After Kenya McKnight gave her speech, listing the reasons she should be a city council member (and it was an incredibly brief speech) it was time to vote. Now came the point which was the whole point of being at the convention.
It was obvious that extraordinary attempts were being made to avoid the chaos which had marked the caucus, and contributed to controversies which the Credentials Committee had been forced to untangle. Long moments were spent making sure everybody was sitting in the right precinct. Bobby Joe Champion put some drama into his voice as he told the chairs to make their way to the front and "Grab your envelopes!" One couldn't help but be reminded of a car race, and the announcement to "start...your...engines!"
Now came the delegate casualty report...
Every Vote Mattered
Tension and worry seemed to shoot through both camps: who was missing? How would it impact the final vote? Faces were tense.
In response to questions from the floor, Bobby Joe Champion explained up to four rounds of ballots would take place. If the delegates wanted to go beyond four rounds, that would require suspending the rules. An endorsement required 60 percent, not a bare majority.
The recent Barb Johnson endorsement had gone ELEVEN ROUNDS after delegates in Ward 4 voted to suspend the rules. Some thought the same thing could happen in Ward 5. However, information posted on the Kenya McKnight Facebook campaign website said the McKnight camp would "settle for a draw." In that case, it would be smarter NOT to suspend the rules, to just take the fight four rounds. Then the upstart Kenya could walk away with a draw and folks would wonder how she had "beaten" the veteran politician Don Samuels, if he was so smart and powerful?
But it was an open question whether Kenya's team was capable of such political calculations. Her incomplete coursework at MCTC doesn't reveal any "Poli Sci 101." (She did take a course called "Community Affairs," however)
Though McKnight's political alliance with Al McFarlane makes sense, her alignment with "Mayor of Crazy Town" Al Flowers reads more like political suicide.
But back to the convention floor: there was a lot of discussion on whether one had to put their name on a ballot, or whether they should. I tried to figure out where this discussion was coming from: was there THAT MUCH worry about cheating?
At some point, a woman in a wheelchair was wheeled in...it was the same woman who had appeared at the Credentials Committee meeting, stating she was one of the Kenya Eight.
"Are you a delegate?" somebody asked her, as she was wheeled by.
"I don't know," she answered. "Nobody told me."
The ballots for the first round were collected and walked to the counting area, with reps for each campaign along to observe the process. I saw papers--they looked to be ballots--drop to the floor, about five but perhaps as many as twelve. Those walking behind scurried to pick up the papers. As far as I can see, everything that was dropped was handed right over, and it was just an honest mistake, like when Champion's coin rolled under the table. As far as I could see, this mistake wasn't repeated in the next two rounds.
A question came from the floor: if somebody has to leave for work, can that person vote early? Where's the giant gong when you really NEED it? Amateur hour. The answer was NO.
While ballots continued to be counted, various speakers kept the crowd, in effect, ENTERTAINED. The Hennepin County Attorney got up to speak. He talked about trying to keep kids from turning into criminals by early intervention. When he was finished, somebody in the bleachers next to me (she was wearing a McKnight button) started saying, loudly, that somebody like THAT shouldn't be allowed to speak, he was a hateful person locking away young black men.
A guy running for governor spoke, pointing out that 85 percent of the time the tallest candidate wins, and he was taller than Governor Pawlenty and, in fact, taller than any of the other would-be DFL candidates. The "Serious Geek For Serious Times" (see previous post) rose to speak, but got right to the point, vowing, "I'll be as cheap with your time as I am with your money."
The first round of ballot results came back, and excitement rippled through the crowd. Bobby Champion--who took his entertainment role seriously--made the crowd wait for it, wait for it--then announced Don Samuels had taken the lead with 56.8 percent. McKnight had 40.3 percent. A mere 2.9 percent were still undecided.
The crowd buzzed. A few individuals pulled out paper and pen, furiously working the calculations. In order to win, Don Samuels would need to get all the undecided votes plus a few from the McKnight camp. If Kenya McKnight was going to win, she would need to produce a substantial amount of movement from the Samuels camp, and pick up the undecided, too.
