Charlie Disney drops out of the mayoral race; Bill McGaughey's subsequent campaigns

After Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton came out in favor of easier expungement of Unlawful Detainer records having kept MPRAC for months in the dark about its proposals for better relations between landlords and the city, MPRAC members felt they had been had. Some expressed the opinion that MPRAC executive director Charlie Disney ought to run for Mayor if only because the campaign would provide a platform for pro-landlord issues to be raised. Charlie agreed with this proposition. His campaign was underway at the beginning of May.

Charlie sought the DFL nomination for mayor at the DFL city convention at Sy Melby Hall on the campus of Augsburg College. Charlie, Bill McGaughey, and others attended the day-long convention. Richard Bear, a delegate, put Charlie Disney’s name in nomination. Bill McGaughey, wearing a hat with “Mickey Mouse” ears, gave the nominating speech. In the end, Charlie received only 6 votes. The real news at the convention was that R.T. Rybak had managed to prevent the incumbent DFL mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, from winning party endorsement.

Between May and July, the Disney campaign did some leafletting and other activities but failed to catch fire. Disney himself was disillusioned by the lack of active support from MPRAC members. In the end, he failed to file the papers to enter the mayoral primary. At the same time, he suffered a major heart attack. He resigned his leadership position at MPRAC.

Bill McGaughey Jumps in

Bill McGaughey, a member of MPRAC’s executive committee, filed as a candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis in July 2001. (He had previously announced his candidacy for the same office in 1997 but dropped out of the race when Barbara Carlson, a landlord sympathizer, became a candidate.) For personal reasons, McGaughey had limited time to campaign; he was out of town for much of the time. In a week of active campaigning, he distributed several thousand leaflets attacking the incumbent city administration while carrying a picket sign around town.

The primary election was held on September 11, 2001. McGaughey had two reasons to feel gloomy. First, the massive attack on the World Trade Center towers and on the Pentagon on that day cast a pall over the election. Second, McGaughey received only 143 votes in the mayoral primary. This was good for a twelfth place finish in a field of twenty-two candidates.

Whither MPRAC?

Even so, the year 2001 represented a peak in MPRAC’s political activities. The general election in November saw the replacement of the incumbent mayor with challenger, R.T. Rybak. Rybak had come to Disney earlier in the year seeking MPRAC’s support. He had met with group representatives at the French Meadows restaurant. Rybak appeared at MPRAC meetings three times during his campaign for mayor and then had engaged the group in a private discussion of issues.

More significantly, MPRAC played a key role in removing the Minneapolis City Council President, Jackie Cherryhomes. A member produced a leaflet asking Jackie twenty-one embarrassing questions which ACORN distributed throughout the ward. On election day, more than a dozen MPRAC members participated in events to support the challenger, Green Party candidate Natalie Johnson Lee. One person rented a sound truck that circulated throughout the ward. Others were poll watchers or drivers to take voters to the polls. In a miraculous upset, Johnson Lee won the election and became the 5th Ward’s new representative on the City Council.

After the 2001 election, MPRAC faced sobering prospects. On one hand, while being ignored by the media, it had proved its political clout. On the other hand, there was a change in leadership. Charlie Disney resigned from the group. its Executive Committee selected Eve White as the new leader. Rybak, however, failed to appoint Eve or any other MPRAC to his twelve-person housing task force. Instead, it was stacked with representatives of housing nonprofits.

Second, MPRAC’s mission was in doubt. Despite difficulties with Rybak, the new administration was a huge improvement over the old one from a landlord point of view. Since the old “ogre” was gone, the passion for attacking the city administration had also evaporated. Another factor was that MPRAC was losing members as property owners, previously trapped in bad investments, had sold off their properties as housing prices rose. They had gone into other types of investments.

