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Chapter Ten

 

How the Campaign was Reported

 

One would assume that in a functioning democracy the public would be focused on electing candidates to public office who had certain personal qualifications, a certain political experience, and certain points of view that indicated what they might do if elected to office. They might also have party affiliations, of course. The candidates would make speeches or participate in candidate debates, and the media would cover these events as part of their news reporting. Over a period of several months, the public would come to understand who the various candidates were and would vote for one. That person would hold the office to which he or she was elected for the coming term.

ranked choice voting

It was different in this case. For one thing, people would be voting for not just one but up to three candidates for each office under a system called Ranked Choice Voting. Minneapolis voters had approved this system in the 2006 election, and it would be used in our city for the first time this year. St. Paul voters were meanwhile voting whether or not to adopt it in their elections.

I generally liked Ranked Choice Voting because it eliminated the element of the “throw-away vote” whereby people who voted for third-party candidates with little chance of winning did not vote for a major-party candidate of their choice and thus “threw” the election. The classic case is Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election. Those who favored Nader would likely have picked Al Gore as their second choice, Voting for Nader therefore “took votes away” from Gore and threw the election to George W. Bush.

Under Ranked Choice Voting, someone could have voted for Nader as his First Choice candidate, Gore as his Second Choice candidate, and Bush as his Third Choice candidate. In the tabulation of votes, Nader would have been dropped after the first round and his Second-Choice voters would have been redistributed to the remaining two candidates. Because many more Nader supporters preferred Gore to Bush, Al Gore would probably have been elected President under a Ranked Choice Voting system.

Being a third-party type, I liked Ranked Choice Voting because it allowed people to “vote their conscience” - vote for the candidate they truly preferred - instead of having to be “realistic” and vote for the “lesser of two evils” among the remaining candidates.

In this particular election, however, the new system may have worked to my disadvantage. It was not that the system itself was faulty but that the media chose to focus on Ranked Choice Voting rather than on candidates running in the election. Because Rybak was considered so far ahead, journalists thought that the election per se was not what they should be covering this year. The real “news” was Ranked Choice Voting. Most stories about the election therefore were about the new voting system rather than about candidates running for office. From my perspective, the election was not being covered.

That was the case, for instance, in an hour-long program that aired on the community radio station, KFAI-FM, on October 14th, called “Truth to Tell”. The particular program was titled “City Elections 2009”. It was about Ranked Choice Voting and the proposal to abolish the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Former Minneapolis mayor Don Fraser and former Council member Joan Niemiec were guests on the show but none of this year’s candidates for city office. A program two weeks later titled “Candidates in Review” purported to discuss candidates but, again, no candidates were invited to appear. Instead, a panel of local journalists assessed the campaign.

Minneapolis city officials made a great effort to educate voters concerning the Ranked Choice Voting system. A meeting for candidates was held for that purpose at the offices of the Seward Neighborhood Association on Saturday, July 25th. For me, this was an opportunity to talk with some of the other candidates - namely, Al Flowers and John Charles Wilson. Travis Lee, Natalie Johnson Lee’s husband, was sitting a few rows in front of me.

The event organizers distributed RCV sample ballots and other literature to show how the Ranked Choice Voting system worked. They proposed that candidates hand these out to people at the National Night Out block parties to be held around the city on August 4th. It was a good idea. I could introduce myself to voters without seeming to be “political”. I took a stack of literature. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well in the evening of August 4th so I did not attend any of the parties that night.

For the voters themselves, Ranked Choice Voting was not that complicated: Just remember not to vote for more than one candidate in a column, which would spoil the ballot. As always, the candidates were listed in rows. There were three columns for each row. The idea was to pick three different candidates for each office and darken the oval in their row in the three different columns representing respectively the voter’s First, Second, and Third choices. If a voter picked the same candidate for all the choices, or if he voted in the First Choice column only, it would count only as a single First Choice vote. A voter would forfeit the opportunity to express other preferences.

The more complicated part was how the votes were counted. The voting machines would have raw numbers for each choice on election night but then teams of election judges would count all the votes manually. It might take until mid December to have the final election results. The winning candidate would need a majority of votes to win. If he or she did not have a majority in the first round of voting, the Ranked Choice Voting system would keep redistributing votes to the other candidates until one candidate had a majority.