The faces of the McKnight people grew grim. The woman near me who had been criticizing the Hennepin County Attorney wore a look that was already defeated. The lack of an endorsement on the first round now put the convention into question and answer session. There were motions on the floor about the amount of time that should be allotted for a first round of Q and A, how much time the candidates should get to answer. It turned into a parliamentary mess. Champion pointed out a motion to adopt Q and A is not amendable under the rules. That kept the mess from getting messier.
At some point, Don Samuels walked by me, meeting and greeting. He told a woman she had "Michelle Obama arms" and she giggled, flattered.
Ultimately, the convention decided each candidate would get two minutes. A man named "Mr. Zulu" would reach in the box and grab the questions. The questions had to be written so they could be answered by either candidate. Like he had won the coin toss, Don won the "guess the number in my hand" content. Don just couldn't stop winning that night.
The first question was, "What are your accomplishments to date, Kenya McKnight?" That question OBVIOUSLY wasn't written for both candidates, so it was thrown out. (Amateur hour...cough cough) The next question was about engaging the community, even those who may not speak up. Don talked about regularly making himself available to meet for breakfast, talking to people, his newsletter, and how he even runs into citizens while personally picking up garbage on West Broadway.
Kenya McKnight answered about constantly engaging people, holding monthly meetings. She said, "This is about inclusion, not dictatorship."
The next question was "If you are not endorsed, will you run for office, anyway?" Kenya said she'll "respect the process, but the delegate votes are important" so she asked the delegates to cast their votes with that in mind.
This was the most nimble and skillful thing I'd seen Kenya do, EVER. She had some politician in her, after all. Years under the tutelage of somebody like DON SAMUELS might make a winner out of her, yet, but instead she was hanging around the electoral lunatic asylum with folks like Al Flowers.
Don Samuels said if there was no endorsement at all, he would run. But if there was an endorsement, he would abide by it.
Next came a question about the "disproportionate number of people in prison" and what's in "your pipeline" to do something about that? Somebody on the floor yelled "Throw it out!" Bobby Champion ruled the word "pipeline" could apply to either candidate, it might mean ideas you have, things you know about.
No, Champion was going to allow the question.
Don answered and began talking about the blight contract given to EMERGE, so the work was done locally instead of by contractors from outside North Minneapolis. Don said, "We can't punish people for the rest of their lives, people must have an opportunity to come back." Kenya McKnight talked about how much the public safety budget had increased. She felt North MInneapolis needed strategies that were proactive instead of reactive. Set up more public health services, she said.
"It's about getting a job!" McKnight emphasized.
Next question: What do you plan to do with North Community High School? This was where Don Samuels needed to display his mystic fire-walking skills. A rhetorical comment he made about "burn down North High" has long haunted him. Kenya McKnight said lately there has been "more tearing down than building up" and she suggested giving North High a "facelift." North High, she said, is "the pinnacle of our community" and "families choose where to live based on the schools that are within our community."
Don Samuels stepped toward the hot question gradually. He talked about how it "hurts to see young men standing on the corner." He said these could be some of the smartest young men in the community, because smart kids get bored in school if they are not challenged. The most important thing, above all, would be our children. We must hold OURSELVES responsible. If the children are not learning, it is the adults who are failing--"
"DO YOU STILL WANT TO BURN IT DOWN?!" a man shouted. He was bald, stocky, wearing a blue shirt, sitting in the bleachers about ten feet to my right. "DO YOU STILL WANT TO BURN IT DOWN?" Don kept trying to speak, but whenever Don would say a few words the man would yell the same thing, "DO YOU STILL WANT TO BURN IT DOWN?" Individuals moved toward the man to calm, to intervene. Al Flowers moved toward the controversy rapidly, his big legs taking big strides. Perhaps Flowers could smell another "multi-dollar legal judgment."
