Campaigning in the Minneapolis E-democracy Forum
the e-democracy forums
Unless they have plenty of money for advertising, political candidates usually have a problem getting their message out. The commercial media will tell how much money a candidate has or has not raised but seldom what the candidate’s issues are. In the Twin Cities, there is another way to communicate with significant numbers of people: the e-democracy forums. (Link to forum.) St. Paul and Minneapolis each have their own forum whose subscribers discuss issues related to the city. There is also a Minnesota state forum. This year, a U.S. forum was created for discussing national issues.
With 1,198 subscribers, Minneapolis has by far the largest forum. Someone who posts a message to it sends an email message to all 1,198 persons in the group. Conversely, each subscriber is apt to receive an email from anyone on the list, meaning that each day many such messages are received. For candidates, it’s like writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper, knowing that one’s letter will always be published. This electronic “newspaper” has a small circulation but it’s better than nothing.
I currently subscribe to the Minneapolis, state, and U.S. forums. I can post messages on any of them. The Minneapolis list was, of course, the one most appropriate for a person running for mayor of Minneapolis. One would suppose that we had rip-roaring discussions of Minneapolis politics, including the mayoral race. Sadly, the discussion seldom lives up to its potential.
Maybe that’s because of the particular people who belong to this list, especially the people who often post messages. The frequent posters seem all to have a similar mentality. They are political liberals who love to pick at issues as if constructing a Wikipedia page rather than discuss fundamental questions of politics and society. Although the forum has rules governing civility, the discussions can sometimes become nasty. (We call this “Minnesota nice”.) I often butt heads with these people.
the flap about Al Flowers
I jumped into the discussion shortly after Terry Yzaguirre, proprietor of Mplsmirror.com (an electronic newspaper), published a message on the forum on July 17th. It was headlined “Rybak Opponent Al Flowers Slapped With Condemnation Notice.” The text read: “The City of Minneapolis condemned mayoral candidate Al Flowers' home yesterday, July 16th. Flowers, who announced earlier this year that he is running against incumbent Raymond T. Rybak, had the condemnation notice plastered on his door with reason reading water shut off. The Flowers family is to vacate the property by Sunday, July 19th.”
I was not yet then a candidate but had in mind running for mayor myself. One poster wrote: “(S)peaking truth to power is coming at an ever higher price here in Minneapolis”. (Al Flowers had a cable-television show that was regularly critical of city officials.) Another wrote: “(I)t could be as simple as someone not paying the water bill and the water is shut off.” Were Minneapolis city officials trying to harass or intimidate Al Flowers because he was challenging Rybak for mayor; or was Flowers a deadbeat who was being treated like any other person who had neglected to pay his water bill?
I chimed in: “If true (that Flowers was being harassed), this is a MAJOR political story. Why haven't the Star Tribune and other commercial media gotten on it?” (This was a little dig at the Star Tribune political reporter, Steve Brandt, who had belittled my Congressional candidacy the year before.) Brandt sent me a private message: “Given that this was posted after the Star Tribune's deadline last night, I think you're a little premature. I've already talked to Al and his landlord.”
I fired back: “Does Startribune.com have a faster turnaround time? It's been 12 hours since Terry's post.” Brandt replied: “And two hours since I got to work. The Star Tribune does not institutionally monitor posts on the thousands of listservs out there. Reporters do that, and I happened to be scheduled to work today.”
The next thing I knew Mplsmirror.com had posted a video on its site that claimed to show water running from a faucet in Flowers’ home. No one came forth to claim that this was not Flowers’ home or that someone had tampered with the shutoff valve. Even if Flowers was behind in paying his water bill, that, in itself, does not constitute a health hazard requiring that the building be condemned. The harassment theory seemed to be gaining strength.
After a Rybak loyalist on the list repeated the theory that it was simply a matter of Flowers not having paid his water bill, I posted the following message on July 18th:
“ Apologists for the current city administration would have us believe that there is no major political story in the recent report that a house owned by Al Flowers, Rybak’s principal opponent in the forthcoming mayoral election, was condemned for lack of water. Nonsense. There certainly is a story. Any normally alert political person would recognize it.
With respect to water shutoffs being a simple legal matter, there is a question whether in this case the water was actually shut off. The MPLSMIRROR article states: ‘I went over to the house today only to discover that the water was running just fine.??’ The article in MPLSMIRROR also discloses that Flowers was hit with $800 in inspection fees for having some windows without screens even though a number of homes in the area were in a similar situation. Sure looks like harassment to me, especially in light of Flowers’ past disputes with city elected officials.
The Star Tribune, evidently lacking the resources which the MPLSMIRROR has for timely news reporting, is working on a story on the Flowers condemnation. Further details may soon become available on this situation.”