It worked like this: First, the candidates who had no mathematical chance of winning when the First Choice votes were counted would be dropped. The Second Choice votes of voters who had voted for them would be redistributed to the remaining candidates, in effect turning these into additional First Choice votes. That might give one of the candidates a majority of votes and the process would stop. Otherwise, there would be several rounds of counting in which candidates with the least votes were dropped. Eventually someone would win.

newspaper publicity

It was easy for political reporters and the public to be distracted by technicalities such as this. My object was to win or, at least, gain a respectable number of votes as a mayoral candidate. What I really needed was for newspaper articles to mention my name and, hopefully, let the readers know my position on certain issues.

The Star Tribune did publish an article on July 22nd that gave the names of all the candidates for the various city offices, mine included. Unfortunately, this newspaper also ran a front-page story on July 24th, headlined ”Drop in crime is a victory” A smaller headline read: “Neighborhoods, including north Minneapolis, are safer today, and city officials are elated.” The reduced crime rate in the city was one of Mayor Rybak’s main talking points. Was this a harbinger for biased reporting to come in the mayor’s race?

An unexpected boost for my candidacy came when the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota, published a front-page story about the 2009 Minneapolis city elections on July 29th. I was one of three candidates mentioned in the mayor’s race, R.T. Rybak and Papa John Kolstad being the other two. Wow! By implication, I was one of the three main candidates. It may have been that because I had run for office before, the Minnesota Daily editors and reporters were more familiar with me than with some of the other candidates. This was a lucky break for me.

A characterization in Southside Pride

A friend who lives in south Minneapolis called me to report that my name was in Southside Pride, a community newspaper distributed in that part of the city. I immediately got in my car and drove to where I thought I could find copies in news stands. It was the edition for August 2009. The editor, Ed Felien, had written a column appearing on the right side of the front page. It was headlined: “Who are these people and what do they want?” “These people” were the mayoral candidates. Felien presented them in light of their either being serious or wanting to have fun.

His column began: “Filings have closed for the City elections this fall, and the candidates for Mayor run the gamut from the very serious to the ‘I just want to have fun.’ Tom Fiske is the Socialist Workers Party candidate and he’s serious about the Cuban 5 and bank bailouts ... Bill McGaughey is still serious about white men being discriminated against (he’s run before for other offices). On the other hand, Joey Lombard is running as “Is Awesome, “ and Bob Carney Jr. is a ‘Moderate Progressive Censored’ - whatever that means. Papa John Kolstad is running for Mayor. He’s always fun.” This last statement, I supposed, referred to the fact that Kolstad, a professional musician, was in the entertainment business.

I could tell that Felien, too, was trying to have fun with this column. From my standpoint, the problem was that he had fundamentally misrepresented my position on identity issues. New Dignity Party was attempting to change the paradigm of such discussions. Yet, here Felien was characterizing my position in terms of the old paradigm: racial or gender discrimination. I was running for office to try to promote positive identities for everyone and avoid contentious comparisons. That was the new paradigm. Therefore, I needed to respond to Felien’s column if my campaign was to retain any shred of integrity.

Fortunately, as I was opening the door to the offices of Southside Pride on Chicago Avenue, I ran into Felien, whom I knew personally, coming out the door. I stated my complaint. Felien apologized for the flippant tone of the column - which did not bother me - and also agreed to print my response if I sent a letter to the editor to Southside Pride.

In reality, the published letter would attract more attention to my candidacy than being mentioned in a column with several other candidates. So it seemed that this “mistake” was working to my advantage. Even more important, it prompted me to think about what my position on racial and gender identity really was. I later wrote a paper titled “Getting to the heart of what I believe about identity politics” that was placed on Page 3 of the website, NewDignityParty.org.

Star Tribune questionnaires

Some publications, including the Star Tribune, sent questionnaires to the candidates. The answers would be published in a Voter’s Guide. This year, perhaps because of financial difficulties, the Star Tribune did not have a Voter’s Guide in the print edition of the newspaper. It was in the on-line version, Startribune.com. On August 19th, Steve Brandt mailed his set of questions to candidates asking for a response within ten days. I was planning to be in China through the end of the month.

