a speech and a late dinner in the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 1970.

McCarty, whose criticism of certain aspects of city government was the impetus behind a successful independent candidacy in the mayoral election earlier in the year, noticed a car sideswipe a bus at the intersection of Selby Avenue and Fisk Street.

The mayor's car, a new 1970 Lincoln Continental, was outfitted with flashing red lights, sirens, police and fire radio and other law enforcement tools. McCarty urged Bostrom to pursue the suspect.

He did for a number of blocks until the man left his vehicle and took off down an alley near Dayton Avenue.

He managed to evade both the mayor and other officers who had responded to the scene for a bit, but McCarty and Bostrom soon spotted him emerging from a residence.

They moved in and made the arrest personally.

"The stories about some of those capers never die," Bostrom recalled with a chuckle. "We had a lot of them like that."

Indeed, just a month earlier, McCarty had scuffled with a patron at a White Castle restaurant early in the morning after he said that man had used abusive language toward employees.

That led to a disorderly conduct charge against the man, according to the Tribune.

Such exploits had some referring to McCarty as Supermayor.

"He was really a Democrat at heart, but he broke with the party and ran as an independent," his daughter, Peggy Grubbs, said. "There were things happening in city government that my father questioned, and he had been told to go home and mind his own business. He didn't like that. He felt like government was the people's business."

She added, "He didn't start out wanting to be this colorful character. It was the press who started calling him Supermayor, but Dad really embraced that."

Stories of McCarty appearing at the scene of major fires and police business in his specially equipped vehicle continued during his time in office.

"Two guys had taken a woman and a baby hostage in a house," Bostrom recalled. "One was arrested and was taken downtown. The other guy was left, and he said he'd only come out if he could come out carrying the baby and get a ride downtown in the mayor's car. He also wanted the other guy brought back so he could see no one was beating him up."

"We did it," Bostrom said. "I remember riding downtown with the guy, the mayor and the police chief. But, nobody got hurt, so it all worked out."

A cartoon strip focused on him began running in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and a local rock band featured him in song.

"It was by Andy Roberts and the Gallivanters, and it was called 'Supermayor Is Watching Over You,'" Bostrom said. "It wasn't exactly a top 10 hit or anything, but it was a nice little song."

But Bostrom, who had already been on the force for a number of years before he was assigned to the mayor, said he sometimes had to serve as a check.

"There were a few times I had to tell him to let the professionals handle it," he said. "That he really didn't want to be involved in that situation." 

Grubbs said her father was always a big supporter of the police and fire department, and he was a champion of smaller government who attempted to put his ideas into practice.

How did it work out?

"I guess that depends on who you asked," Grubbs said. "There were a few big personalities in city government back then. Sometimes they clashed, and sometimes they agreed on things."

She continued, "But I think my Dad felt he was able to stop some of what he saw as the government bloating that had been going on, and he felt like he left the city a better place than he'd found it."

McCarty's time in office came to an end when he was defeated in a primary election in 1972. DFL candidate Larry Cohen went on to win the general election that year.

After that McCarty began hosting a television show on KSTP.

"I think he'd moved on from politics," his daughter said. "He really enjoyed his TV show and the interesting people he got the chance to interview. He was still talking about politics, but I think he'd moved away from wanting to be involved."

Unfortunately, McCarty died in February, 1974 at age 53.

"He laid down to take a nap, and he never woke up," Grubbs said. "He had a massive heart attack."

However, the legend of Supermayor is still remembered.

"He was just a really flamboyant guy," Bostrom said. "I think at one point he won the award for being the best-dressed mayor in the country. He was one of those guys you don't forget."

"He was my Dad, so I always thought he was Superman," Grubbs added. "There was nothing I thought he couldn't do. He was a great guy."

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Frank Rajkowski

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