In the end, Brandt did do a story about Al Flowers which appeared in the paper on July 19th. It was factual and balanced. (The theme: Flowers said he was harassed. The head of city inspections said he was not.) My attention now turned to how a building could be condemned for lack of water when the water was still running and whether Flowers intended to remain in his home. Brandt now took a shot at me: “If people are going hop in with conclusions, they might bother to get their facts straight first . Al doesn’t own the house; he rents it.” Touche. He caught me on that one. Brandt also wrote: “I would think that accurate reporting is more important than timely reporting.” Not an issue with me, Mr. Brandt.
Apologists for the current city administration offered these insights: “I noticed that Al Flowers has not yet filed for the Mayor's race. And, by the way, the Water Department has always made payment arrangements for folks who need more time.” And again: “I smell a big, fat stinky rat at this whole circus act of trying to drum up some publicity for poor sweet little Al Flowers.” And again: “"It's both hilarious and sad, at once, that the North Side political climate is so noxious that a probable bill non-payment, and its automatic response from the city bureaucrats, is treated by some like some kind of evil plot on the part of RT Rybak."
I responded with a message on July 19th: “The proposed condemnation of the house where Al Flowers is living goes to the heart of the integrity of the political process in Minneapolis. This should be of concern to all on this list. Elected officials in Minneapolis have a history of interfering in inspections decisions ... I thought Rybak was above this, but now I'm not so sure. Of course, I have no hard information that Mayor Rybak, his aides, or others in city government ordered city inspectors to harass Al Flowers. But neither is it likely that this a simple computer-generated outcome. Flowers reported a rash of inspections citations since he announced for mayor in April. The $800 inspections charge for torn or broken screens is draconian. Flowers is known to be detested by certain city officials. Exercise a bit of common sense here.”
There were other skirmishes between me and members of the journalistic and political establishments. “Bernie” (Jim Bernstein), the chairman of the Minneapolis charter commission, wrote: “Only Michelle Bachmann and her nutty ‘it's all a conspiracy’ believers could possibly think that Mayor Rybak has any hand in this! Mayor Rybak has nothing to fear from Al Flowers in this election.”
Steve Brandt followed up with this observation: “As to McGaughey's dissatisfaction with (inspections chief) Reimer's denial because he wouldn't admit it if it wasn't true, McGaughey seems to expect that reporters have super-powers to know when someone is truthful, in the absence of concrete information. I recognize that some of the folks on those list have those super-powers, given their confident assertion of a multitude of conspiracy theories, but I missed out when those powers were handed out, and have to rely on the old-fashioned technique of empiricism.”
I let Bernie have it in the shorts: “Michele Bachmann has nothing to do with the controversy over Al Flowers and his condemned home. That situation is remote from any issue that she or her followers espouse. To associate her with critics of the city’s inspection practices, throwing in the word ‘nutty’, is an attempt to smear me and other critics (of city policy). It is troubling that someone who chairs the Minneapolis Charter Commission would stoop to that tactic. We are not of Bachmann's political persuasion nor is there any reasonable similarity between her issues and ours.”
To Steve Brandt, I had this to say: “According to Brandt, I was asking him to have ‘super-powers’ of knowing whether the city's director of housing inspections, Henry Reimer, was truthful in his assertion that inspections decisions are not influenced by elected officials. No, I was merely asking forum readers to take Mr. Reimer's statement of denial with a grain of salt. I do not think that my raising this issue means that I or other critics of inspections policies think that we have exaggerated mental powers, as Brandt sarcastically suggests.
Yes, I think it was important to nail down the apparent contradiction between condemning a house for lack of water and visible evidence that the water was still running. Maybe it was hard to get such evidence on a weekend, but now the weekend is over. Mr. Brandt, it's never too late! With respect to conspiracy theories: gentlemen, that old canard will not work in this case.” (There was not a further peep out of either of them.)
I happened to run into Al Flowers about this time. He told me that the water bill had been paid. If I understood him correctly, it might even have been paid on time. He was still living in the same house. That answered one of my questions. However, the chief mystery was resolved in an article that appeared on July 22nd in the Star Tribune. (I had previously needled Brandt with this comment: “ It would be nice to know if the water is still running and, if so, why the house was condemned. Maybe some curious newspaper reporter will want to know, too, and will provide answers to these questions.”)
Brandt wrote in the article that Henry Reimer supposed that public-works crews might have made a mistake in thinking the water was turned off due to an antiquated "malfunctioning stop-cock valve". I had never heard of this device but it was enough to satisfy me. I promptly announced that “this will be my last posting on the subject.”
I had not intended to get into this discussion as a mayoral candidate. Flowers was a rival candidate, after all. It was just that the situation with Flowers seemed so strange. He may or may not have paid his water bill on time. However, to condemn a house for lack of water when the water was still running was beyond reason. Was this a plot hatched by Mayor Rybak against one of his rivals? Probably not. But someone in the city administration was out to get Flowers by pulling this kind of stunt.
Clearly, the condemnation of Flowers’ home was “news” because Flowers was an announced candidate for mayor. It could reasonably be inferred that this news would hurt Flowers’ candidacy. The whole matter stank, especially since so many people were willing to explain it away as a routine response to nonpayment of a water bill.
