There’s nothing unusual about a new mayor taking the helm of a community in the Upper Peninsula or anywhere else. But Marquette’s new mayor is just 25
Cody Mayer was elected as mayor by his fellow commissioners last fall during their annual organizational meeting. He is believed to be Marquette's youngest mayor ever and also has the distinction of being the first tribal member to serve on the City Commission.
For those who may raise their eyebrow at his age, Mayer counters he gained invaluable experience while a student at Northern Michigan University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration. He also served two terms as student body president, representing and leading 7,000 students.
In addition, during those student years, he served as a board member and later vice chair of the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which “reviews prospective projects involving environmental remediation and economic development, and then recommends whether the Marquette City Commission should approve them.”
He was elected to the Marquette City Commission in 2020. His campaign promises included creating more affordable and middle-class housing, making changes to city regulations to encourage entrepreneurism and small businesses and strengthening the city’s relationship with local tribal governments.
In first weeks in office, Mayer faces some formidable challenges, including the city’s financial situation and the lack of affordable housing, an issue facing many communities in the Upper Peninsula and across the state.
“We have a very optimistic outlook moving forward. We have about 500 to 700 new housing units (across several developments) that will be constructed and phased in incrementally with an anticipated finish line being five to seven years from now. These housing units will be diverse in size and price,” Mayer said.
His goals, too, include development in other areas.
A view of downtown Marquette with the Delft Theater, repurposed as a bistro.
“We have a tremendous opportunity in economic development when it comes to outdoor recreation and the tech industry, which will provide our community with a more diverse and robust economic foundation, instead of relying solely on being a tourism community,” Mayer said.
Marquette, of course, is well-known for its expansive outdoor recreation opportunities, and, increasingly, on private and public sector efforts to make the city a hub of innovation in outdoor technology. Local leaders and entrepreneurs are working to set up a new development, Shophouse Park, as an incubator for new innovations in technology and the outdoors.
“I foresee us being strongly positioned to be Michigan’s hub when it comes to innovation in the outdoor recreation space,” he said.
Marquette has become a mecca for biking and other outdoor activities.
Asked to respond to concerns about this type of development impacting the city’s green space, he said, “The City Commission has already done a lot in preserving and protecting green space and the natural features that make Marquette the community that we all love and I don’t foresee the commission’s attitude changing on that anytime soon.”
A 2020 census puts Marquette’s population at 20,629, a decrease of 726 from 2010. This number includes the student population. Mayer pointed out, however, the city’s population increases to almost 28,000 during weekdays (because of commuters) and during peak tourist season.
“We have a strong commuter population that comes into the city for work. (The main employers are the hospital, university, schools, city and county, and prison.) When the student population dips during the summer, we then see an increase in tourists.”
Growing communities in terms of population and economics is a concern across the Upper Peninsula. Mayer has advice for those communities.
“The biggest piece of advice I’d give any community in the Upper Peninsula is to bring as many of your local and regional partners to the table as you can,” he said. “We simply don’t have the means of capacity to go it alone. Utilize these partners and focus your energy in a collaborative way towards shared goals.”
Mayer served two terms as president of ASNMU, the student government association at NMU. He said it helped prepare him for City Commission duty. He cited it as a great learning experience, one that relied on working with other university committees and “other inner workings.”
He also explained that having earned a degree in public administration, focused on economics, led to his work in public service.
He is employed at a local community bank. “Working there has increased my financial knowledge but I’ve always had a knack for finance,” he said. Additionally, he’s earned a Small Business Banker Certificate from the American Bankers Association.
A member of the Michigan Army National Guard, Mayer enlisted when he was 17 years old and still a junior in high school.
“My experience in the military has given me a more flexible and diverse leadership skill set. It has also made me an adaptive and resilient leader because I work with lots of people who are motivated differently or communicate differently.
“I volunteered to assist my fellow Yoopers in the Houghton/Hancock area after the Father's Day Flood in 2018 and was activated within 24 hours to do so. Additionally, I was deployed to our nation's capital following the January 6th Insurrection and was posted at one of the main perimeter gates of the Capitol building.
His love and appreciation of the Marquette area led to his desire to pursue a seat on the City Commission. He wanted to stay in the area and raise his family here. With his wife, Ashley, they are the parents of a young daughter, Arya. They are all members of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
A member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, his goal is that of incorporating more indigenous events, in addition to those provided by NMU, to increase cultural awareness in the area.
“I’ve been communicating with tribal governments in the region to see if there is interest in collaboration. It’s still too early to say anything specifically at the moment,” he added.