The fourth or perhaps fifth time when the yelling guy repeated himself, one of the delegates seated nearby--a big, stocky, corn-fed gentleman himself--somebody later told me he's a fight fighter--stood up and began shouting for order, to have the yelling man removed as he was disrupting the proceedings and wasn't even a delegate.
Numerous individuals moved in to ask the man to quiet down. Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes was standing nearby, and suddenly the guy in the blue shirt began turning his anger on people like myself and Jeff who were trying to take pictures. Jeff reportedly got something out of his mouth like, "You're making a public scene at a political convention but you don't want anybody to take your picture?" One of the individuals who seemed to be calming the man pleaded with me to put my camera down, so I did, purely to avoid physical violence as the guy in the blue shirt was glaring in my direction and shouting something like, "DO NOT TAKE MY PICTURE!"
This is my recollection of it. Video may exist.
The entire disruption--including some aspects of who was reacting to the disruption and how--had a staged and choreographed feel to it. These are the kind of tactics used by the Flowers/Moore/McFarlane/McKnight camp: planned disruptions of political conventions. Shouting down Samuels when nobody shouted down THEIR candidate. Later in the convention, even Al "I Am The Community" Flowers was allowed to talk about his dual campaign for mayor of Minneapolis and his third consecutive unopposed run Mayor of Crazy Town, without interruption.
Convention Chair Bobby Joe Champion warned that "if outsiders who are not a part of the process make problems," he'll ask for the gymnasium to be cleared.
Don continued. He said he has made some statements that anger people, but "we need to raise our level of protest." Certainly, I thought, few things had gotten people talking about North High like Don's rhetorical statement. Don said something about not wanting to give offense, spoke of his love for the community and its children.
The next question was about transportation issues--one of Kenya's many weak points. While Don was answering the question, the chair of the convention, State Rep Bobby Joe Champion--had to come all the way down to the other end of the gym to speak, intently, to the yelling dude in the blue shirt. I managed to snap a few pics, worrying in the back of my mind about the guy just, like, FLIPPING OUT. At one point, Champion appeared to be chiding the woman who was with Blue Shirt Guy.
Finally, the guy in the blue shirt got up and left. A while later, I saw him speaking to two police officers. I caught the words "I got four people who says..."
Well, that's when it all became so obvious: there would be no disruption today by Al Flowers, after all. Flowers couldn't risk getting thrown out of the convention before his quasi-mayoral campaign speech. So perhaps Flowers had franchised his operations or been "copy catted." Unfortunately, the copycat product was inferior to the original: Flowers delights in cameras being present at his disruptions. Blue Shirt Guy has yet to learn to embrace the limelight, to revel in it, to glory in infamy as Flowers does so well.
Could Young Skywalker still learn? Or, as Master Yoda would assert, was it really too late to begin the training? In any case, I snapped his picture, talking to the two cops. Let him try to go off on my picture-taking while Officer Friendly and Officer Even More Friendly were there.
Now, back at the convention, it was McKnight's turn to answer about transportation. She began by saying it is "very, very, very important to our community." She made a point of mentioning the "Bottineau System," by which she apparently meant the "Bottineau Corridor," a subject which had caught her flat-footed in another question and answer session. McKnight--who had moments before criticized increases in the city's Public Safety budget--said she wanted our community to be a place where people stop, not just pass through.
Then came the deadly city pension question. McKnight was forced to take something of a pass. She didn't really know much of anything about this topic. Don walked up to the fastball and hit it out of the park. He addressed the city pension issue squarely and competently, though admittedly there weren't answers from anywhere, quite yet, about how to fix the problem except it might involve combining, somehow, with the state pension system. Then, with extra time still on the clock, Don began free styling and hitting a variety of topics such as getting city jobs for ex-offenders, and trying to make youth violence a public health issue, not just a public safety issue.
Kenya--who has yet to complete so much as an associate's degree--had apparently never been taught the oldest politician trick in the book. Just because somebody asks you a question doesn't mean you have to limit your answer to the question, particularly when you are, well, clueless.