The irony was that I had intended to raise the issue of white people being misunderstood, or of their identity being twisted, when in this case an African-American candidate for mayor was being persecuted by a largely white political establishment. This was not part of New Dignity Party’s agenda, strictly speaking. The case did, however, fit into the party’s other two themes: the city’s abuse of its regulatory powers and poor political reporting by the news media. So maybe that’s why I took up Al Flowers’ cause. Was it Emerson who said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”?
an alleged physical threat
The next issue that I raised on the list had to do with a lawsuit against Council Member Don Samuels and the city by a northside landlord who claimed that in 2007 he was physically threatened by Samuels and pinned against the wall at the Butter Roll bakery on Broadway. This brought the usual response from Samuels’ defenders suggesting that “slumlords” - (I am a landlord) - dislike Samuels because he holds us accountable for tolerating crime.
“ But it's not your problem is it?,” one person wrote. “Although when there are consequences for landlords for their choice of tenants they don't like it quite as well, do they? Gives you a little taste of what the neighborhood endures when landlords make poor choices or just don't care. Not very pleasant is it? Most landlords are not slumlords but some are and if the name fits a slumlord should wear it.” I thought I’d go out and order a “slumlord” sweatshirt right away - but also not go near the Butter Roll Bakery.
This brouhaha did not last long. Next, on September 7th, I posted something that I thought would help my campaign. I began a discussion thread titled “New Dignity Party” which announced that the party would have an Open House at the North Regional Library the following evening. The posting identified the three issues presented on the party website, adding this comment:
“ While issues relating to the economy may be most important to the American people, there seems to be no way that an effective opposition can be developed to the plutocracy that has emerged in recent years. Discussion of economic questions has become too polarized and fixed in ideologically hardened positions ... Part of the problem is that we have lost faith in ourselves. We need therefore to take another look at ourselves and, if dissatisfied with what we see, decide how to reframe our identity. At the present time, this may be a more urgent concern for white people than for racial minorities. The race problem continues to fester and will likely not improve unless the culture is substantially changed. But the question of identity is broader than this. On it may depend whether a full-functioning democracy can be restored.”
This was a fairly provocative posting given the politics of our time but not one that drew much comment. One man wrote: “Count me curious, but not yet committed. Will try to make it.” He was the only one on the list who responded. In fact, no one showed up at the meeting at the North Regional Library on September 8th except for John Butler and me.
an event at a condemned building
On September 18th, I stirred the political pot once more with a posting titled “Uncle Bill's Food Market: Why certain top officials in Minneapolis do not deserve reelection.” This was an announcement of Lennie Chism’s “community celebration” at the site of the former grocery store on Plymouth and Sheridan avenues. I gave a short history of the store and its unfortunate demise. There was a link to my report on this subject at http://www.landlordpolitics.com/unclebill.html. It was clear from a Star Tribune article that both Mayor Rybak and Don Samuels had pressured city inspectors to condemn the building.
This posting did draw comment. The same man, Carey Joe Howell, who had urged me to accept the slumlord label now wrote: “Oh, Puleeeeze! Are you kidding me? This place has a terrible history of crime and Lennie bought it after he knew it was going to be demolished. The neighborhood begged the city to deal with this property!!!!!! Big Bad Conspiracy..............” Another said: “I'm with Carey ... The problems at the store repeatedly came up in letters -- a few dozen from neighborhood residents, including me -- that were sent to Samuels' office. To suggest he's arrogant for claiming to represent the neighborhood seems to suggest a misunderstanding of how constituent services work in the city council.”
I replied: “No doubt there were many letters to Don Samuels, including from persons on this list, urging that Uncle Bill's Food Market be closed down. That does not make it right.” The city had been unable to find evidence of crime at the store that would stand up in court so it went the inspections route. Mob justice did not impress me.
On September 24th - three days after Chism’s event - I began my next set of postings: “Contractors arrive to remove valuables from Uncle Bill's Food Market”. This was in reference to Jean Sanigular’s phone call to me. It seemed that stripping the building of valuable items (such as the refrigeration units) signaled that its demolition was near. Who owned these items? Chism had told me that he was instructed not to touch them. I compared this situation to the Metro Gang Unit confiscating property belonging to others so the officers could profit personally from this. It was, I said, a human-rights violation.
A woman named Megan Goodmundson, who was close to Samuels, wrote: “There is so much false info and hyperbole in Bill's writing that it is hard to even know where to start ... They (the unidentified contractors) are/were removing asbestos material and garbage. Assuming the appliances were still inside, I imagine they would consider them garbage. I highly doubt the city told Lennie Chism to NOT remove anything from the building, and if they did, I challenge Bill or Lennie to forward those documents with those orders to the list. Upload the file and prove your word ... Lennie, with Bill's help, is obviously trying to lay the ground work for a lawsuit against the city.”
