Mark Dayton - United States Senator  
Senate Services Issues & Legislation News & Events About Mark  



Senator Mark Dayton during a speech.


Born January 26, 1947 , Mark is the eldest Mark Dayton with his dad and his boysof four children born to former Dayton Hudson Corp. Chairman Bruce Dayton and the late Gwendolen Brandt Dayton. He is the great-grandson of George Dayton, a one-time banker who opened a dry-goods store in 1902 that became a national retailing powerhouse.

Mark attended Long Lake Elementary School in Hennepin County and then Blake School in Minneapolis, where he graduated, cum laude, in 1965. Like many Minnesota kids, Mark was a hockey fanatic. He spent his free time on the ice practicing to be a star goalie. His hard work earned him a place on Blake's “ All State” first team in his senior year.

Following high school, Mark attended Yale University where he majored in psychology, played varsity hockey, and graduated, cum laude, in 1969. While at college, he joined Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, whose then-president was now-President George W. Bush! After working as a hospital orderly for three summers during high school he thought he wanted to become a doctor so he completed pre-med course requirements while at Yale.

However, Mark decided medicine was not the right fit for him so after graduation he took a job teaching at P.S. 65, a tough school on New York's Lower East Side, and lived part of the time with a family on welfare. With three years of teaching under his belt followed by experience as a counselor for runaways, then as chief financial officer of a Boston social service agency, Mark felt a call to public service.

Mark's interest in public service led him to join the Washington staff of then-Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale in 1975. He focused on education, children and youth, and small business. Mark never dreamed that a quarter-century later, he would inhabit his own office in the same building as Senator Mondale once did.

When Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter selected Senator Mondale as his running mate the following year, Mark joined the campaign. At the campaign headquarters in Atlanta, he worked as a driver, midnight-to-dawn telecopy operator, and all-around go-fer. Immediately following Carter's election victory, Mark returned to Minnesota to work for incoming-Governor Rudy Perpich and was asked to head the Minnesota Department of Economic Development. He served in that position for nearly two years.

In 1978, Mark married Alida Rockefeller, whose brother, Senator Jay Rockefeller, is currently one of Mark's Senate colleagues. They have two sons: Eric, age 23, and Andrew, age 20. Alida and Mark were divorced eight years later; however, they remain dedicated parents and close friends.

Spurred by a growing recession and national energy crisis that hit rural Minnesota particularly hard, Mark founded and led the Minnesota Project in 1979.  This economic development and public policy organization continues to support the social, environmental and economic health of Greater Minnesota communities.

Soon after Ronald Reagan was elected President, Mark began his own campaign for the United States Senate. He defeated former Senator Eugene McCarthy in the DFL primary; but in the 1982 general election, lost to incumbent Senator David Durenberger. 

The following year, reelected Governor Rudy Perpich appointed Mark the Commissioner of an expanded Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development. During his tenure, he set up the newly created Minnesota Economic Development Authority, which offered tax and other financial incentives to businesses willing to locate or expand and create jobs in Minnesota. He also developed the Minnesota Star City Program, an initiative begun by his predecessor, which trained local officials, business owners, and other community leaders throughout the state to retain existing businesses and recruit new businesses into their cities. He also organized another new program established by the legislature, under which he named the first “Enterprise Zones” in Minnesota.

Mark left state government four years later and founded the Vermilion Investment Company. During this time, he also went through a 28-day alcohol treatment program. For the next few years, he devoted himself to his recovery, business, and family.

In 1990, Mark ran for State Auditor and won. He served one, four-year term in a position he describes as “the Taxpayers' Watchdog.” During this time, he formed a Special Investigations Unit to uncover misuse and theft of public funds in cities, counties, townships, and school districts throughout Minnesota. He also served on the boards of the state Executive Council, the state Board of Investment, the state Land Exchange Board, the Public Employees Retirement Association, and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Mark also successfully led the opposition to corporate attempts to use public pension funds to prop up their financially ailing operations.

Following his time as State Auditor, Mark co-chaired the Reelection Committee of his long-time friend, Senator Paul Wellstone, and served as its Finance Chairman. In 1997, Mark launched his own campaign for Governor of Minnesota; however, he lost in the DFL Primary to then-Attorney General Skip Humphrey.

In early 2000, Mark was eager to once again have a role in statewide politics. Early in the year, he announced his candidacy for the United States Senate seat then held by Senator Rod Grams. After hearing from hundreds of Minnesotans during his gubernatorial campaign, Mark launched a series of bus trips to Canada, funded by donated Senate salary, called the “Rx Express.” These trips continue today to provide seniors with a way to buy much-needed prescription medicines at substantially lower prices. He also created the “Healthcare Help Line,” which is in its fourth year of assisting Minnesotans with problems they have with their insurers.

In September, Mark won the DFL primary and eight weeks later was elected to the United States Senate. On January 3, 2001, he was sworn in as the 33rd Senator from Minnesota and as the 1,846th Senator in the nation's history.

Mark serves on four Senate Committees including Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Armed Services; Governmental Affairs; and Rules. He is also a member of the House-Senate Joint Committee on Printing, which he chaired in 2003.