Knowing sympathy was one of the few cards Kenya had to play in a game that was way over her head, Don never criticized his opponent directly and, indeed, it was hard to see where he'd criticized her INDIRECTLY. The Samuels political machine appeared to be TAKING IT EASY on Kenya. No sense mangling Kenya so badly that some future opponent would bring it up years from now. There are indeed ways to win a battle today but lay the groundwork for a future loss, like if your opponent throws herself in front of a train out of despair at public humiliation. Samuels was wily enough to know this and not metaphorically beat Kenya to a pulp, though one commentator described the match as "poodle versus pit bull."
The delegates were called back to the floor. It was announced there would be 142 delegates present on the next ballot. The ballots were cast again, and during the counting the Minnesota Speaker of the House gave a speech. Then Mayor Rybak gave a speech. Wait, let me guess... crime is down? Yup, crime was down.
At some point, the delegate who had argued with Blue Shirt Guy had to leave the gym to talk to the police. That didn't seem to last very long. Meanwhile, No-Chance-In-Hell Mayoral Candidate Al Flowers took the podium to speak. He railed about the lies in the media, saying, "Rybak has control of the media" and therefore "you don't know what's really going on." He talked about money needed to help the people of North Minneapolis and, incredibly, once again used the phrase "medium income."
His speech was, I confess, anti-climactic. I was expecting statements that were a lot more, well, INCENDIARY. Flowers is really at his best when he's NOT SUPPOSED TO BE SPEAKING. Voluntarily give him the floor and he's just...boring.
Right after Al Flowers spoke, the next round of ballots came back. Don Samuels had 59.4 percent, Kenya McKnight had dropped to 39.1 percent, and 1.4 percent was holding out for no endorsement. The margin Don Samuels needed to reach the magical 60 percent appeared to be one vote.
On the convention floor, I later learned real estate Connie Nompelis (No-bell-iss) had been literally meeting her new neighbors, and trying to win votes for Samuels. Speaking later at Broadway Pizza after an odd incident in a liquor store parking lot where Connie was forced to assert that I, Johnny Northside, was her HUSBAND, (I say these things in a spirit of, um, full disclosure) Nompelis read the political winds this way:
Some of the first Kenya votes were votes from the heart. A few folks were less than enthusiastic with Don Samuels, for one reason or another. So they voted with their hearts. But as the convention wore on, and delegates contemplated being there for a long time, and as they listened to the two candidates, some votes switched to Don Samuels. Those votes may have been less from the heart but were calculated and rational.
Nompelis made another thing clear: a political caucus or convention is a great way to meet your neighbors. After all, you'll all be seated in the same precinct. So who will be there? YOUR NEIGHBORS.
(The day after the convention, Connie Nompelis reported having "two new gray hairs" in her hairline. Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes told her to imagine how many gray hairs she'd get if Don Samuels DIDN'T win)
As the delegates geared up to vote again, a woman named "Flo" made an impassioned speech from the floor. Candidates for high offices had been coming her to speak, so give them the respect they deserve and stop all the "side talk."
Congressman Keith Ellison spoke, and made good use of his small amount of time by listing off all the things he didn't have time to talk about, but he would if he could, really. He was brief but entertaining. State Senator Linda Higgins was introduced next as both the "insider's insider, and the rabble rouser's rabble rouser."
As the third and--as it turned out--final round of voting took place, numerous Kenya McKnight supporters crowded the floor of the gym and began chanting for their candidate. The Samuels camp--instinctively more restrained, more rule-abiding, started to chant, too, so as to not be out done. Bobby Champion quieted the assembly and reminded everybody about the rules on demonstrations. You could have demonstration but it had to REMAIN IN PLACE. The demonstration could not be a moving or roving demonstration.
Both camps began loud demonstrations, rather like you would see at a high school sporting event, chanting the name of their candidate. On the convention floor, the delegates were busy with filling out and collecting ballots. This was it. This was fourth down on the one yard line. A single vote stood between Samuels and victory. If Kenya couldn't turn the tide now, what hope was there for the general election?
