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Chapter Fifteen

 

Post Mortem

 

Looking at the mayoral race only, I offer the following comments. Mayor Rybak won by a decisive margin because he was much better known than the other candidates, he was endorsed by the DFL Party, he was the first big-city mayor to endorse Barack Obama, he had funds to do an extensive mailing, and voters were probably satisfied with the way the city was run. After all, the crime rate was down significantly. Voters did not blame Rybak for the city’s precarious finances, given cuts in local government aid from the state and the downswing in the economy. Mayor Rybak remains a highly photogenic candidate, articulate and informed, and in line with majority thinking on political matters. The media coverage of this race (or lack of it) also helped Rybak. The DFL party organization also did although its sample ballot this year did not arrive until after the election.

Some of the other candidates who seemed to me to have done little campaigning also did relatively well in terms of votes received. The Libertarian candidate, Christopher Clark, and the Socialist Workers Party, Tom Fiske, finished in fifth and sixth place respectively. I would attribute their relatively strong showing to the fact that they ran as candidates of established political parties. Those parties had a certain name recognition and a certain following. Dick Franson, the fourth place finisher, was personally well known, having once been an alderman, having been a candidate in so many previous elections, and having also done some advertising.

Al Flowers, in third place, had been in the news many times and had two cable television shows that had a following. He had won a lawsuit against the city and some visibility as the result of a feud with Don Samuels. His approach to city issues was informative, straightforward, and sincere, if not occasionally confrontational.

Papa John Kolstad, in second place, was endorsed by both the Republican and Independence Parties. (He might have made a mistake in using the term “Independent Civic Leader” to identify himself because some voters did not know of his major-party endorsements.) However, Kolstad was also more often in the news than some of the other candidates. He had a gift for reaching out to people. John Kolstad was known to many people in the Twin Cities as an entertainer, businessman, health-care expert, and small-business promoter. He had also debated Rybak.

Looking at the bottom half of the list, we see that Joey Lombard, the seventh-place finisher, finished well ahead of John Charles Wilson, the last place finisher, even though both candidates were the butt of ridicule. Lombard’s, however, was a kinder sort of ridicule than Wilson’s; he was just a young musician wanting to have fun. His girl friend had dumped him because he had not done enough to change the world; so he ran for mayor. Wilson, on the other hand, seemed to be championing an ideology that was delusional and bizarre. He might have had mental health issues.

I think I also came under that cloud: Remember the guy on the US e-democracy forum (the one who called me a liar) who referred to my “ megalomania” and my possible Alzheimer's? Was New Dignity Party some kind of racist cult? (Americans are conditioned by television sitcoms to think of political activists motivated by unfamiliar ideas as zombies ready to swallow poisoned Kool-Aid.) Despite my landlord activities, I was less well known. New Dignity Party, to the extent it was known, was a projection of my grandiosity.

The other two candidates, Everett and Carney, were moderately well known. Everett had run for Governor once before, and Carney had made a splash in the current mayoral campaign. I think Bob Carney should have done better than he did with respect to the election results but, then again, the voters remained largely unaware of the mayoral race. We may have thought that a significant “insurgency” was taking place but this may have been only in our own small corner of the world. Few others knew about it.

analysis of what went wrong

I know that a fair number of people visited the New Dignity Party website. Usage statistics show an average of 62 unique visitors and 235 hits per day in October. This increased to 133 visitors and 777 hits on November 1st; 575 visits and 3,707 hits on November 2nd; and 1,053 visits and 7,108 hits on November 3rd, election day. Traffic has since subsided to the October level or below. What this tells me is that Minneapolis voters were conscientious in informing themselves about the mayor’s race. My problem was that they did not like what they saw when it came to my candidacy. There were 1,053 visitors to my site on election day, and only 230 people gave me their First Choice votes. Evidently, I had failed to persuade.

What in the website might have turned voters off? Perhaps it was the racial aspect.

The statement, “we like white people”, might have offended some people. What was this “new paradigm in the politics of identity”? Few knew or wanted to spend time finding out. The race question is undoubtedly tough and even embarrassing for many Americans. If you want to change people’s hearts and minds in this area, it will take much more persuading than through first impressions from a website.

Frankly, I think another negative factor in the website was the pictures of three white males - Swartwood, Butler, and me - lined up in a row at the top of the page. The same photos were also at the top of Page Two. That might have given the impression that ours was a party of white males and other kinds of people need not apply. Our faces were unsmiling. None of us wore coat and tie. We were all middle-aged men running for political office or trying to start a new political party. Most organizations these days have enough public-relations sense to put a feminine face on their message; not us rubes.