I shot back: “What exactly is your relationship with Don Samuels? I am not ‘helping’ Lennie Chism lay the ground work for a lawsuit against the city unless, unknown to me, Chism is using some of my writings to aid in such a venture ... Chism told me that he was forbidden to remove valuable items from the building since it was condemned. Megan, if you know otherwise, I'll convey that information to Chism so, if interested, he can get there before the contractors. You evidently have a pipeline to information about the contractors' plans if it is only ‘asbestos material and garbage’ that they want to remove.”
Constance Sullivan then chimed in: “Bill: Please answer Megan's question/request: Post the official order to Chism that prohibited his removing anything valuable from the building. Or forever hold your peace on this claim. It's not Megan's responsibility to prove claims that YOU make.”
Michelle Lewis added this comment about Ali Hassan Meshjell, the last owner of the grocery store: “Ali certainly took out a lot of stuff after the property was first boarded--I'd be surprised if he decided to leave anything ‘valuable.’ Although, since Ali lived out in the burbs and drove down to our neighborhood in his Lexus SUV and/or Mercedes sedan every day to sell expired twinkies (and watch over the massive narcotics activity documented by undercover police stings), and Lennie isn't able to keep any of his properties out of foreclosure, I concede that Lennie and Ali might have different definitions of ‘valuable.’"
This was incorrect information. According to a City Pages reporter, “the city (of Minneapolis) was unable to gather sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, despite stationing an undercover investigator at the store for 45 days.” But the jackals were closing in on me.
Megan Goodmundson, disclaiming any relationship with Samuels other than being a fellow “neighbor with whom I share some similar values and beliefs about how to improve my neighborhood”, made this comment: “I don't have any other info about if the city did or did not give instructions to Lennie, I just expressed my disbelief and challenged him or you to prove what you are saying, instead of expecting people to just swallow your bucket full of lies and disseminating false information. “
“ What lies? What false information?,” I asked in a subsequent posting: “A ‘lie’ is a statement conveying false information and, beyond that, it is information which the person knows to be false. Often, it is also a statement made with malicious intent. Goodmundson does not know the content of my mind (as I do not know the content of hers) so her presumption of my knowingly making a false statement is beyond her scope of information. She makes the accusation anyhow ... Maybe the phrase ‘bucket of lies’ is meant to relieve her of the need to identify specific lies. Those lies, like water, exist amorphously inside a metaphorical ‘bucket’ of some sort, perhaps her own mind. To call someone a liar, especially without citing evidence, seems to me to violate certain rules of civility that this forum has.”
In response to Lewis’ posting, I wrote: “I did not know that Ali drove a Lexus and lived in the suburbs. But what does it matter? This observation merely shows that part of the animus against Ali was economic envy. He, an Iraqi immigrant, seemed to be making lots of money while we, the deserving ones, who were unwilling to stand behind a store counter many hours each day, were comparative failures. Did Ali sell expired Twinkies? Then don't buy them. I believe in the free-market system enough to suppose that if someone is proposing to sell shoddy products at high prices, the customers have a remedy in buying elsewhere.”
“ This, of course, is not the issue,” I added. “The issue is whether the city had a legitimate interest in tearing down the building. To my mind, that would mean that the building was actually unsafe. Clearly the issue cited by neighbors was something else - crime. In other words, it was the behavior of customers or others frequenting the store ... I say, we need to develop a better model for dealing with crime or unruly behavior in or near commercial buildings. The current model is a cop-out by city officials. There needs to be a more cooperative relationship between the two parties since crime is harmful both to the city and the particular business. If I'm elected mayor, I'll stop the current practice in its tracks.”
Carey Joe Howell now moved in for the kill: “So far, you (Bill McGaughey) haven't proven any of your allegations. Bring forward your proof for every allegation you have made. Cite your source. Anything!”
I responded: “I have cited my sources. With respect to Lennie Chism's not being allowed to remove items of value from the building, I said that Chism had told me that. Megan Goodmundson wrote: ‘I highly doubt the city told Lennie Chism to NOT remove anything from the building, and if they did, I challenge Bill or Lennie to forward those documents with those orders to the list. Upload the file and prove your word.’ Baloney. It's possible that Chism talked with a representative of the city and was told this. That's a credible source. I do not owe you files with written documents; and you will get no such thing from me. Go fish!”
I added: “I'm tired of sycophants for city officials acting as attack dogs to defend their bad practices when people bring them to light.” That comment set Howell back on his heels. He replied with all the wry irony he could muster: “I don't think calling people who disagree with you names is very productive. I haven't seen anybody call you a pontificating, hysterical blowhard.”
I may have pontificated, but I won the argument. The discussion now came to an end. My only posting beyond this was to announce on September 26th that interested persons could see photos of the grocery store on the ground if they were interested. The building demolition had taken place.
