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Chapter Fourteen

 

Election Day

 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009, was the day when Minneapolis voters would go to the polls to elect a new mayor or, more likely, reelect the current one. My first activity was to buy a Star Tribune at the grocery store to see what coverage had been given to our singing event. Walking to the store without my glasses, I looked up to see a vaguely familiar person walking toward me. It was Don Samuels, accompanied by State Senator Linda Higgins and several others, who appeared to having eaten breakfast at Milda’s cafe. Samuels and I again shook hands.

I voted at Heritage Commons near Glenwood Avenue in the mid morning. Last year, when Obama was running for President, a line of prospective voters extended out into the street in front of the building where the polls were located. This time, I was able to walk immediately into the room where the election judges were sitting, receive a ballot, and proceed straight to the voting booth. One of my tenants was standing at the next booth. I cast my votes using the new Ranked Choice Voting system and waited for the tenant to offer her a ride back to the apartment building. No, she was headed elsewhere. I drove home alone.

The election results were not expected until the evening, of course. The “official” results might not even be available until mid December, given the challenge of Ranked Choice Voting. But we should know that evening how many First Choice votes each candidate had received. In the meanwhile, I scanned my email messages, especially from the Minneapolis e-democracy forum, to see if anything yet had been posted about the election.

ridicule for some of the mayoral candidates

One posting that caught my eye was titled “We’re in the news”. The text of the message read: “... I'd hate to have John Charles Wilson's bandwidth bill once BoingBoing readers get through with their visits.  (BoingBoing, which has won ‘Weblog of the Year’ awards twice, is one of the best-known blogs devoted to quirky news/tech/cyberpunk/.)  The rest of the world has never even heard of ‘Democratic-Farmer-Labor’, and is now faced with our entire smorgasbord of ad-hoc parties.”

I went to the BoingBoing site and found this message: “I pulled up my sample ballot for Minneapolis elections today, and found something absolutely fabulous. Take a look at the second-from-last candidate. Specifically, his party affiliation. God, I love this town. The ballot just gets better when you know what an Edgertonite is.” A sample ballot with my name listed first was shown at the left.

What was an Edgertonite? John Charles Wilson had told me about it back in July at the presentation on Ranked Choice Voting for candidates. Edgerton is the name of a street in St. Paul. There used to be a Rice-Edgerton bus line running between St. Paul and its northern suburbs. Being a transit enthusiast, Wilson had concocted an “Edgertonite National Party” that stood for “peace, jobs, equality”. He was the party chair and its sole candidate - rather like me.

The party’s mission statement, adopted on March 9, 2009, began: “The Edgertonite National Party exists to secure political independence for the people of the Midwestern United States and a homeland for the Lauraist religion. We use the term “Nation of Edgerton” to describe the area within a 240-mile radius of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are a non-traditional Communist party, based on the ideology of Lauraism: the belief that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God, Communism ... is the best form of government, age of consent laws should be repealed, public transit should be returned to the routes, fares, and schedules of 18 September 1970, (and) the Nation of Edgerton should secede from the United States as a Lauraist homeland ...”

This was what had tongues wagging. “Laura Ingalls Wilder is God”? Minneapolis might become the capital of “a homeland for the Lauraist religion”? Wilson, who appeared sane to me when I met him, was certainly opening himself up for ridicule. One poster on the e-democracy list wrote: “Who would have thought that IRV/RCV would have provided such comic relief?” And another: “Priceless. Thanks for the laugh! It cheers me up after having been robbed of so much voting power in at large park board.” This last message was sent to the forum via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

MinnPost.com, perhaps the most watched political blog in the Twin Cities other than those belonging to the commercial or public media, ran an election-day report on the mayor’s race which began: “It’s election day in Minneapolis, and Minnesota Public Radio offers up two stories about R.T. Rybak for anybody who hasn’t made up his or her mind ... The first, by Brandt Williams, summarizes a debate between Rybak and ... John Kolstad ... At the same time, four other challengers gathered at city hall to offer what sounds like a political hootenanny, singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball game,’ with new, anti-Rybak lyrics. Their position: Anybody but Rybak, even recommending people write in candidates rather than re-elect the incumbent. Really? Anybody? Does that include candidate John Charles Wilson, who believes that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God and wants to create a ‘Lauraist homeland’ around Minneapolis?”

I thought I needed to do some last-minute damage control. I posted a comment that read: “No, the singing wasn’t meant to be a "political hootenanny” but a way to end this year’s campaign on a positive note. The “Take me out to the ball game” parody was a change of pace to five otherwise conventional 19th Century patriotic songs. But, hey, we just wanted to have a little fun as we wind down from campaigning ... I think ‘anybody but Rybak’ overstates our (the non-Rybak mayoral candidates) position. We want the best candidates to be considered in this year’s election ... John Charles Wilson was not someone we support as a write-in candidate since he was among those who filed. In fact, he was one of those in the singing group. What’s wrong with a little enthusiasm for Laura Ingalls Wilder? I’m sure Wilson doesn’t think she is literally God. Can’t you pundits find a better target than this?”

