After beating McKnight, Samuels graciously reached out to the McKnight camp, inviting them all out to pizza. However, McKnight's supporters--among them professional gadfly Al "I Am The Community" Flowers and the "mystery yelling man in a blue shirt" brought an angry, negative spirit to the Fifth District DFL convention which lingered long after the final votes were tallied, and victorious Samuels supporters were consuming pizza and beer; with only one lone McKnight supporter taking up Samuels on the dinner invitation.
Future generations may perceive this city council election as a key turning point in the struggle to "take North Minneapolis to the next level" and decisively build upon such positive trends as deep reductions in crime. For that reason, I am putting forward an extensive and detailed account, not merely for the blogosphere but for the sake of the next generation which will live in the North Minneapolis were are making today.
Everything started with duct tape...
Red and blue duct tape, to be specific. Any political organizer who doesn't carry around duct tape in the trunk of their car, in a glove box, or SOMEWHERE handy doesn't really have a clue. You always need duct tape.
Duct tape held the campaign signs in place, so the building could be festooned with scores of campaign signs. Duct tape was ESSENTIAL.
Stickers covered the words "DFL endorsed" on the Samuels signs until those words were true...again. You see, the Samuels camp may have been DFL, but they were Green Party all the way when it came to re-using their political materials. The Samuels signs were from the previous election, and so to use the signs volunteers covered the words "DFL endorsed" with red duct tape, pending a clinch of the hoped for re-nomination.
I arrived early in the morning after being given a ride by a Samuels supporter. (I say this in a spirit of full disclosure, though I am a member of the Green Party, not the DFL) At about 7:45 a.m., McKnight signs were already covering the front door and had made a lot of headway in the gym where the convention was to be held. But the McKnight camp only had printed paper signs, not sturdy yard signs. The Samuels camp quickly got to work and soon covered the park building's front yard with signs; thus newly arriving delegates would see the Samuels signs FIRST.
The Samuels people used very serious red duct tape, while the McKnight camp used cheaper, lighter blue tape that was more paper-based, not really duct tape at all. Sometimes the McKnight signs fell off the walls, even though they were lighter than the Samuels signs.
The Samuels camp had new red shirts, and moved like a well-oiled machine. The McKnight camp arrived without any shirts...well, at least without matching shirts. The lack of resources and coordination was painfully apparent on the McKnight side, but when I tried to estimate McKnight versus Samuels supporters, the numbers seemed fairly even.
Though Samuels versus McKnight was the "main event," as it were, a lot of sideshows were also in attendance at the "big DFL tent." I spoke to Carol Becker, who was running for the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Becker had a sign from a previous campaign with her previous slogan, "Geek is good." According to Becker, the signs were popular among certain nerds, who would swipe the signs. One of the signs turned up in a dorm room at MIT, she said.
This year's slogan retained the tried-and-true "geek" theme; with a new twist: A SERIOUS GEEK FOR SERIOUS TIMES.
At some point, while walking around on the convention floor--which was allowed, since the floor wasn't "frozen"--I saw the members of what appeared to be the Fifth Ward Credentials Committee having a quick meeting, huddled in a loose little circle. I heard a report being given--something about who lived where, and who USED TO live where--and then there was a motion made, a second. I caught one fragment of a sentence, clearly:
"Grover answered that he had given the letters to Kenya..."
At some point Jerry Moore said, "All those in favor?" and there was a soft chorus of ayes. Democracy. There on the floor of the gym, just a short distance from the Bean Scene sandwich vendor.
All this time I was snapping pictures, but I had more of the Samuels people than the McKnight people. I wanted to get a photo of a McKnight supporter. A random delegate came in--and I actually thought for a minute it was Kenya McKnight, though it hardly mattered--and I tried to get a picture of her signing in, a simple "stock photo" of "here is somebody signing in to the convention." She flipped out on me.
"That's not polite, taking my picture!" she said. She began to berate me.
"It's a political convention..." I started to say, and she went into something about having to ask PERMISSION to take her picture. I walked away. What was the point of having this ridculous conversation? A short while later, I wanted to take a picture of a McKnight supporter who bore an eerie resemblance to the deceased comedian Bernie Mac, and also appeared to be a McKnight supporter. This guy ALSO flipped out on me.
Now I got the message: Don't even try talking to the McKnight people. They were seething with anger, their emotional self-control as thin an eggshell. Their energy was negative, paranoid, and naive about the ways of political conventions which include--oh gee--media taking pictures. Now, it's true I pointed out their candidate reportedly thinks the (EXPLETIVE) QUEEN OF MOTHER(EXPLETIVE) ENGLAND HAS SECRET CONTROL OVER AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
Yes, I did do that.
But their candidate has yet to deny it. If the McKnight people want something GOOD written about them, then flipping out on a guy taking pictures surely isn't the way to do it. What can I say? Political amateur hour. This is why the Samuels people won, because they're either sane to begin with or have the good sense to take their meds.