Flowers back in the news
Just when we thought personal attacks against candidates were behind us, Al Flowers was back in the pages of the Star Tribune with an allegation of marijuana possession. Megan Goodmundson, at 3:36 p.m. on October 2nd, was first to break the news: “I think it might be a wise thing for Al Flowers to drop out of the Mayor's race and I think it will soon be obvious to everyone WHY.”
Two hours later, the Star Tribune political reporter, Steve Brandt, confirmed that a significant development was in the works: “People interested in Al Flowers may want to keep an eye on Startribune.com this evening...” What was it? Evidently, Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies had raided a house in Edina belonging to a convicted drug dealer and found Al Flowers’ wallet and a small amount of marijuana in a bedroom, along with some of Flowers’ campaign literature.
The Star Tribune article was headlined “Mpls mayoral candidate accused of pot possession.” That was a strange way of putting it since Flowers was not even in the house where the marijuana was found at the time of the raid. The article said that a representative of the sheriff’s department had said that “deputies ticketed Flowers for possessing a small amount of marijuana.” Flowers’ attorney issued a written statement that Flowers “is not aware of any allegation that marijuana was located on him or that he was arrested.” He was not arrested, in fact. Flowers sued the city and all charges against him were later dropped.
What was this, then - another politically motivated attack on Al Flowers? I wrote: “The way the campaign for mayor is reported is truly amazing. First we had a report on this forum from Megan Goodmundson (who knows and likes Don Samuels but has no official connection to him) to the effect that Al Flowers might be dropping out of the race, with a further hint that there was a reason he might wish to do so. Then we had an article in Startribune.com disclosing that law-enforcement officials had ticketed Flowers for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Indeed, if you look at the Startribune.com, you do not find a statement that marijuana was found on Flowers personally but that Flowers' wallet was found in a bedroom of a house ... Normally people carry their wallets with them. Had the wallet inadvertently fallen out of Flowers' pocket while he was in this bedroom? Does Flowers often sleep in other people's homes? The story does not make sense.”
Continuing, I wrote: “Even more puzzling or significant is how and why this information reached the Star Tribune. Are its reporters embedded in the Violent Offenders Task Force? Probably not. Likely Sheriff's department officials wanted the Star Tribune to know about this incident for reasons that include Flowers' running for mayor. The Star Tribune chose to publish the story of the charges brought against Flowers - report the campaign from the gutter, so to speak - where it has declined to report other situations relating to the mayor's race which, in my opinion, are more significant.
I think there are two questions which need to be asked and answered in reporting the campaign for mayor. First, does the incumbent mayor, R.T. Rybak, deserve reelection? Second, if Rybak does not deserve reelection, which of the other candidates should replace him?”
Steve Brandt, one of the two reporters listed for this story, answered one of my questions: “No embeds, Bill. We were tipped off by a private citizen who heard the rumors. If we were embedded, we wouldn’t have waited 11 days to report it. As for reporting from the gutter, I think that we'd report a similar charge against any person running for mayor --you included. A few people may recall several Star Tribune articles last year about the mayor driving on a suspended license.”
I had to concede: “The reference to being embedded was not entirely serious. Steve, I admit that allegation of drug use by a candidate is legitimate news but my main point was that important issues related to inspections abuse do not receive balanced, if any, reporting.”
The topic was given a new twist in a thread titled: “Who gives a tinker's cuss if Flowers is still in the mayoral contest?” Tony Hill wrote: “It is amazing to see people discuss this on the list as if it matters. There isn't any question who the winner of the mayoral contest will be. The only question is if Mayor R.T. Rybak will beat the 82 percent Don Fraser got in 1985, which, other than the time Orlando Merriman ran unopposed, was the largest share of the vote in the city's history ... If there is only 25 percent vote against Rybak and it splits 10 different ways, he just might win 75-5 percent over the second place finisher.”
As a mayoral candidate, I could not let this pass. I wrote: “Where are Hill's credentials to peer so accurately into the future? No one knows what the results of this year’s election will be. What I would say is that, if all the news reporting of the mayoral campaign is that Rybak is a shoo-in, this will probably become a self-fulfilling prophecy ... OK, for all those who think Rybak's challengers are political midgets with no chance of winning, I have a suggestion. Focus not on us but on Rybak. What has been his record? Does he deserve reelection? If the news media would run a few stories of this kind, some life would remain in this year's campaign. If a fuller record came out, maybe some of us challengers would even have a chance.”
It turned out that Hill was an acknowledged expert in predicting elections. He let me know privately that “I have an MA in political science and am ABD for a Ph.D. in political science from MIT. I have worked for Harvard and NBC News. I have developed a model for forecasting Canadian elections that routinely beats the CBC by at least 7 minutes.” I replied: “Yes, you have the credentials but how does your model apply to the mayor's race in Minneapolis?”