After a protest demonstration to ask for Joe Biernat’s resignation after he was indicted for official corruption, MPRAC gradually abandoned its militancy, instead concentrating on its monthly cable-television show. The show itself gravitated away from a focus on housing and crime to feature interviews with elected officials such as House Speaker Steve Sviggum, Attorney General Mike Hatch, State Auditor Pat Awada, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, state representatives Phil Krinke and Keith Ellison, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, and others. By the end of 2005, it became difficult to raise the $15,000 necessary to keep the show on the air and the group dissolved.

Bill McGaughey believed that MPRAC, in its heyday, offered a model of political activism which could apply more generally to the political process. The key to its success had been political activism combined with its own media operation. McGaughey and others circulated fliers at both the DFL and Republican state conventions in 2002 arguing for such a concept, which the flier called “Orange Party”. McGaughey later changed the name to “Gold Party” and created a website - the forerunner of this site - outlining its concepts. This idea never caught on.

Bill McGaughey's Campaign for U.S. Senate

McGaughey, who belonged to the Independence Party of Minnesota, decided to challenge the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate, Jim Moore, after attending the party’s state convention in St. Cloud in July 2002. With his political appetite whetted by MPRAC’s confrontational history, McGaughey felt that the IP’s approach was too bland. He hit upon the strategy of raising two issues which he believed would fly in the face of Republican and DFL core beliefs. To oppose the Republicans, the party of big business, he said: “I believe that the Federal Government should reduce the standard workweek to 32 hours by 2010.” To oppose the Democrats, the party of victimized groups, he said: “I believe in the full citizenship, dignity and equality of white males (and of everyone else too).” These were issues which no respectable candidate in America would dare to raise.

McGaughey did not enlist the support of MPRAC members in this campaign. It was essentially a solo candidacy with almost no financial support from others besides the candidate himself. The remaining part of July was spent entirely on paperwork related to the campaign - filing reports, researching issues, producing position papers and a web site, etc. In August, beginning with Farm Fest (near Redwood Falls), McGaughey began driving around the state to visit newspaper offices and participate in parades. The highlights of the campaign, however, were focused on the Twin Cities. On August 29th, he participated in a debate, sponsored by the Twin Cities chapter of the Society of Black Journalists, with the incumbent Senator Paul Wellstone, Jim Moore, and the Green Party’s Ed McGaa. On September 6th, he participated in an in-studio interview including the minor Senate candidates conducted at Minnesota Public Radio.

Two bad things happened toward the close of the campaign. On September 1st, after campaigning near a gate at the Minnesota State Fair, McGaughey’s car was struck at the intersection of Roselawn and Cleveland avenues in Roseville by an uninsured motorist whose brakes had failed. The candidate was without transportation for two days. He completed the remaining week of the campaign in a rental car. Second, the Star Tribune refused to accept his paid campaign ad because it contained the words “dignity for white males.” Evidently considering McGaughey to be a racist and a bigot, this newspaper, the state’s largest, had imposed a virtual news blackout of his Senatorial campaign (which included not reporting the results of the IP’s primary election for U.S. Senate).

The results, however, were not too bad. In the Independence Party’s primary election held on Tuesday, September 22, 2002, Jim Moore, the party’s endorsed candidate, received 13,525 votes (49.44% of the total); Bill McGaughey received 8,482 votes (31.00% of the total); and Ronald E. Wills received 5,351 votes (19.56% of the total). Jim Moore, who lost in the general election to Norm Coleman, went on to become the state chair of the Minnesota Independence Party.

Bill McGaughey's Campaign for President

With two election losses under his belt, McGaughey then turned his eyes on the big one - the Presidency of the United States. The Independence Party had no candidate in this race and, in fact, did not have a candidate for state-wide office in Minnesota until 2006. So McGaughey decided to run for President as a Democrat. He made his announcement on June 20, 2003 outside the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul, where the Democratic state chairs were meeting to evaluate the party ‘s candidate for President.