For the moment, I settled for a picture of a cute baby named Avery who has two mommies: Alexis Kantor and Jacqui Loosli. I sat in the bleachers near Alexandra Jaramillo, who had written that morning on her Facebook status about spending the day being "a political trophy wife." Jaramillo had scored some food; fruit being sold by "Bean Scene." I later found out Bean Scene didn't even manage to cover the cost of coming to the convention. I wonder what the food vendors have at GOP conventions? I'll probably always wonder.
I vented to Jaramillo about the McKnight people, how UNFRIENDLY they were.
Well, not all of them. I pointed out Jerry Moore--to his credit--always maintained a veneer of friendliness. Even to individuals opposing him, he continued to act as though he might win you over tomorrow. But he seemed like some kind of exception to the McKnight people. Excuse me for trying to TAKE A PICTURE at a POLITICAL CONVENTION.
State Representative Bobby Joe Champion called the convention to order with the words "Delegates, please take your seats." While there was a delay, waiting for some kind of report from the credentials committee, State Senator Linda Higgins gave a report, saying, "Things are really grim at the capitol right now." According to Higgins, "even if we could lay off every state employee and close all the prisons" the state wouldn't be anywhere near fixing its budget deficit.
Right about the time this news was settling in, infamous political gadfly Al Flowers entered the room. He began greeting folks, shaking hands like a celebrity, fist bumping. It wasn't very long before Bobby Joe Champion was announcing, "If you're not a delegate you have to be seated in the back." But Al "I Am The Community" Flowers seemed to feel this announcement didn't really apply to him. He stayed out on the convention floor, he went back and forth from the room many times, and all the while some of us wondered how long before the explosion.
When would Flowers start shouting, and WHAT would he shout? When would he shove a City Council Member like, oh gee, Don Samuels? When would the police show up? How long before Jill Clark filed another lawsuit? With Flowers in the room, it seemed like only a matter of time.
Meanwhile, Bobby Joe Champion was elected chair of the convention, with not a single voice vote in opposition. At some point the SOUND MAN got a hearty round of applause, and there was an announcement about a green Buick LaSabre--license plate VGT 398--that was parked in the fire lane. Bobby Joe Champion said it would be a real shame if a potential political contribution ended up going to the impound lot. One has to wonder when exactly politics will actually address all the unreasonable suffering brought into the lives of Twin Cities residents by impound lots.
Montreal, Canada simply tows vehicles to areas where it is legal to park them and leaves them there, with a minor ticket. Madison, Wisconsin does something similar. This is an area of public policy I've researched on my own, rather extensively. Yeah, I guess I may have been one of the few people in the room to find a lot of meaning in the announcement about the green Buick LaSabre...other than the owner of the vehicle, of course.
Bobby Joe Champion gave some instructions about voting; asking delegates to please "restrain themselves" from putting something like "Bugs Bunny" on the ballot.
Credentials Committee Co-Chair Jerry Moore spoke, giving the breakdown of numbers on the caucus attendees and delegates. Though 178 attended, only 152 were seated. Some had chosen not to be delegates, Jerry said. (Later that evening, I found out about an interesting little credentials spat which involved Jerry Moore telling Kip Browne that Browne needed to get his "ass beat." I'm saving that part of this story for dessert)
Some questions came from the floor, such as "what is a super delegate?" The very phrase "super delegate" seemed undemocratic, somehow, to a few in the crowd. Champion patiently explained that some state officials are automatically delegates without going to a caucus and being elected but, no, their vote isn't worth more than anybody else's vote. That seemed to quell the mob forming around the Bastille.
At 10:25 AM, Kenya McKnight finally entered the convention. Don Samuels had been around for a long time. I wondered why Kenya came so late. She walked to the bleachers area and took a seat almost directly behind Al Flowers. On the convention floor, questions continued, and complaints about how there was no microphone for the delegates. Somebody tried to ask a question from the spectator bleachers--once again, it was political amateur hour--and Bobby Joe Champion apologized, but he said he couldn't take questions from outside the convention floor.
Jackie Cherryhomes gave a report. Currently, the count was 124 delegates, with 8 alternates present. Cherryhomes said alternates should see if they could be "upgraded" to delegate status. (It's kind of like the difference between "coach" versus "First Class," only the seats don't get more comfortable)
Now it was time for nominations. Samuels was nominated--I didn't catch who did the nominating. Mike Fedor was responsible for throwing in the name of Kenya McKnight. The candidates came forward and a coin was tossed to determine who had the choice of going first or second. Kenya McKnight called "heads"--the coin rolled under the table and Bobby Joe Champion yelled "Don't touch it!"
Don won the coin toss and elected to go first. A delegate in the back rose and made a "point of personal privilege," pointing out there were STILL PERSONS ON THE FLOOR WHO WERE NOT DELEGATES. Champion--who had done such a fine job with the green Buick--tried to direct the human traffic. He made a speech about not saying anything disrespectful or out of order. A McKnight poster fell off the wall, right then. Bad omen.