Hill responded: “My election-night forecasting model does not pertain, but I start with these facts: “The current mayor was elected with 64.7 percent of the vote. He was re-elected in 2005 with 61.5 percent against an elected official who had been in office much longer than he had ... These facts say that Minneapolis is a one-party city and anyone who claims that the DFL incumbent mayor, facing only token opposition, is not assured of re-election has a heavy presumption against them ... The Republicans are gone. The Green Party is haplessly organized for a citywide election. There is no significant racial or ethnic bloc aligned against the mayor. None of the factors that would need to be present for an incumbent to be defeated are present.”
I could not argue against these facts. However, I did want to say: “The main point I was trying to make in my posting is that predictions of a certain Rybak victory become a self-fulfilling prophecy if no other information about the campaign is made available to the voters.”
Hey, there's an election going on
The next day (October 8th), I posted this message: “In case you hadn't heard it, there is actually a campaign for mayor going on with candidates introducing themselves, discussing issues, etc. Yesterday afternoon a debate was held among several mayoral candidates - James Everett, Papa John Kolstad, Al Flowers, Bill McGaughey, and Robert Carney - at the studios of MTN in Minneapolis. R.T. Rybak chose not to participate in this event.”
I introduced a new thread - “Hey, there’s an election going on” - on October 21st. The message began: “Seldom has a race for Minneapolis mayor received less attention than this year's. Rybak's incumbency, DFL endorsement, and huge campaign war chest, relative to the other candidates, have convinced many that there is really no challenge to his re-election and therefore this year's mayoral campaign needs not be reported or even noticed. Mayor Rybak himself has aided that perception by refusing to debate his opponents or appear at mayoral events. Instead, he is personally focused on next year's gubernatorial race ...
One of the other mayoral candidates, Robert Carney Jr., has taken Rybak to task. His video, ‘R.T. and me’, reminiscent of Michael Moore, explores the visible evidence of the mayor's reelection campaign ... The video shows that Rybak's calendar of campaign events for October is blank. His campaign headquarters, located at 2751 Hennepin Avenue, is a UPS Store. There are no phone banks but a box number, PMB655.”
This would be the theme of my and the other mayoral candidates’ campaigns for the remainder of the campaign period. We hounded Rybak for his failure to debate us or appear at any mayoral campaign event. The Star Tribune picked up the story and soon there was what we called an “insurgency” among the minor, forgotten candidates for Minneapolis mayor.
When a woman I once knew saw me on television at a City Hall protest event covered by KMSP-TV, I posted another message on the e-democracy list titled “why some people leave Minneapolis”. This woman and her husband, who had once lived in Minneapolis, had moved to Anoka because the property taxes were so much lower there. Now Minneapolis property taxes were set to rise by 11 percent to 15 percent. The current mayor bore some, though not all, of the blame.
Someone asked me what I would do about this situation if I were elected mayor. I let my unpopular views hang out. First, I wrote I would “repeal in its entirety Minneapolis ordinance 244.2020, "conduct on licensed premises", which makes it possible for the Minneapolis city council to revoke the rental license of rental properties if gambling, prostitution, drug possession, and other "nuisance" behaviors are found in a building.” Second, “I would also favor repealing in its entirety ordinance 385.65, "Unruly/noisy assembly ordinance" which holds property owners responsible for loud parties occurring on or near their properties.”
Third, “I also favor changing ordinances that allow city inspectors to ticket property owners who have failed to shovel snow from their side walks four hours after the cessation of snow fall and charge a fine of $103 per hour for each and every hour that the sidewalk is not shoveled.” In other words, if the city would stop harassing property owners in the city, maybe some of its tax base would return.
As the election drew near, I made my closing argument on the Minneapolis e-democracy list in a thread titled “the core of the insurgency”. I wrote: “The gatekeepers say that the election for mayor is over and the political herds echo that sentiment. But don't believe it for a minute. It's not over in elections until it's really over and the last vote is counted. There is an insurgency in the race for mayor carrying the momentum of events. At its core are candidates Al Flowers, Papa John Kolstad, and Bob Carney, and I would also include myself in that group, with John Charles Wilson and James Everett being somewhat more loosely connected. As a group of mayoral candidates, we are not prepared to concede the outcome of this year's election. We will not be rolled by the Rybak juggernaut and its many admirers.”
Steve Minn and Gary Schiff
An interesting discussion on e-democracy in which I was not involved concerned a development project of former City Council member Steve Minn across the river near the University of Minnesota. Minn, who had not previously posted messages on the forum, let loose a bombshell. The City Council had just voted not to approve his project at 600 Main Street. Council member Gary Schiff had played a key role in that decision.
Minn wrote: “Gary Schiff solicited campaign contributions from me just prior to our development matters going to Planning Commission. Mr. Schiff called me and indicated that he had serious challengers - including Amy Arcand and Mr. Bicking - and that he needed money - lots of it and fast, prior to Caucus night. I complied with the request, and "maxed-out" at $300. Mr. Schiff then called back and asked me to solicit further "maximum" contributions from my spouse, my parters Fred and John Wall - each whom complied and maxed out at $300. So, our development group contributed $1,200 to Mr. Schiff's campaign at his direct request. Based on Mr. Schiff's animosity towards our 600 Main project, I could hardly assert that Mr. Schiff's influence was purchased by our contributions ... However, it is a well known practice of Mr. Schiff, who has chaired Zoning & Planning for the last eight years to solicit contributions from the development community, with the implied power he has over zoning decisions.”