There came a moment when the Samuels camp stopped chanting the name of their candidate and, instead, began to chant "Northside!" It seemed like some of them waved to the McKnight camp, invited the other camp to join the chant.
This could have been a special and amazing moment in North Minneapolis politics, a moment when both sides chanted the same thing together: Northside. A moment like that could have given everybody goosebumps, and years later they might talk about THAT MOMENT.
But the McKnight people kept chanting "Kenya." They had no sense of the bigger picture, the greater good beyond their own narrow spectrum of hurts and grievances.
Jeff Skrenes--a consummate political player and insider, spotted Jackie Cherryhomes walking back from the ballot counting area, a big smile on her face. Jeff pointed Cherryhomes out to me. I saw Cherryhomes raise her hands, slightly, I saw emotional reactions in the people around her.
There it was. It's like that moment when the jury comes back and they LOOK at the defendant, or they REFUSE to look. You know which way it's going to go, even before the verdict is read. I handed Jeff Skrenes a dollar bill. We'd wagered. I'd lost. There would be no fourth round of voting. Jeff took a picture of himself with the dollar and put it up on Facebook. He was kind not to mention my name and revel publicly in winning our bet.
The results were read aloud by Bobby Joe Champion: Don Samuels won the endorsement with 61.9 percent. The clapping and cheering was, if anything, restrained. Some of the McKnight supporters tried to chant "We don't quit," but the chant wasn't really GOING anywhere, so it died.
The two candidates spoke. Kenya spoke first, and congratulated Don Samuels, showing a degree of grace and self-control. She said "I will continue..." but it wasn't clear what, exactly, she would continue. She talked about her "spirit" but it wasn't clear what that "spirit" was going to do.
Don Samuels spoke and congratulated Kenya on doing "an incredible job." Don told the assembled delegates, "If I have let you down, I have heard your voices." He said he would be happy to sit down right after the convention, at Broadway Pizza, and talk to both his own supporters and McKnight supporters. There was an odd final scene a little while later. One of Don's young daughters was crying, holding her face. Don picked her up and carried her, with a massive political entourage following behind.
Later, at Broadway Pizza, I asked Don what had happened? Why was his daughter crying? Don said his daughter had been walking up to him and he hadn't seen her, he accidentally bumped her in the face with his elbow. He felt terrible about it. That moment, he said, "Really brought me down to earth."
To many in the room, the convention was effectively over. But it wasn't. There were many minor DFL offices to fill, and elections for these offices. The few people left to vote and run for the offices seemed to break down into "remnant camps" of Samuels and McKnight, only a lot more of the McKnight people had left. The Samuels camp was smart enough to figure out that minor DFL offices laid the groundwork for much bigger victories. They were willing to wade through the political drudgery, the little details that made bigger and more spectacular events possible. Like buying the right kind of duct tape instead of the cheap crap. (See previous post)
Brian Bushay--who had been subjected to so much ire over the alleged "Kenya Eight" letters, was re-elected convention coordinator over "Black Beret Cell Phone Dude" Antwon (spelling unknown) Floyd, who ran on a spontaneous platform of how he would bring a "fresh perspective." Bushay won, overwhelmingly. The vote was clearly a vindication for Bushay, and a stinging rebuke to the McKnight camp. Later, at Broadway Pizza, I ran into Brian Bushay and he confirmed he viewed the vote as a vindication.
Kenya McKnight walked in and quietly took a seat on the convention floor to participate in the voting for minor DFL offices. I was sitting over by the bleachers, and Samuels supporter Nicole Doran said, "Go ask Kenya about the Queen of England." (This alludes to a previous story on this blog about Kenya's alleged belief that the Queen of England has control over American presidential politics, see that story)
"No way," I said. "I'm talking to those crazy McKnight people. I had three of them go off on me over having their pictures taken. I'm not doing it."
Doran kept urging me to ask Kenya about the Queen of England. I told Doran if I was going to ask Kenya ANYTHING, I'd ask whether she was still running. Her public statements about the matter had not been clear.