Now both campaigns had a chance to speak, but this wasn't a matter of Don and Kenya getting up, individually, and giving a speech. Each campaign had the chance to put on a kind of demonstration on the stage--though hopefully nobody would get tear gassed, like when the GOP was invited to town--and so each campaign presented itself en masse, the candidate in the middle flanked by their large posses. Impressive.
In each instance, the candidate spoke LAST. Yes, of course, far better to have others praise you than to praise yourself. The first to speak was a young man who introduced himself as a Target cashier from "the Willard Homewood (sic) neighborhood. " He made clear that, although he "doesn't disagree with Kenya on all issues" he thought Don Samuels was the guy to TAKE MINNEAPOLIS TO THE NEXT LEVEL.
Deb Wagner spoke next, introducing herself as a 25-year-resident and talking about how the Samuels family had deliberately chosen to live on a street with the biggest problems, got the block club organized, took on the drug dealing on 26th, the epicenter of which was the Big Stop store. Neighbors were terrorized by the thugs with drugs, but Don Samuels faced down the thugs, personally, took neighbors out on the streets with signs saying, "Down with dope, up with hope."
Another resident spoke and said he she was a graduate of North High, and Don understood the problems and was "responsive" to the problems in the Minneapolis educational system.
"NO HE WASN'T!" a Kenya McKnight supporter shouted, in the bleachers. She was shushed, reminded to be respectful. This was, as it turned out, a harbinger of what was coming. The Samuels demonstration rolled forward over the brief interruption, and Samuels himself took the microphone. Now, some have told me the speaking style of Samuels is like a radio with vacuum tubes. It warms up slowly. It takes a bit. But once it gets going, the energy pulsates.
Don warmed up with crime statistics: crime is down 30 percent, and 62 percent in the areas "ringed by the cameras." Samuels said 20 million will be spent on revitalizing West Broadway, the plans to include KMOJ, a massive YWCA, plus the Penn Plymouth project led by the University of Minnesota. Don spoke of the recent publicity about Coloplast, and their 42 million dollar building which would provide jobs for Northside residents. He emphasized how contracts to pick up litter used to end up in the hands of contractors from outside North Minneapolis, but those contracts now go to ex-offenders.
He spoke of a future where every student graduates from high school. Furthermore, there had to be job opportunities for ex-offenders. People who have made a mistake shouldn't be "punished for the rest of their lives."
Samuels spoke of the right of North Minneapolis residents to walk from their garage to their house without getting mugged.
"Drug users, stay in the suburbs!" he yelled. Samuels spoke out against "suburban landlords" and pointed out the city was finally taking away rental licenses by the hundreds. Don spoke of those days when he was first getting his block cleaned up, and he would look drug dealers right in the face and say, "I have two little girls. They're going to walk to the grocery store on the corner and you're going to be gone!"
According to Bobby Joe Champion, the Samuels presentation/demonstration went "seven seconds over" so seven more seconds would go to Kenya McKnight. Now McKnight's people took the stage. Their demonstration was just as big as the Samuels demo, but I noticed there were more small children beefing up the numbers.
Most held up signs, but one young girl held up a copy of Insight News with McKnight on the front page.
Mike Fedor spoke first, saying 1903 was a key year in the development of North Mineapolis. That was when a single sentence in the planning of North Minneapolis said, "The undesirables shall be located North of the warehouses." Thus North Minneapolis became a "dumping ground for things people don't want." This led to rampant gangster crime in the 1930s, to unrest in the 1960s, and to the very problems we are experiencing today. Fedor quoted Hubert Humphrey about passing the torch to a new generations of leaders.
Others spoke. The wife of Congressman Keith Ellison. Antwon Floyd, who had been at the credentials committee meeting, he and Jerry Moore playing such a key role with the cell phone. (Antwon left the black beret behind when he went to today's convention) Floyd said North MInneapolis needs people who can "relate and advocate" and "close the gap between the young and the elders." Antwon ended his speech with the following quote by Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
"A man's respect for law and order exists in precise proportion to his paycheck."
A very elderly woman spoke, saying how we must engage with offenders, not "run them out." She said her eyes were bad and she could not see the members of the convention very well, but she knew they were there.
The microphone went around and around and so many people spoke. At one point, Kenya reached weakly for the microphone but she didn't get it. The last person to speak before Kenya was Al McFarlane. The conversation with Al McFarlane seemed to go kind of long, and when the microphone FINALLY got to Kenya either wasn't any time left or McKnight--who is perfectly capable of speaking at length--choose to say very little.
Why should she run? Well, why not?
No, seriously, that was pretty much the speech. I looked at Alexandra Jaramillo and asked, "That's it?"
(In my next blog post: "Mysterious Blue Shirt Guy" disrupts the convention. Jerry Moore ponders aloud the need of Kip Browne to have his ass beaten. And a child's tears bring Don Samuels "down to earth" in the very moment of his endorsement victory)