Report on St. Valentines Day demonstration at 14 E. Jessamine Street

In my opinion, this was one of the finest exercises in grassroots democracy I’ve ever experienced. We had a modest - 25-30 persons - turnout by protesters. Television crews from several stations were there, including Cyndy Brucato, Channel 5 news anchor. A reporter from public radio was also there; and perhaps other media people. Three squad cars were parked near the scene, but the officers were amiable and we had some friendly discussions.

The best thing about this demonstration was its spirit of intense fact-finding both with media people and among the protesters ourselves. Nancy Osterman, the former owner, was on hand to answer questions, along with her daughter and grandchild. The discussions were so focused that we did not hold a “rally” per se until the closing moments of this event.

Of interest to me was the statement in this morning’s Pioneer Press that “the house remains dangerous ... Video taken Monday (during the break-in by city employees) ... shows a hydraulic jack that is titled noticeably to one side as it holds up a basement beam used to support the first floor.” I wanted to see that hydraulic jack. Osterman graciously opened up the house and we took a peek in the basement.

What we saw were two screw jacks supporting a beam in a crawl space at the front of the house. Evidently, this had been an addition to the main part of the house. The jacks, which were not hydraulic, did not appear to be tilted to one side (although I suppose it’s possible to position the video cameras to give that appearance.) One of our people crawled into the space to take a closer look. The jacks were solidly placed on stable foundations. They did not tilt. Also, the main part of the house was firmly supported by permanent wood pillars.

In short, that statement in the Pioneer Press reflects an evident campaign of misinformation by the city. We took our own pictures and have our own witnesses. So the city can’t count on erasing the evidence if the house is demolished. There are also expert witnesses who have given the house’s foundation a clean bill of health.

The current line advanced by demolition proponents seems to be to suggest that Nancy Osterman has no legitimate interest in the house and that the purchaser, Julian Jayasuriya, is a disreputable property owner, reviled in Minneapolis, and his partner has some connection to Hell’s Angels.

I really don’t think this should be the main issue as to whether the building should be demolished. If the City of St. Paul doesn’t like Osterman, Jayasuriya, or the co-owner, I’m sure a deal could be arranged for the owner - whoever that might be - to sell the property for a decent price to another party assuming that the city would get off the property’s back. Osterman herself is agreeable to living elsewhere than the place of her upbringing, St. Paul.

I’ve explained repeatedly what interest Osterman has in the property: She sold it to Jayasuriya on a contract for deed. Jayasuriya has not paid much on the contract. Therefore, if Jayasuriya defaults on the CD after the building is demolished, Osterman stands to lose money.

Anyhow, we all took a good look at the inside of the house. It would be quite habitable if the utilities were restored.

We had a last-minute rally before the TV camera. As Ronald Reagan once stood on a platform in Berlin, saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” so we started to say “Mayor Coleman, don’t tear down this house”; but then we settled for the more rhythmic “Mayor Coleman, safeguard this house.”

So that’s what you might hear our group chanting on the 5 o’clock news. It had a peaceful ring.

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