Protest disrupts Minneapolis Council
Landlord’s loss of license sparks hourlong demonstration
by Kevin Diaz, Star Tribune staff writer

Flag-waving demonstrators disrupted a Minneapolis City Council meeting for nearly an hour Friday to protest the revocation of a landlord’s rental license in north Minneapolis.

No arrests were made. But police were called to quell the noisy demonstration, billed as a “rally to save affordable housing.” It erupted into shouts and jeers after about two dozen landlords, Libertarians, environmentalists, tenants, and others holding banners and American flags were denied a chance to speak.

The council adjourned for about an hour, but not before voting 12-1 to revoke the rental license of Russ Erkkila, whose five-unit building at 2204 Emerson Av. N. allegedly has been the site of drug activity.
“This is being rubber-stamped by the City Council,” said Charlie Disney, leader of the Property Rights Action Committee, a landlord group opposed to the license revocation.

Council President Jackie Cherryhomes was unable to quiet the protesters, who chanted “Unfair”, “We are the homeless” and other slogans. Many council members left the chamber, returning after the protesters left.
City Hall staffers said it was the most significant disruption of a council meeting since 1984, when several anti pornography demonstrators were arrested at a sit-in during a council meeting.

Friday’s protest was organized by the landlord group, which has been fighting the city’s 1991 rental license ordinance. Under that ordinance, a license can be revoked after a property owner receives three warnings of documented criminal activity on the premises.

About 60 rental licenses have been revoked since the ordinance went into effect in July 1991, city licensing officials say. It has happened six times in the past year. Most licenses were reinstated after corrective action.
Erkkila, 54, of Minnetonka, has contested the revocation of his license on the five-unit apartment house, saying he has poured time and money into the building, cooperated with police and evicted problem tenants.

Four adults and seven children live in the building. One of the tenants, Lorraine Lige, joined in the protest. “The problems were outside the building, not inside,” Lige said.

Disney’s landlord group has portrayed Erkkila and his tenants as victims of a city policy that he says improperly shifts the blame from criminals to owners of low-rent properties.

Unlikely Coalition

The landlord’s call was taken up Friday by a broad, if unlikely, coalition of protesters, some waving banners with slogans such as “Arrest criminals, not buildings.”

The protest group included advocates of legalizing marijuana; Earth Protector activist Leslie Davis, who is running for governor; Alan Shilepsky, Reform Party candidate for secretary of state; and Bob Odden, the Libertarian candidate for state auditor.

Cherryhomes, waiting out the protest in a hall outside the council chambers, said, “This is all the fringe people who must have met on the street and decided they have a common enemy - us.”

Much of the protester’ anger was directed at Council Member Joe Biernat, whose ward includes Erkkila’s building. Biernat jousted verbally with the protesters and with Council Member Steve Minn, an independent who cast the sole vote against the revocation. Biernat said the protesters ignored earlier hearings on the revocation and accused Erkkila of “telling us nothing but lies.”

Erkkila threw down his sign and responded that city officials have lied about his building. “I’ve put $100,000 into a property in north Minneapolis,” he said. “How many people would do that?”

Star Tribune, October 31, 1998


Notes: Jackie Cherryhomes was defeated for reelection in the 2001 Minneapolis city election. Joe Biernat, though reelected, was convicted of accepting gifts from a plumbers union and served time in a federal prison. The Reform Party’s gubernatorial candidate, Jesse Ventura, was elected Governor of Minnesota four days later. Steve Minn became Commerce secretary in his administration.

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