Another target of election-day posters was Papa John Kolstad. Because he had accepted the Republican Party endorsement, he must be a Republican like the inflammatory Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, several people suggested. A woman on the Minneapolis e-democracy list posted this election-day message: “I love Papa John as a fine person and friend but I will never vote  for a Republican (i.e. Independent Civic Leader). Had he run as an independent Democrat, it would have been a different story.”

My posted response to this was: “There have been several attempts to smear Papa John Kolstad because he has the endorsement of the Republican Party.  He also has the endorsement of the Independence Party.  He has run as a Green Party candidate.  Fine. Kolstad lists himself an Independent Civic Leader.  He is independent. He is balanced. People who know him should look at his character and experience. I take exception with the people who treat Republicans, or members of any other party for that matter, as pariahs.  Lincoln was a Republican.  Theodore Roosevelt, the first “progressive”, was a Republican.  Nearly half the American electorate votes Republican.  This attempt to demonize people based on endorsement by Republicans is contributing to polarization of political discourse and decay in our political process.”

Republican candidates in Minneapolis were not the problem. It was candidacies that left themselves open to ridicule by the media - not that these candidates should not have run but that the media chose to focus on them exclusively. Besides John Charles Wilson’s “Edgertonite National Party” - which, in most voters’ eyes, was indistinguishable from my own “New Dignity Party”, no doubt - we had Joey Lombard with his “is awesome” political designation on the ballot. At least, people knew he was just trying to have fun; he was not delusional like Wilson and me.  Lombard, too, attracted national media attention. The “Jimmy Kimmel” show interviewed him.

Another Twin Cities political blog, Minnesotaindependent.com, ran election-day reports on both Wilson and Lombard. The report posted by Paul Schmelzer at 3:26 p.m. on November 3rd was headlined: “Official Minneapolis ballot: ‘Joey Lombard is awesome.’” The text read: “MPR’s Bob Collins catches a Lizard People-like ballot entry in today’s Minneapolis election: Running for mayor is one Joey Lombard. His party affiliation makes a nifty sentence on the ballot: ‘Joey Lombard is awesome.’”

Then, at 3:59 p.m., the same reporter posted a second message on Minnesotaindependent.com with this headline: “‘Edgertonite’ candidate gets national attention.” Its text read: “Another ‘awesome’ Minneapolis ballot getting a bit of Lizard People-style attention is that of mayoral hopeful John Charles Wilson, who’s running as the ‘Edgertonite National Party’ candidate. Boingboing, the country’s number-five blog, picks up on it today, nothing that the story of Wilson’s party affiliation makes the ballot even more interesting. As MnIndy’s Andy Birkey wrote in January, the party is based on the Wilson-created Lauraist religion, which posits that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God and that the Lauraist homeland will occupy an area within a 240-mile radius of Minneapolis ... As local Boingboing blogger Maggie Koerth-Baker says, ‘God, I love this town!’”

My own candidacy for mayor seemed “boingboinged” as well. There was little more that I could do at this point other than wait for the election results.

election-night parties

As early as the interview with the Star Tribune editorial board on October 22nd, I had been talking with other candidates about several of the non-Rybak campaigns having a joint election-night party so we could put our spin on the election results. It was more likely that media would cover such an event than many separate parties. There were several different suggestions as to where the event should be held.

In the meanwhile, I was tied up with organizing the singing event on November 2nd. Papa John Kolstad had arranged for an election-eve party at the Jager Club on Washington Avenue. Al Flowers was having one at a charter school off Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis. Bob Carney and I decided to attend both.

I picked up Carney at his home in south Minneapolis. We drove first to Flowers’ party. A number of people I knew were there including Don Allen, Zack Metoyer, and Farheen Hakeem. I met Flowers’ parents, a minister who was one of Flowers’ closest friends, and the father of a Hmong man who was shot and killed by the Minneapolis police. As a fellow candidate, I was called up to the stage to make a short speech. I told how, starting with the “scandals” about Flowers in the newspaper, we mayoral candidates had overcome adversity to wage a vigorous campaign. Bob Carney was also invited to speak.

At length, we left this event to go to Kolstad’s party. The 5th ward City Council candidate, Natalie Johnson Lee, was just arriving. She told us that preliminary election results showed that Don Samuels had received less than 50% of the First Choice votes. It seemed a hopeful sign.

The gathering at the Jager Club was equally lively although more people were packed into a smaller space. Besides Papa John Kolstad, a number of City Council candidates endorsed by the Republican and Independence Parties were there including Roger Smithrud, Kris Broberg, Mike Tupper, and Kim Vlaisavljevich. I also ran into Paul Harmon (who had produced a video for my 2008 campaign), Peter Tharaldson (the 5th district Independence Party chair), and Alan Shilepsky (my old friend, formerly of the Independence Party and now a Republican.)

Kolstad’s son, “Cadillac Kolstad”, who has a honky tonk or perhaps “wild west” singing routine, was performing in front of the room. An engaging young woman associated with his act, named “Tomahawk Tassels”, introduced herself to Carney and me. Her literature called her “the Cherokee seductress” and said she taught “classes on the art of seduction.” She was indeed personally seductive although I never heard her sing.

