Hazen Pingree statue in Detroit | Ken Coleman
On Aug. 30, 1840, Hazen Pingree, the future Detroit mayor and Michigan governor, was born in Denmark, Maine.
The progressive Republican was first elected in Detroit in 1889. Later, he was elected governor in 1896 as the state continued its transition from the Civil War years to the industrial age.
As Detroit mayor, Pingree led several reforms. An advocate for the working poor, he developed “potato patches” and vegetable gardens to help feed families during the 1893 Depression. He also is credited with creating the city’s Public Lighting Commission and Board of Health, inspiring the city’s transit system, and is generally regarded as one of the city’s best mayors.
As Michigan governor, Pingree continued his set of policies that were a forerunner to the Democratic U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” according to former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer.
“He laid the foundation for a lot of progressive changes that came later. He fought a lot of the conservative interests of the Republican Party bosses at the time,” Brewer, an attorney and public policy veteran, told the Advance on Tuesday.
Pingree was a three-term mayor when he decided to run for governor. He defeated Democrat Charles R. Sligh of Grand Rapids. In October 1900, Pingree called a special session of the Michigan Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that would empower the state to levy a tax on the property of all railroads, telephone, telegraph companies and banks.
Michigan voters approved the measure the following year.
Veteran journalist and history maven Dan Austin and researcher Kristin Caffray credit Pingree bringing the government closer to its residents. Austin added that Pingree operated politically in Detroit without a set of organizations or individuals but rather with his instincts centered on service for everyday constituents.
“What he did was unheard of at the time,” Austin, founder of HistoricDetroit.org, told the Advance on Tuesday.
Caffray said Pingree made public lighting more accessible and accountable to city residents.
“Their outages were significantly less,” Caffray told the Advance on Tuesday.
In 1901, the Detroit Free Press wrote that Pingree’s most significant action as governor was establishing a state tax commission, which brought in millions in revenue to state coffers.
He died in 1901 at age 60. Pingree was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit. A street in Detroit is named in his honor and a statue of him stands in Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit.
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