So here was testimony from a political insider concerning the corrupt nature of development decisions made by the Minneapolis City Council. Another Council member, Lisa Goodman, was already in trouble for such things. Now it was Gary Schiff who seemed to be using his position to political advantage. Schiff responded with this explanation: “Each is a case-by-case situation, depending on the merits, like all other quasi-judicial votes that come before me. Donations to my campaign never influence my vote. Never have. Never will.” In the end, both Schiff and Goodman were re-elected by decisive margins. However, this controversy enlivened the discussion on the Minneapolis list for several weeks.
accusations of lying
Before the election was over, I did want to put in another plug for New Dignity Party whose issues seemed to be sidelined by events in the campaign. On the US forum, a discussion was taking place about American values. A man from New Hampshire had written that “we are already an interconnected system of citizens that has a distinct history and heritage with a living identity ... we are an organized living discrete human system. And that system needs a core identity to survive. So, what is that identity?”
I posted the following message on this forum on October 31st: “There's a new political party (New Dignity Party) running candidates in the current Minneapolis election which is focused on issues of identity. Besides being American, each of us has other identities. We are black, white, Asian, native American, etc. We are male or female, gay or straight, educated or not so educated. Here is where identity politics has gone astray in the duality inherent in our dominant political models. History has been diverted to hateful ends. How can each of us have and be able to cultivate a positive sense of identity? That is the question.”
Another member of this forum, Bill Kahn, responded with this message to me: “Bill, Enlighten me please. I can relate to some of what you've written, but none of the candidates on the ballot but you list your party as New Dignity. Are there write-in campaigns or individuals in board races with no designation among your new party's candidates, or have you lied to us in using the plural of candidate? Lying is against our rules, you know.” It was characteristic forum nit-picking combined with unproven accusations of lying. I was disturbed that the rules of this forum prevented my posting another message until twelve hours had elapsed. In the meanwhile, I was branded as a liar.
When the required time had elapsed, I posted another message which said, among other things: “Mr. Kahn should know that personal attacks are also against the forum rules ... No, I am not lying. The obvious way to resolve Kahn's doubt would have been to google "New Dignity Party" and see if there is evidence of other candidates in it than myself. If Kahn had done this, he would have seen the pictures of three candidates on the main page of the party's website (http://www.newdignityparty.org): James Swartwood, John Butler, and myself ... Our lawn signs (180 signs posted around the city) list the names of all three candidates. Most of our literature names the three candidates. (Election rules do not permit party designation to be included on the ballot for candidates for Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation.) No, I am not lying, Mr. Kahn. I tried to add to a constructive discussion of identity but Kahn has steered the discussion into a personal attack on my credibility.”
What I did not realize at the time that Kahn’s accusations were delivered in a private message to me, copying the forum moderator. My response was sent to the forum. I had assumed that Kahn’s message was also public because of its header: “Re: (US) Do you love America?’, which was the name of the thread. When I saw “US”, I assumed the message was sent to the forum. But it was private and Kahn took me to task.
I replied: “You're right about this and I plan to acknowledge the mistake when the time period elapses. In return, I ask you to acknowledge your mistake. (And I will mention this in my posting.)” I then added: “I also checked with the moderator before my posting. He asked me to forward your message, which I did. I heard nothing further from him. No, if there is a statement or insinuation that I am a liar, I have to rebut it. Don't try this again.”
Kahn took that last statement as a personal threat; and he had one of his own. He wrote: “I am perfectly within my rights and e-democracy rules to post a link to the Minneapolis forum to the this thread in the US forum, and I have said I would not do this. The reason I do not link it is because you obviously made a mistake in thinking my query of you was a post, although it might be characterized as a taunt, something I am want to do when I encounter any form of megalomania; perhaps copying the forum manager might be considered tacky or devious, but I thought that you were the only New Dignity Party candidate and as such, a liar. I don't know what more you could possibly expect from me other than what I have done in a matter of little or no embarrassment to me, and rather more to you for whatever crushing impact such knowledge of you has on your campaign, personal, and professional life.”
He continued: “I have suggested to Mike Fratto (the forum moderator), as it has been supported in our off-list correspondence, that you are suffering from some cognitive neurological deficits, perhaps even early onset Altzheimer's Disease. I truly don't wish you any harm and I hope for some realization on your part that there is a problem on your end of whatever it is this is, but I will take measures to protect myself should you pursue the course you hint at. E-democracy.org forum rules will not protect you in other venues that you might choose to take this, and we both have records of our exchanges unless you have deleted them. Do not make your problems mine, please, as I might solve them in ways you find unsatisfactory. You would be better off consulting with your physician than butting heads with me, something the forums truly don't really need.”