I do not know how the half-hour discussion of race with Ed Eubanks might have affected the vote for mayor. Obviously, it must not have impressed that many people. But this MTN production represented my best shot at having a real dialogue about identity politics. It apparently did not work. Next time, a more photogenic spokesperson might be need to be found to represent this point of view.

I was interested to know how the placement of lawn signs and distribution of literature might have affected the election results. The little joke at the top of the sign - “I want my dignity and I want it now!” might have offended more people than it amused. Jim Swartwood said that a neighbor took offense from the name of the party because he sometimes parked a pickup truck loaded with building supplies in front of his garage. That working-class image seemed incongruous with the idea of dignity. People take their dignity seriously.

About two thirds of our lawn signs were placed in north Minneapolis, especially in wards 4 and 5. How did we do there in the election? The signs might have had a positive effect. Even though voter turnout is traditionally low in those wards compared with other parts of the city, I received 25 First Choice votes in Ward 4, and 22 First Choice votes in Ward 5, compared with an average of 17.7 votes per ward for the whole city. Wards 1, 10, and 12 were also higher than average; wards 2, 3, 8, and 9 were lower than average. Other than the two signs placed at the corner of Lowry and Central in Ward 1, I cannot imagine how sign placement would have affected election results in those areas.

How about literature distributions? Keep in mind that there are 140 precincts in the city of Minneapolis and I received a total of 230 votes. I therefore received an average of 1.64 votes per precinct. I distributed my literature in the following precincts: 7-03 (Kenwood), 4 votes; 7-01 (Bryn Mawr), 5 votes; 8-07 & 11-1(Pillsbury Ave.), 1 vote; 11-02, 13-06 & 13-10 (near Washburn library), 4 votes; 13-09 (southwest corner of city), 3 votes; 1-04 (northeast of Lowry and Central), 10 votes; 6-05 & 6-06 (east Phillips), 3 votes; 9-08 & 12-08 (near Roosevelt High School), 6 votes; 10-8 (Aldrich Ave.), 1 vote; and 5-6 (my own precinct), 6 votes.

There seems to have been a positive correlation between precincts where literature was distributed and where I received a higher-than-average vote, though not always. My highest vote was in precinct 1-4, where I received 10 votes. I distributed literature on Polk and Taylor streets in that precinct and also had signs in the community garden at Lowry and Central avenues. On the other hand, I also did relatively well in ward 12 in south Minneapolis where I did not distribute literature and had only a couple of lawn signs. It might be argued, however, that my vote total in this election was so small that such analysis may not mean much.

about the low voter turnout

After the election, the Star Tribune published an article by Steve Brandt whose headline read: “Low-key mayoral contest depressed Minneapolis turnout, officials say.” The article pointed out that only 45,964 persons had cast votes in the Minneapolis city election in 2009, the lowest since 1902. In contrast, 161,713 persons voted in the 1937 city election. Hubert Humphrey received 102,796 votes when he was elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1947. It was the lackluster mayor’s race, more than any other factor, that accounted for the low voter turnout, the article suggested.

This inspired me to write an analysis of the election from the perspective of a losing candidate. I showed it to several other candidates and five of the others - Papa John Kolstad, Al Flowers, Bob Carney, Dick Franson, and John Charles Wilson - subscribed to the statement. It was mailed to a number of people and posted on Mplsmirror.com and NewDignityParty.com.

My analysis argued that, conceding that our candidacies were considered weak, the media aggravated the situation in suggesting that Rybak was a shoo-in for re-election and, by implication, that voters need not show up at the polls. Big media had played a decisive role. Television news reports stressed how little money the candidates except for Rybak had to spend in our campaigns. We had little or no office-holding credentials, name recognition, or anything else. We were just people who had paid $20 filing fees to get our names on the ballot and who therefore deserved little attention.

Then, in the closing days of the campaign came all those blogs ridiculing the lesser-known candidates, especially Lombard and Wilson, but also affecting other candidates. For voters paying scant attention to this election, we were all painted with the same brush. The amusing column about Joey Lombard in the Star Tribune “might as well have been titled ‘Candidates challenging Mayor Rybak’s reelection bid are fruitcakes’,” I wrote in a posting on the e-democracy forum at the time.

And that set the tone for the entire campaign: The mayoral election was a foregone conclusion. Opposition to Rybak was a joke. Why show up at the polls? Rybak really wanted to be Governor, anyhow.

Even so, I had a good personal experience in the campaign for mayor running under the auspices of New Dignity Party. I hope readers of this narrative will understand why.

 

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