A Letter to the Governor of Minnesota

from a U.S. Congressman

April 20, 1998

Hon. Arne H. Carlson
Governor of Minnesota

Dear Arne:

You and I have talked for many years about what would become of our state’s largest city if something isn’t done about the crime and drugs and gangs. I have always appreciated your efforts in this struggle, as well as your staunch support for our state’s law enforcement officers.

Governor, our worst fears of years gone by are becoming reality each and every day, as you well know.
I am writing to ask you to meet with a remarkable man named Charlie Disney, and accompany him on one of his “Minneapolis Crack Tours.” I went, and it’s well worth your time. Charlie Disney is a truly unique individual and apartment owner in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis whose buildings rest in the midst of the area which has dominated the news lately with stories of drug trafficking and violence. Charlie achieved great fame as head of the nationally known Disney Table Tennis Center. The center is now closed, just the latest in a long list of area business closings.

I recently took Charlie’s tour of the neighborhood with another landlord, Mel Gregerson, near 18th and Park, the block where the body of 77-year-old Ann Prazniak was found April 15, wrapped in plastic and a blanket and stuffed in a cardboard television box in the back bedroom closet of her own apartment. “Miss Ann” - as her friends and the small children she so eagerly befriended in the neighborhood called her - had become a mere inconvenience to the drug dealers who had commandeered her apartment. Nearby residents say such “hostage” takeovers are not unusual.

Respectfully, Governor, I think you should take this “Minneapolis crack tour” too. On my “Minneapolis crack tour”, Charlie and Mel showed me how the drug dealers were still hanging around within blocks of where Miss Ann was brutally murdered and her body discovered just a day earlier - even with all the media present and the stepped-up police patrols. As soon as all the current outrage subsides, neighborhood residents told me, things will revert to normal and the drug dealers and violence will return and reign supreme in this community. All this despite the fact that the Inner City Church is right next door, where people say they see murder and police cars all the time. There were more than 100 police calls to 1818 Park this year alone. We all know how the cops’ hands are tied because of a lack of commitment at city hall, room in our jails and severe punishment for repeat offenders. The hands of the landlords are tied, too, and their future is bleak.

I have gone on many crack raids with Minneapolis police officers through the years, but Charlie has a special viewpoint, that of a building owner trying to make it in a territory that’s more war zone than neighborhood. In this community, it seems, the buildings are the criminals and the only practiced solutions involve boarding them up and eventually and inevitably tearing them down. The result is a landscape that better resembles crater-pocked Mars than Minnesota - and the drug dealers and prostitutes and gang members adapt readily to this environment, making it all the worse. As the exodus of community stake holders - landlords, reliable and law-abiding residents, small businesses - continues, prospects for a better future dwindle.

I am encouraging you to call Charlie Disney at 871-xxxx or Mel Gregerson at 874-xxxx to take this tour yourself. It will open eyes to what you and I and others have been saying would eventually happen for some time - the drug traffickers and gangs and thugs are winning in this community because of government policies and lax punishment of drug dealers and criminals.

I have enclosed some information about “Minneapolis crack tours” and the outline for a plan of action involving the city, police, our court system, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office and landlords. Your role would be as described under point No. 3, that of moderator.

Many thanks for your kind consideration of this proposal and your continued attention to this important problem. Please let me know if I can ever be helpful in any way.


Member of Congress

(Note: Jim Ramstad is a Republican member of Congress representing the Third Congressional District in Minnesota. Considered a social moderate, he worked with the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone on mental-health issues and more recently has been a mentor to Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island in overcoming problems of alcoholism.)

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