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A Publicity Event at the Site of Uncle Bill’s Food Market

 

Chapter Three

Because my race for mayor was uphill, I ran an unconventional campaign focusing upon particular events and issues which I thought had game-changing potential. One of those events was the community celebration held at the site of the store formerly known as Uncle Bill’s Food Market, at the corner of Sheridan and Plymouth avenues in north Minneapolis, on Saturday, September 19, 2009.

The seeds of this event were planted in the conversation that I had with Lennie Chism, the new owner of the building at Sheridan and Plymouth, at the MPRAC meeting on August 19th. Chism said he liked the idea of a mock cafe or community celebration where Uncle Bill’s had once stood. Most people are just talkers but Chism is also a doer. I was impressed when I learned that he was hosting a “small business rally” at Uncle Bill’s to “bring small business back to north Minneapolis” under the auspices of Springboard Economic Development Corporation.

I called up Chism to say I would attend. He had arranged to block off part of Sheridan Avenue and set up tables for participating organizations. Chism was asking for $100 sponsorships to help defray the expense. I agreed to tap MPRAC’s treasury for that purpose. I did not agree, however, when Chism asked for the group’s financial help in a lawsuit against the city. Our mission is to generate publicity about situations involving city government, not feed lawyers. The expense of such lawsuits could overwhelm our small group.

I conceived an initiative of my own in connection with this event. In the 1940s and 1950s, my father had worked closely with George Romney at the Automobile Manufacturers Association and American Motors Corporation. I had gone to summer camp and later to a welding class with Scott Romney, George’s oldest son. The younger son, Mitt, had been a leading contender for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008. He was rumored to have Presidential ambitions in 2012.

I thought that I would invite Mitt Romney to be one of the “customers” at Lennie Chism’s sidewalk cafe. He could sit at a table outside the condemned building pleasantly talking with other “customers” (maybe with Uncle Bill) and the media. I thought it might be good for Mitt Romney’s career as a Republican to be helping a small business owner who was dealing with abusive city government associated with Democratic Party. The publicity which Mitt’s appearance might attract would, of course, be good for us as event promoters. The problem was that Mitt Romney, seven years younger than I, did not know me. His brother Scott did. So I contacted Scott Romney by email to pitch my proposal.

Scott did reply. He remembered me and thanked me for contacting him. His question was: “Has Pawlenty taken a position on this?” The truth of the matter was that I had no personal association with Governor Pawlenty (who was expected to be one of Mitt Romney’s rivals for the 2012 Republican nomination) and had hardly thought of him in connection with this event. I emailed back to Scott Romney that I did not think Pawlenty was aware of this particular situation. I suggested inviting Pawlenty, too. In a subsequent message, Scott wrote: “Mitt's schedule has been set for some time and I am afraid he cannot attend.  Thanks for thinking of him.  I would love to see you if you come to Detroit and I will look you up when I am in Minneapolis.”

So that was a futile and perhaps hair-brained scheme. It made sense to me, on my level, but perhaps not to a prospective Presidential candidate with a good chance of winning. Building condemnations in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods were below the radar of respectable political discourse. Mitt Romney knew what he was doing. And, of course, there could have been a scheduling conflict. Last-minute invitations to important persons are apt to be rejected.

But this was still a cause that I wished to support. Even though a mayoral forum - in fact, the first one - would be held at the Waite Park Community Center in northeast Minneapolis at the same time, I cancelled my earlier acceptance of it to be at Lennie Chism’s event. The condemnation of a building in order to close a grocery store that was alleged to attract criminals was one of my core issues. I was thoroughly familiar with the situation and wanted to address it as a mayoral candidate. After all, Mayor Rybak himself had ordered city inspectors to find something wrong with the building and condemn it so crime would go away. Better to do something than merely attend a candidate forum.

My principal activity had been to interview “Uncle Bill” Sanigular and write up his story. This I posted on the web at http://www.landlordpolitics.com/unclebill.html. I also posted a article about Uncle Bill’s that had appeared in City Pages, an alternative newspaper. (See http://www.landlordpolitics.com/citypagesarticle.html.) With a repository of information about this situation, I posted several messages on the Minneapolis e-democracy list to inform its 1,100 subscribers of the event. Links to my landlordpolitics.com website were provided.

events on that day

The event on September 19th did not draw a big crowd. No media covered it other than Terry Yzaguirre’s Mplsmirror.com. I did bring signs and a bullhorn to the event in case we needed them. Having paid $100, we at Metro Property Rights Action Committee had our own table. It was unattended most of the time. My friend, Ed Eubanks, was there from St. Paul. Later in the day I saw Barb Davis White, the Republican candidate for Congress last year. We spoke to each other pleasantly and were photographed together. Most of the other people attending the event seemed to be friends of Chism’s.

Lennie Chism removed the board from the front door of the condemned building and turned the electricity on so that event attendees could have a look inside. After Rybak’s meeting with inspectors, the city had condemned this building because of alleged structural defects even though the same building had received a clean bill of health in an inspection by the same people six months earlier.
There were alleged to be “sagging floor joists” in the building. Armed with a digital camera, I wanted to see them. Several groups of people, including fellow mayoral candidate Kolstad, went down to the basement to take a look. No sagging joists were visible to us. In fact, the structure was held up by exceptionally sturdy and thick wooden beams. The Fire Department inspectors seemed to have made up the evidence they used to condemn this building.

Condemned site of Uncle Bill's Food Market | left: front of Uncle Bill's store | center: Bill McGaughey looks for "sagging floor joists" | right: abandoned shelving in store

During the day, Terry Yzaguirre videotaped Chism’s event. I suggested that she interview Uncle Bill Sanigular and his wife, Jean, in their home on Upton Avenue. Uncle Bill is a diabetic confined to a wheel chair who normally does not leave his home. Yzaguirre did the interview in Sanigular’s living room and put together a report for Mplsmirror.com. Other than that, there was no media coverage. My postings on e-democracy forum drew flak from several Samuels supporters. I prepared my own report on the celebration and posted it at http://www.landlordpolitics.com/unclebill2.html. Some photos were taken in the basement.

The community celebration on Sept. 19th | left: tables on Sheridan Avenue | center: Lennie Chism, Papa John Kolstad, Bill McGaughey | right: Terry Yzaguirre, Lennie Chism

The “community celebration” took place on Saturday, September 19th. On Wednesday, September 23rd, Jean Sanigular called me to report that “contractors” had been sighted at their former grocery store removing items from the store. We were not sure who those people were. I posted this news on e-democracy forum and again received flak from City Hall loyalists. A subsequent visit revealed that the contractors, Bauer Brothers, were removing valuables such as the refrigerated units in the store which had originally cost more than $100,000. Was I interested in buying them? No, I was interested in filming the event.

Friday, September 25th, was demolition day. A back hoe took down the building in a single day. Now there were no more “sagging floor joists”. The evidence was gone.

Destruction of a building and a dream | left: Jean & Bill Sanigular | center: the backhoe eats the building | right: the end is near

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