Fortunately, my flight was delayed - there were no standby flights to Chicago that day - so I returned home from the airport to find Brandt’s letter in the mailbox. I quickly prepared answers to the questions and emailed them to him. Brandt complimented me for being the first candidate to respond. Upon later review, I thought some of my answers were too Smart Alecky. For example, asked to cite organizational endorsements, I said I was endorsed by “my organized wife” (who, in fact, hates politics and so would probably not give an endorsement to anyone.) Several times, I pled ignorance to the topic but said I would “pick a number out of the air.” Later, the deadline was extended and I revised those answers.

While I was in China, Brandt sent me several emails complaining that he could not reach me by phone. He was circulating another, “shorter questionnaire”. It turned out that Brandt was doing a humorous column about the mayoral candidates’ knowledge of “City Hall trivia.” Published on September 16th, the column was titled “City Hall challenge”.

Brandt had quizzed the candidates (except for me and one other candidate) about their knowledge of Minneapolis city hall with respect to such points as: “How much of city hall is owned by the city?” (correct answer: 50%. The other half is owned by Hennepin County) “Alderman Eddie Felien, who served in the 1970s, is best remembered for what proposal? (correct answer: He wanted to study making Northern States Power Company a municipal utility. Yes, the same Ed Felien today publishes Southside Pride.) “What part of the Father of Waters statue is rubbed for good luck by those entering City Hall?” (correct answer: the left toe)

The incumbent mayor, Rybak, had the most right answers. John Charles Wilson, with three such answers, finished second. I was unavailable for questioning, of course. I thought this was a fun approach to the mayor’s race and a positive contribution if nothing else is written. The real “loser” in this exercise was Papa John Kolstad who was portrayed as humorless: “Kolstad, who later told us he’s not a morning person, rejected our inquiries as a gotcha, saying he’s running a serious race.”

I made a bid for newspaper attention in a letter to the editor in which I wrote: “ I’m sure that Steve Brandt’s inability to reach me in time saved me from finishing at or near the bottom of the list of mayoral candidates in his “City Hall challenge” quiz. Now I have a trivia question for reporter Brandt: Which of the current candidates for mayor once organized a protest demonstration which resulted in shutting down a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council and, in turn, inspired a security upgrade of the Council chambers?” The answer, of course, was me. (See landlordpolitics.com/citycouncil.html.) To the best of my knowledge, this letter was not published.

I should point out that during this period I was not a Star Tribune subscriber. Some people I know have cancelled their newspaper subscriptions out of principle; they think the (“Red”) Star Tribune is a “communist” newspaper. In my case, the subscription ran out in July. I learned that on the day when the morning delivery ceased. By that time, I owed $64.60 for newspaper deliveries beyond the paid-up period. I had never received any bills in the mail. Normally, I look at the dates, payment rates, and periods of vacation holds to decide if the billing amount is reasonable. A Star Tribune employee said that I had received such billings.

It turned out that the address of the mailing had been changed to 307 Knox Avenue N. (which is the entry way where my paper is delivered) from 1702 Glenwood Avenue, (where I receive my mail.) I live in a fourplex on the corner of Glenwood and Knox avenues. The employee promised to send me another letter using the correct billing address. It never happened. In fact, I had the same conversation twice yet no invoices ever arrived in the mail. Finally, the Star Tribune turned my $64.60 balance over to a collection agency. I have recently paid that bill but have not yet renewed my newspaper subscription. I do miss that part of my morning routine.

During the period of the campaign, I was content to receive the political news from email sources and occasionally go to the library to look at stacks of past Star Tribunes. Occasionally, people told me that my name was in the newspaper. I would then make every effort to obtain a copy of that day’s edition, of course.

other questionnaires or questioning

On September 19th, I received an election questionnaire from Lyndale Neighborhood News, the neighborhood association’s newspaper. The responses would be published on October 8th. The newspaper wanted to know my attitude toward neighborhood associations and how I would help them if elected mayor. (Mayor Rybak had been criticized for gutting the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, or “NRP”, and diverting funds to a city department.) I simply wrote that I was on the board of a neighborhood organization and would listen to neighborhood concerns. A second question had to do with city finances. I said that the city needed to grow its tax base by becoming more attractive to business instead of scaring people away with taxes, fines, and fees. I never saw a copy of this newspaper but assume my comments were published.

