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Longtime Moorhead council member Pinkney dies at age 77

Former Moorhead, Minn., City Council member Martin Pinkney is seen in this Nov. 4, 1993, file photo. Pinkney died Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at the age of 77. Nick Carlson / The Forum

MOORHEAD – Martin J. Pinkney, a colorful and resolute advocate for the city’s north side in his 21 years on the City Council, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer.

He was 77.

Pinkney, who won a special election to the council in 1972 with a coin toss and the luck of the draw, was remembered for his wit and a style on the council that some called cantankerous and others called combative.

“If he was fighting for the people on the north side and the city of Moorhead in general, that was exactly how he could be. He felt that was his call of duty,” one of his sons, Chris Pinkney, said Thursday.

“He was pretty direct. He didn’t mince words a whole lot. He wasn’t really mealy mouthed. He pretty much spoke what he felt,” Chris Pinkney said.

Pinkney ran for the council on a dare from his brother, Don. In late May 1972, he and his opponent, Roger Richman, each received 89 votes for the vacant 1st Ward seat in a special election

Pinkney won the seat by first winning a coin toss to get first choice during a casting of lots. Of the two slips of paper in a container, Pinkney drew the one marked “Elected.”

In his years in office, Pinkney pushed for construction of the toll bridge that now links Fargo’s 12th Avenue North and Moorhead’s 15th Avenue North.

Former Moorhead Mayor Morrie Lanning said Pinkney was “one of Moorhead’s well-known characters,” but he also was immersed in day-to-day issues.

Lanning said Pinkney was instrumental in securing the city’s new $25 million wastewater treatment plant. He also checked that roads were plowed during snowstorms, potholes were filled in the spring and city pumps ran during floods.

“He had his ear very close to the ground on what was happening. And I think was greatly appreciated by city employees who saw him as someone who would look out for their interests and concerns. Especially in the public works area,” Lanning said.

Lanning said Pinkney had a politician’s gift for a quip. His favorite was about a foul stench wafting from the American Crystal Sugar plant.

“For those of us living up there, it’s like having to stick your head in a diaper pail,” he quoted Pinkney as saying.

In April 1981, Pinkney blasted the Moorhead School Board for not discussing plans to close North Junior High School with city officials. He said the loss of the school devalued homes and continued a pattern of favoritism for the south side over the north side.

“The Mason-Dixon Line is drawn again, deeper and wider than it has ever been” between north and south Moorhead, he told The Forum at the time.

Even people who found themselves on the opposite side of issues from Pinkney respected him.

Retired Moorhead businessman Pete Marinucci counts himself as a fiscal conservative. He opposed a low-income housing plan that Pinkney eventually supported on the council.

“He took his job seriously. He was a good man. I had a lot of respect for him,” Marinucci said.

Pinkney’s time on the council came to an end in November 1993, when he was beaten by retired firefighter Morris Kelsven.

His success in city elections didn’t transfer to other offices.

Attempts to unseat Clay County Commissioner Casey Brantner fell short.

In June 1984, he shocked the Clay County DFL establishment by making an independent run for the state House after losing a bid for DFL endorsement. But that, too, did not pan out.

Pinkney was born June 29, 1936, in Moorhead to Martin H. and Honora Pinkney. He attended Moorhead Campus High School and then served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He married Maralee Kjellin June 29, 1957, at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church.

He worked for many years at Sweeney Cleaners in Fargo. In 1972, he purchased the Skelly Oil bulk plant (later called Red River Oil Co.) in Moorhead. He worked there with his wife until 1994, when a heart ailment forced an early retirement.

He then had a defibrillator put in for a heart valve condition, Chris Pinkney said.

Pinkney didn’t learn he had cancer until March 19, when he had a cancerous lesion removed while he was in Mesa, Ariz. It was then discovered that he had bone cancer and small cell carcinoma.

“Starting from Easter weekend on, it’s just been a downhill blur,” his son said. “It really hit hard.”

Chris Pinkney said it was difficult at times to be one of his dad’s five children, because the demands of the job could pull their father away from time with them.

“It was hard, but it wasn’t hard. There was a lot of pride in us kids. Dad was doing a hard job and doing it well,” Chris Pinkney said.

Pinkney is survived by his wife; five children, Rita (Kevin) Rueckert, Moorhead; Mike (Cindy) Pinkney, Dilworth, Ann (Tom) Henne, Moorhead, Chris (Sue) Pinkney, Moorhead and Chuck (Theresa) Pinkney, Bradenton, Fla.; 16 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and a sister, Kathy (Don) Platt.

He was preceded in death by his parents, three brothers and a sister.

Visitation is 4 to 6 p.m., with a prayer service at 6, on Sunday at Wright Funeral Home, Moorhead.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, Moorhead. Interment is at 4 p.m. Monday in the St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery columbarium, Moorhead. 

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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