“ You certainly have my permission to post this on the forum and all correspondence before this, as long as you include everything. If you post more off-list correspondence in any edited form, as a condition of my permission you will be agreeing to have me post all of our exchanges in their entirety. You would do well to review these exchanges before we bore the forum with them.”
Evidently, I was supposed to be afraid that this discussion would spill over into the much larger Minneapolis forum and Kahn would tell people what I had written. I did not care about this. I simply wanted Kahn to learn by looking at its web site that there was more than one candidate running under the auspices of New Dignity Party; he should state what he had learned and forum participants would then know that I was not lying. He replied: “I have better things to do than to read the New Dignity Forum.”
Being 68 years of age, however, I was also disturbed that Kahn was suggesting that I had Alzheimer’s or another age-related medical problem because I had misinterpreted the header to indicate the type of message that he had sent. I wrote: “You seem ... to want to perpetuate a quarrel in suggesting that I may be suffering from a mental disorder. I ask you to cease and desist.”
However, Kahn continued to be concerned about my mental health. “I truly feel that you do suffer from a cognitive deficit of some kind, and whether it is a natural consequence of aging or something more serious is something you might pursue with your physician. I would never share this in a public forum, but I won't allow you to use me to compensate for your own failures, whatever they might be,” he replied.
This last message was posted two days before the election. I was down to the wire in the campaign and had many other things to do. I did not appreciate email messages questioning my mental health, even in private. That had never been an issue with physicians or any one else. However, I noticed that Kahn had posted a message on the US forum apologizing for having called me a liar. He would not admit being factually wrong but had written on October 31st: “I'll take your word that these men (Swartwood and Butler) are your fellow party members, and apologize for accusing you of lying about it; however, I did not post my missive to you on the forum, and you did.”
I therefore posted another message to the US forum explaining the mix-up between the public and private postings. “Kahn is correct that his posting was private,” I admitted. After explaining then why as a candidate for public office I took the charge of lying seriously, I wrote: “I thank Kahn for his latest communication to the forum and this will be my last posting on the subject.”
It was not my last posting about New Dignity Party. This time on the Minneapolis list under the heading “New Dignity Party”, I made a farewell appeal to subscribers of this list on November 2nd. It read:
“ The ideas and principles of this new party have been lost in the rush of events surrounding the mayor's race. They fall into three categories: (1) changing the paradigm in the politics of identity, (2) criticism of the city's inspections and revenue-raising policies, and (3) attention to media coverage of politics as a cause of its decline. Let me take these in reverse order.
(3) Past experiences, especially in last year's Congressional race, convinced me that we could make little progress unless we had conscientious and fair coverage of political races in the media. Media attention to the manufactured scandals involving Al Flowers confirmed that impression this year. However, the media have slowly come around to the view that Mayor Rybak's lack of engagement in this campaign is a legitimate issue. Also, I don't want to focus the blame for omissions entirely on Star Tribune reporter Steve Brandt who has to cover the local political beat for the newspaper all by himself ...
(2) There has been some penetration of public consciousness here. As a landlord and co-director of MPRAC (Metro Property Rights Action Committee), my identity as a candidate has been focused on this set of concerns. I was pleasantly surprised to find this statement in the Star Tribune editorial endorsing Rybak that ran on October 25, 2009: "Landlord Bill McGaughey is right to question whether targeting 'problem properties' rather than criminal conduct itself is either a just or effective crime-fighting strategy." If only that sentiment could be translated into changed city policy!The first set of issues is the most contentious and for that reason, perhaps, people seem unwilling to address them. I think politics is moving in the direction of identity-related concerns and there is room for a more moderate and less antagonistic approach ...
New Dignity Party addressed the identity issue in its literature and in articles posted on the website, http://www.NewDignityParty.org. Additionally, we helped produce a half-hour video at MTN exclusively focused on this issue which aired eight times. I think it was one of the most honest discussions of race aired in this city, at least in recent years. However, people may not be ready for such a discussion. Many are afraid.
Where the campaign showed unexpected strength was in action rather than words. Mayor Rybak's failure to debate his opponents struck a broad chord in people. For me, the highlight of the campaign was the cooperative spirit among the non-Rybak mayoral candidates in creating what I call "the insurgency". My fellow candidates are intelligent, creative, and courageous ... So, I salute these candidates and say it has been a privilege to be associated with you in this year's much-ignored mayoral campaign.
As for New Dignity Party itself, all I can say is that its future will depend on how well its candidates do in this year's election and on the willingness of people to identify themselves as potential supporters or at least discuss the subject. There is need for a new politics which unites rather than divides people. There is need for a new political party ...
Be sure to vote in tomorrow's historic Minneapolis city election. Consider entrusting your first-choice vote to me (Bill McGaughey) for mayor, John Butler for Park Board at large, and James Elliot Swartwood for Board of Estimate and Taxation.”
to next chapter