Hill and Lake Press, representing several neighborhoods south of mine, also had a questionnaire for candidates including those running for mayor. I worked on these questions in the second week of October. The city’s budget crisis was my Number One issue, I said. Again, a priority should be set on attracting businesses instead of destroying them as city officials had done with Uncle Bill’s Food Market.

In this case, I later came across copies of this newspaper while distributing literature door-to-door. The editors had decided not to publish comments by the mayoral candidates in its print edition, but only on line. Responses from candidates for other offices were included in the print edition. This told me what the area’s journalists thought of the mayor’s race. (It was unimportant.)

The Star Tribune was still accepting responses to Steve Brandt’s questionnaire in October. I therefore sent in a revised version of what I had submitted in August, curbing my tendency to give flippant answers. Also, I helped Jim Swartwood and John Butler prepare their answers for the Star Tribune questionnaire. I argued that sending something to the newspaper was better than nothing. The label “no response received from candidate” indicates a candidate who does not care much about the election. One need not be concerned with having good answers to every question. Therefore, where I had a plausible answer to a question, I wrote it down for my two colleagues. Where I did not, I pieced information together by googling the topic. When Jim and John were both satisfied with the responses, I mailed the questionnaires back to the Star Tribune under their names.

In regards to electronic media, only KFAI-FM, a community radio station, provided an opportunity for us “minor candidates” to broadcast our message to voters. A reporter named Elena Erofeeva sent me an email on September 14th inviting me to stop by the KFAI studio on Riverside Avenue to record a ten-to-fifteen-minute interview. We made an appointment for 3:00 p.m. on Friday, September 18th. It was about that time that I installed the last of the lawn signs, at least in the first batch.

This was a thorough interview; I even had a chance to explain New Dignity Party and its approach to identity politics. Elena informed me, however, that the tapes would be edited down to two minutes of air time for each candidate. I am not sure what parts of my interview aired since I did not catch the program.

Leonard Cohen's music

On the way out of the studio, I saw a small brochure advertising a “Tribute to Leonard Cohen” that would take place at 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis on Monday, September 21st, starting at 6 p.m. The event featured “Mean Larry and friends”. Mean Larry was a local singer. KFAI would preview the show on Sunday evening and award free tickets. The ticket price for Monday’s event was only $7. I decided to go.

A month or so earlier, I had watched Leonard Cohen’s performance in London and been captivated both by the singing and by Cohen’s public persona. He wore a brimmed hat similar to what businessmen of the ‘40s and ‘50s used to wear but was “cool” nonetheless. I was particularly interested in Cohen’s song, “Democracy”, with its catchy prediction that “Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”. That could be a theme song for a political party aspiring to influence and power. It could be a theme song for New Dignity Party, in other words. (Listen to Leonard Cohen sing this song.)

I had long had the idea that political parties could draw people together through the arts. Musically or artistically rich experiences might replace the boring experience had at a political convention that was governed by Robert’s Rules of Order. Cohen’s “Democracy” song would fit the bill. Looking ahead to the creation of a viable party, I thought I would lay the groundwork of such an entity by hooking up with the arts community at the Leonard Cohen tribute. I would advertise for “Leonard Cohen impersonators” like those that Elvis has.

I therefore prepared some flyers that read in large lettering “Looking for a Leonard Cohen impersonator.” After introducing New Dignity Party, the flyer announced that “ we would like to hold an audition for an “official” Leonard Cohen impersonator (hopefully, with the hat) who would sing ‘Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.’ and other Cohen songs at events that we might arrange in the coming year.” I passed them out to people in the line outside First Avenue until I realized that 7th Street Entry was not here but at a door just down the street. The gathering crowds were not for the Leonard Cohen tribute but for another act.