There was, however, a downside to the evening. Several people sitting at tables with their computer notebooks were starting to learn disturbing election results. Rybak was winning by a landslide. Kolstad, in second place, was far behind. I was getting between 100 and 200 votes at that time - back to the level of votes I had received in the 2001 mayoral election. None of the other candidates there was doing well either.

To tell the truth, I did not feel like socializing any more. I just wanted to go home. I might have gone up to the podium to make a short statement but did not. Kolstad and Phil Willkie, a BET candidate who was grandson of Wendell Willkie (the Republican Party's nominee for President in 1940) , instead made statements. I spoke briefly with Willkie on the way out the door but when I started to explain what New Dignity Party was all about (especially its identity plank), he was no longer interested in talking with me. I drove Carney home and then returned to my own home.

the election results

The results of the mayoral election were as follows: R.T. Rybak, 33,220 votes (73.63% of total); Papa John Kolstad, 4,949 votes (10.97%); Al Flowers, 1,783 votes (3.95%); Dick Franson, 1,569 votes (3.48%); Christopher Clark, 1,340 votes (2.97%); Tom Fiske, 655 votes (1.45%); Joey Lombard, 439 votes (0.97%); James Everett, 354 votes (0.78%); Bill McGaughey, 230 votes (0.51%); Bob Carney, 229 votes, (0.51%); and John Charles Wilson, 134 votes (0.30%). I was essentially tied with Carney for second-to-last place in the mayor’s race.

How did my colleagues in New Dignity Party do? It was hardly any better.

The results for the Park Board at large positions were: Bob Fine, 8,089 votes (22.09% of total); Annie Young, 6,934 votes (18.94%); John Erwin, 6,360 votes (17.37%); Mary Merrill Anderson, 5,392 votes (14.73%); Tom Nordyke, 3,709 votes (10.13%); David Wahlstedt, 2,804 votes (7.66%); Nancy Bernard, 2,012 votes (5.50%); and John Butler, 1,110 votes (3.03%). The top three vote getters - Fine, Young, and Erwin - were elected.

The results for the Board of Estimate and Taxation were: Carol Jean Becker, 16,704 votes (52.12% of total); David Wheeler, 6,093 votes (19.01%); Phil Willkie, 2,946 votes (9.19%); R. Michael Martens, 2,779 votes (8.67%); Dewayne Townsend, 2,316 votes (7.23%); and James Elliot Swartwood, 971 votes (3.03%). The top two vote getters - Becker and Wheeler - were elected. Both Swartwood and Butler received more votes than I did and both received a higher percentage of the total votes cast. However, both candidates finished in last place in their respective races.

It was notable, however, that the proposal to abolish the Board of Estimate and Taxation was defeated by a two-to-one margin. Mayor Rybak had backed that proposal.

In the Council races, the people who participated in the MPRAC debates all lost to DFL candidates: Dave Bicking in the 9th ward, 815 votes (27.28%); Kris Broberg in the 13th ward, 1,578 votes (26.39%); Michael Katch in the 7th ward, 1,036 votes (23.63%); in the 5th ward, Kenya McKnight, 336 votes (15.56%), Lennie Chism 60 votes (2.78%), and Roger Smithrud 92 votes (4.26%); in the 4th ward, Marcus Harcus 442 votes (13.41%) and Grant Cermak 384 votes (11.65%): in the 10th ward, Kim Vlaisavljevich 341 votes (10.25%), Matt Dowgwillo 291 votes (8.75%), and Dan Alvin 283 votes (8.51%); and Mike Tupper, 290 votes (15.08%) in the 6th ward. Two candidates running for the Board of Estimate and Taxation who had come to our meeting also lost: Michael Martens 2,779 votes (8.67%), and Dewayne Townsend 2,316 votes (7.23%). What more can I say?

Since this election used the Ranked Choice Voting system, the candidates for city offices also received Second Choice and Third Choice votes. I did slightly better in those categories. I had 416 Second Choice votes (1.89%) and 480 Third Choice votes (3.09%). Jim Swartwood had 1,060 Second Choice votes (5.76%) and 1,170 Third Choice votes (9.89%). John Butler had 1,073 Second Choice votes (4.30%) and 960 Third Choice votes (4.71%). This made little difference for any of us. In my case, R.T. Rybak won an outright majority of the First Choice votes so he was re-elected mayor without the need for further counting. In Swartwood’s and Butler’s case, they were both eliminated after the first round of voting.

In some city elections, Ranked Choice Voting did come into play. In the 4th ward, Barb Johnson had 46.92% of the First Choice votes - 3.08% short of a majority. The Second Choice votes going to her in the second round assured her re-election. Likewise, in the 5th ward, Don Samuels had 46.99% of the First Choice votes. He also gained re-election in the second round from the Second Choice votes going to him. Those were the closest races among candidates for the City Council. The DFL candidates even won clear majorities for open seats. Ironically, the Council Member with the highest percentage of First Choice votes (84.12%) was Cam Gordon, a Green Party member who was also supported by the DFL.

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