Almost immediately his candidacy attracted media attention when a free-lance reporter working for HBO, Alexandra Pelosi, expressed interest in covering his shoe-string campaign. Daughter of Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, Alexandra has produced an award-sinning documentary on George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. At Pelosi’s instigation, McGaughey staged a discussion on race at the Civil War monument near the Iowa state capitol in Des Moines.

This poorly attended event, featuring brief statements by McGaughey and two others from Minneapolis, took place on August 16th. The punchline came a week earlier in an email from Alexandra Pelosi: “Dear Bill, I’m sorry to tell you this but it turns out that I am not going to be in Des Moines next Saturday. I hope that doesn’t screw everything up for you.” Pelosi did, however, later report that she had included some footage of McGaughey outside the St. Paul hotel - perhaps his arguing with an abortion protester.

The rest of the year, the McGaughey Presidential campaign was in the doldrums. Most of the time was spent researching issues and sending out letters and emails to media people around the country. There must have been fifteen to twenty national email broadcasts, which appeared to have zero impact. Likewise, a trip to Des Moines to attend the November 24th debate between the Democratic presidential candidates produced nothing of lasting effect except for a sore throat. McGaughey’s hopes of being a guest on Jesse Ventura’s America came to nothing when MSNBC canceled the show. The only positive event during this time was to receive a note from Garrison Keillor saying that, in his opinion, McGaughey would have made a better Senator than “the guy who got elected” (Republican Norm Coleman).

Clearly McGaughey’s type of campaign had to be conducted on the ground. As in the Minnesota Senate campaign, he had to travel from town to town, mostly in rural areas, seeking media attention. Only three states allowed small-time candidates such as McGaughey to compete in Presidential primaries: New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Louisiana. McGaughey missed the filing deadline for New Hamphire so he concentrated on the remaining two.

McGaughey paid the $2,500 filing fee and completed the required paperwork to become a candidate in South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary. This election would be held on February 3, 2004. On January 4, after a week’s illness, McGaughey drove to Columbia, South Carolina, via Pennsylvania to begin his campaign. Along the way, he learned from a reporter that something was amiss. The full truth was learned only when McGaughey visited the headquarters of the South Carolina Democratic Party. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence R. McAuliffe, had exercised his prerogative under party rules to declare McGaughey ineligible to have delegates at the 2004 Democratic Convention because, in his opinion, this candidate was not a “bona fide Democrat.” There was no arguing with this decision. Down one state - one left to go.

The state of Louisiana had a more open type of primary which excluded tampering by the DNC chair. On Monday, February 2, 2004, in a snow storm, McGaughey headed down from Minnesota to Louisiana to begin a five-week campaign in that state. This time, his campaign consisted of a single issue: employer-specific tariffs to protect U.S. jobs from loss through outsourcing. The Louisiana presidential campaign followed the pattern set in the 2002 Senatorial race. Mainly, McGaughey drove from town to town - more than sixty in all - seeking press coverage. Louisiana had the additional element of Mardi Gras celebrations. McGaughey was the only Democratic candidate actively campaigning in Louisiana except for John Kerry who spent part of an afternoon in New Orleans on the Friday before the primary election.

A big problem for McGaughey was that, in the previous week, John Kerry had effectively sewn up the Democratic nomination for President so that press coverage and voter turnout on primary day were light. Neither the New Orleans nor the Baton Rouge newspapers covered McGaughey’s campaign.The published results of the 2004 Louisiana Democratic primary were as follows:


Kerry, John F.
Edwards, John
Dean, Howard
Clark, Wesley K.
McGaughey, “Bill”
Kucinich, Dennis
Larouche, Lyndon H.


For an additional narrative of this campaign, see Campaign in Louisiana.

McGaughey later self-published books about both campaign experiences which had national, if limited, distribution. The first, on the 2002 Senate campaign, is titled The Independence Party and the Future of Third-Party Politics: Adventures and Opinions of an IP Senate Candidate. The second, on the 2004 presidential campaign, is titled On the Ballot in Louisiana: Running for President to Fight National Decay.

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