The Tribute to Leonard Cohen was about an hour late in starting. Maybe fifteen people in total attended the event. Dressed in my politician’s suit, I placed my flyers on the empty tables and then sat through a performance lasting three hours. It was enjoyable as far as it went although Mean Larry’s repertoire did not include “Democracy”. However, from the standpoint of linking music to politics, the event was a bust. I returned home with ringing ears and little else. The performers were from Venus and I from Mars, or something like that.

However, I was not yet ready to give up on Leonard Cohen. It happened that Mplsmirror.com, the electronic newspaper, was offering political candidates a chance to post video up to five minutes long on its site. The video might be a simple campaign statement or it might show the candidate doing whatever he wished. I chose singing. To put a personal face on my campaign, I would sing Cohen’s song “Democracy”. A Google search led me to the lyrics of this song and to Cohen’s own performance of it. Although I had a raspy voice related to the flu, I thought I sounded fine when I practiced the song a time or two. But I needed someone to tape the performance.

Jim Swartwood brought a video camera over to my home to record both my song and his statement for Mplsmirror.com. This time, my performance was quite uninspired. I kept looking up and down from the sheet of paper to read the words and sang with a lackluster voice. However, we did now have a recording on videotape. The next step was to find someone who could transfer the recording to compact disk which Mplsmirror.com required. A friend managed this for me. I then delivered the disk to Terry Yzaguirre. She asked me to meet her at a political rally on Broadway organized by Natalie-Johnson Lee’s campaign. I was invited up to the stage to make a speech.

But I’ll never forget the comments posted beneath my video once it was up. One person accused me of being self-indulgent and a “whiner” for singing that song in that particular voice. Another wrote that “if Bill McGaughey had any credibility, he just lost it.” My enthusiasm for Leonard Cohen’s music was kept under wraps for the rest of the campaign.

How did the public view me as a political candidate? First, I think I was largely unknown despite past candidacies for public office. (That last point made me a “perennial candidate” to political aficionados.) If I was known in Minneapolis, it was largely because of my association with Metro Property Rights Action Committee and with landlord issues generally. Despite some supporters, landlords were mostly a detested group in Minneapolis politics. I’m also afraid that I made some enemies while sparring with people on the Minneapolis e-democracy forum. Finally, many who visited my campaign website, NewDignityParty.com, might have thought I was a white racist. My own opinion of myself and of my candidacy for mayor was better than this, but Minneapolis voters had the last say.

open houses

Part of the reason for running for mayor was to identify potential supporters of New Dignity Party. Jim Swartwood and John Butler were running for office as a personal favor to me, I supposed. I was hoping that the campaign and this new party, New Dignity Party, would be interesting to others. The payoff would come if some people contacted the campaign through letters to our Post Office box or by email through the campaign website. That did not happen.

In another outreach activity, I scheduled open houses at Minneapolis libraries: one at the North Regional Library on Lowry and Fremont avenues on Tuesday, September 8th; and on at the Washburn public library on Lyndale Avenue, just south of Minnehaha Parkway, on Thursday, October 15th. I was hoping that lawn signs and literature drops in those areas would attract people to the two events.

An advantage of having those events was that they could be listed for free in community newspapers. The notice that appeared in the events calendar of NorthNews read as follows:

 

“ New Dignity Party organizing meeting and open house

This political party, which is running three candidates for office in the 2009 Minneapolis city election, was incorporated in Minnesota on July 4th of this year. Its first public meeting will be on Tues., Sept. 8, 2009, 6 - 8 p.m. in the meeting room at the North Regional library, 1315 Lowry Avenue North, Minneapolis. This will be an introductory meeting with a general discussion of the party’s principles and plans. For further information, check website NewDignityParty.org or call 612-374-xxxx.”

 

On the appointed day, I arrived fifteen minutes early and set up some signs. Then I waited and waited. Finally, John Butler arrived around 6:20 p.m. He and I talked for awhile. John then took some signs and left. I stuck around for the entire period. Nobody else came.

The same was true of the open house at Washburn library on October 15th. Again, the room was reserved from 6 to 8 p.m. Again, only John Butler showed up. I had leafletted the streets surrounding the library in the previous days but it seemed to have little effect. No one seemed to be interested in our campaign. Was that because of race, perhaps?

 

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