But Mike Awada is hardly a house-husband. He maintains his own commercial real estate business and he runs his wife’s remaining business interests now that she’s the auditor. He also chaired her 2002 campaign, and he is widely acknowledged as her most trusted advisor. Nonetheless, Peggy Carlson, an Eagan City Council colleague of Pat’s who has known Mike for 25 years, describes him as “extremely supportive of Pat’s challenging schedule. He handles a lot of the daily challenges of being a father of four, of having an energetic, motivated wife.”
After stints with the Grunseth for Governor campaign in 1990 and a tour as executive director of Minnesotans for Term Limits from 1993 to 1994, Pat Awada had acquired enough experience to go into business on her own. “I started consulting and doing whatever I could do and it turned into my business,” she says. At home with her first child and a personal computer, Awada began Capitol Direct, a direct-mail company that specialized in political work. By 2003, when Awada sold half the firm, it was grossing $3 million annually.
It was not enough, though, for Awada to be a mere entrepreneur. At the dewy age of 25 she was elected to the Eagan City Council. Soon after, she had her second daughter. Two years later, in 1998, she was elected mayor. Those who work with Awada express awe at her ability to handle so many disparate responsibilities, and to still remain a devoted mother. Cyndee Fields served on the Eagan City Council with Awada. She says, “Pat would give up sleep before she would give up doing something with her kids.” Still, there are times when the responsibilities of being a politician and entrepreneur inevitably intrude on Awada’s efforts to be a traditional mom. Joyanne Kohler, a VP at Capitol Companies, recalls, “On the day she had [second daughter] Katie, I brought over the payroll for her to sign, and there she was in the bed doing payroll after just having had a kid.”
At Capitol Direct, Awada set up a playroom and brought her kids to work. But she wasn’t thinking only of herself. She also created a workplace that was particularly friendly to working mothers, and, according to former and current employees, an environment that was especially forgiving of the challenges faced by single mothers. “There’s a very gentle side of Patty, but it really isn’t her public image,” explains close family friend Lisa Holmquist. “My youngest child has Down syndrome and she’s one of the only people outside of my family that I’ve trusted to watch after him.” Holmquist expresses frustration that Awada’s gentler side doesn’t get mentioned by a media that seems enamored of her tough public image. “I’ve known a lot of public and political figures,” she explains. “And I always hate to see someone I know being pilloried in the press. A lot of times it has nothing to do with them.”
In 1998, the year Awada was elected mayor of Eagan, she and Mike decided to adopt a child out of a foreign orphanage. When she heard the plan, Betty Anderson remembers thinking, “Oh my god, how can they handle any more?” Sitting in the bleachers overlooking her two daughters’ ice-skating practice at Eagan Ice Arena, Awada downplays the scale of the decision. “It’s a big decision, yeah, but not any bigger than others.”
Pat and Mike eventually decided to adopt from a Bulgarian orphanage, but when Mike arrived in Bulgaria, he had a problem. “Mike couldn’t choose,” recalls Lisa Holmquist. “So they got two instead of one.” Michael was 11 at the time of the adoption in 1999; George was 10. Both boys were dark-skinned Roma, otherwise known as gypsies. Michael bore physical scars of abuse from his time in the orphanage (“he was beat with a broom”); slight George bore the psychological scars of constantly being bullied. From the perspective of a mother, there were small challenges, too. “How do I tuck them in?” Awada recalls asking herself. “How do I kiss them good-night?”
The challenges persist, and primary among them is Michael’s lingering anger about life at the orphanage. “He gets angry, explodes, hits a wall,” Awada says. That anger blew up in a very public way last May Day. Michael returned home two hours late and was informed by his father that his bicycle privileges had been suspended. In the ensuing argument, he managed to get his father in an arm-lock, and Mike Awada ended up hitting the boy on the arm with a chair. The teenager called the police and Mike Awada was charged with gross misdemeanor malicious punishment of a child.
Looking back on the adoption of the two boys in light of the incident, Pat Awada sighs. “It’s been a growth experience. Unfortunately, this is probably part of it.” She makes no apologies for either her son or husband; both were at fault, she says, and both have paid the price of having the donnybrook detailed in the media. For her, personally, the incident has been “very painful” though she is trying to keep it in perspective. “Teenage boys can be frustrating. My brothers kind of laugh at the whole thing. They understand.”
In a subsequent court hearing, Mike Awada was given a “continuance with dismissal”—basically an assurance that the charges against him will be dismissed so long as he completes his current counseling program and remains law-abiding for one year. The child protection case has since been closed.