Jake Spano was elected St. Louis Park Mayor on November 3, 2015, receiving nearly 78 percent of the votes cast. Spano had been an at-large member of the City Council since 2012.
In the March 2016 issue of the St. Louis Park Magazine, Maggie Kelly provided a comprehensive background on the new mayor:
It was about 13 years ago when our new mayor Jake Spano jumped off his previous career track and started over. He was working long hours, for architecture and construction firms, he says, and “[I] just was unhappy with, not only working a lot, but just feeling like it wasn’t the highest and best use of my time.” So his wife told him to quit.
“[She] just sort of cornered me in the kitchen and said, ‘You need to quit today, you’re miserable.’ ” So he went into work and told his boss they needed a plan to replace him within the next two months. “They were like, ‘Well what are you going to do?’ ” Spano recalls. And he told them he didn’t have a clue.
Spano did some brainstorming and decided to consider his interests. “I noticed that I was always reading about and engaged in public affairs,” he says. So he called his uncle, Wyman Spano, who was just starting to work for the master’s in advocacy and political leadership program at the University of Minnesota Duluth (which has since moved to Metro State in St. Paul). Jake enrolled in the program and started his new path, on the lookout for a way to fulfill his internship requirement.
By chance, a contact from Spano’s previous work called to offer him a job, but Spano informed him of his new career direction. “And he said, ‘Tomorrow a friend of mine is announcing that she’s running for the United States Senate. You should come and I’ll introduce you,’” Spano remembers. So he arrived the next day at Amy Klobuchar’s campaign announcement meeting, and shortly after started as one of her interns.
“[I was a] 36-year-old unpaid intern on the campaign, with a wife, two kids, and a mortgage,” he recalls.
He quickly climbed from intern to paid employee; then, when Klobuchar won in 2006, he worked in her Minnesota office doing policy work. He eventually became her policy director, then deputy state director, then state director, before going to work for Chris Coleman in 2010 as the marketing director for the city of St. Paul, and finally becoming a member on the St. Louis Park City Council in 2011 before winning his seat as mayor.
Park resident Wendy Khabie met Spano in 2011 at a groundbreaking ceremony for Congregation Darchei Noam. “It was nice to see city representatives” at a significant event for a place of worship, Khabie says. And when she met him a second time at his mayoral candidacy announcement, “I went up to him, and he recognized my face right away,” she says. “He really cared about people and what they thought and what they needed.”
That trait is what has helped Spano get where he is today. And through all the change, Spano and his family have had one constant—they’ve called St. Louis Park home for over a decade. His wife, Cate McDonald, is a third-grade teacher at Susan Lindgren Elementary School, and his kids, Mia, 16, and Flynn, 13, are at St. Louis Park High School and Middle School. Flynn plays on the hockey team, and he likes to play lacrosse, Spano says. Mia is a photographer on the school yearbook.
Spano says that he and his wife could have chosen to live anywhere but they chose St. Louis Park. “My wife grew up in Duluth, I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas,” he says. “There are a lot of great cities beyond Minneapolis and St. Paul, and we picked this community to raise our family.”