Lawyer by Day, Mayor Also by Day
Kathy Martin is a leader in law and in local government
Published in 2021 Minnesota Super Lawyers magazine on July 20, 2021
For 35 years, commercial real estate attorney Kathy Martin has had a hand in major projects like the Mall of America, Target Field and the redevelopment and preservation of the State Theatre and its surrounding block. She’s been chair of the American Bar Association’s Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section.
But her time in public office is a more recent development. “My interest in politics goes back quite some time,” she says. “But my actual desire to run for office came very late in my life.”
A Medina resident since 1990, her first foray into local governance was in 2012, when she was asked by a city council member to apply for a seat on the city’s planning commission. It was, given her background, “a logical place to start,” she says.
It was also a way for her to give back. “Community service should be important to everyone,” she says. “We would not have functioning schools, extracurricular sports and activities for our kids, community support for people who find themselves in need unexpectedly, and many other services we depend on for everyday life without so many talented public service employees and volunteers.”
In 2013, she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council, and in 2014, she ran (and won) to keep that seat.
In 2018, then-mayor Bob Mitchell was nearing the end of his second term and asked Martin if she would run for his seat. “But I asked him in turn if he would instead serve that third term,” she recalls. “So he’d stay in his seat till 2020 with the commitment on my part that I would run in 2020.”
Then, in the summer of 2018, Mitchell died unexpectedly. “His death, obviously, was a shock,” she says. “It was a tremendous loss to his family and everyone at City Hall. … I learned from him that to express appreciation for what other people bring to the table, their good work, and for our own good fortunes is quite important.”
Martin was appointed interim mayor; meanwhile she campaigned for the upcoming election, which she won. She took office as Medina’s elected mayor in January 2019.
Among the many projects she’s worked on, one stands out: an affordable housing development that was controversial when she first ran for city council in 2014. “I expressed my support for that project, even though some of our residents felt that it was not an appropriate development for Medina,” she says. So she worked to show her constituents the project’s value. “To see that come to fruition and to witness that it’s a good fit within our community has probably been the most rewarding accomplishment I’ve had during my tenure at City Hall.”
Balancing her two jobs isn’t always easy. “There are days when I do feel challenged,” she admits. She finds support in her husband of almost 40 years—“He’s always considered my career to be as important as his, and we’ve always shared the commitment to public service and made room for each other to give back to our community,” she says.
In some ways, the two roles have been symbiotic. “Lawyers are trained to think objectively, even though they often appear in adversarial context,” she says. “So in many cases, being a lawyer helps me as a mayor think through the differing positions of constituents, to promote a rational course for the welfare of the city.”
And she now has a better appreciation for the government officials she deals with as a lawyer: “It’s been a very educational experience for me. I think I am a better attorney because I have served in public office.”
That said, don’t expect to see her running for president. “It’s not going any further than this,” she says.