Doran told me Kenya wouldn't go off on me. Really. She's not like that. Go and ask her if she's still running. Again, I said I didn't want to approach that particular nest of hornets.
"I'll give you five bucks," Doran said. "You said how you'd like to get paid to blog."
"Give me the money," I answered, without hesitation. I've jumped off the roofs of buildings wearing a freaking CAPE for less money than that. (Admittedly, these were merely one-story buildings) I've drank Tabasco out of a shot glass. Five bucks to ask Kenya a perfectly legitimate journalistic question? I would have done it for A BUCK.
The delegates seated in the metal chairs were voting by standing up, then sitting down as the votes were counted. In order to avoid confusing the vote as I approached Kenya, I got down on my hands and knees on the gym floor as I got close to the chair where she was seated, like you'd approach a queen during the Middle Ages. I said, in an obsequious and polite tone, "Excuse me, Ms. McKnight, my blog would like to know if you're still running. It wasn't entirely clear from your public comments" or SOMETHING like that.
McKnight turned and said, "I'm not interested in talking to your blog."
It didn't seem like a good time to ask a follow-up about the Queeeeeeeeeeeeeeen of England.
Victory Goes To He Who Throws The Best Parties
Many do. It's true. Can't deny THAT.
I had an opportunity to speak to Don Samuels. In the course of our conversation, Samuels said he agreed the idea of "Market and Romanticize The Struggle" was a viable way to market North Minneapolis. We ended up talking about--incredibly--former NFL football player Pat Tillman, who left a promising football career for the hard, gritty, dangerous life of a U.S. army soldier.
Don wondered aloud if it might be possible to get people with that kind of fighting spirit to move to North Minneapolis, to turn around the tough areas and make the rapidly-improving areas even better? Don mentioned how many individuals were drawn to what was called the "Wild West" by the promise or rewards and adventure. Yes, Samuels said, there was definitely something to this idea of "Market and Romanticize The Struggle," though one might want to make it clear the word "Romanticize" wasn't like a vacation getaway.
A little while later, in response to my phone call, IBNN blogger (and GOP member) Don Allen arrived, single handedly making the Samuels celebration "bi-partisan" in nature.
This is the kind of event where valuable political scuttlebutt is laying around like a lost wallet. Kip Browne, who is affiliated with the Samuels camp, and is the chair of the Jordan Area Community Council, was willing to describe a little run-in with his nemesis, Jerry Moore, who is affiliated with the McKnight camp and was the executive director of JACC, until Kip Browne's "New Majority" faction ousted Moore.
According to Kip Browne, during the convention there had been two delegate "no shows," so two of the alternates were upgraded. But then a delegate showed up, so one of the former alternates (now delegates) needed to be downgraded back to alternate. Jerry Moore approached Kip Browne and reportedly said, "You have to take care of this." Browne replied, "I'm voting. You go take care of it."
Jerry Moore grabbed Kip Browne by the arm and said, "No, you have to take care of this!"
"Don't touch me, Jerry," Browne replied. Moore kept trying to talk about the issue with the delegate but Browne was emphasizing that Jerry SHOULD NOT TOUCH HIM.
Browne told me that Jerry himself had set the bar about touching people versus NOT touching people. Jerry had swung on somebody who "sarcastically" patted him on the back after the JACC election, and tried to justify that. So it was Jerry who had established the high and hard standards about unwelcome touching, but now wanted to grab Kip Browne by the arm.
Walking away, Jerry Moore reportedly said, "You need to get your ass beat."
"Excuse me?" Browne said. "Are you threatening me? ARE YOU THREATENING ME?"
(Side note, here. Browne has a black belt in karate. I've seen the certificate hanging on his wall)
At this point, Nicole Doran intervened, saying, "No no no no no no no---!" She told the representatives of the two warring factions--Browne and Moore, representing Samuels and McKnight, Old JACC versus New JACC--to cool off and go their separate ways. And they did.
Good Neighbors Voting For Good Neighbors
She would be, she said, "a hard task master."
But, she said, "You don't fire people from their job unless they're not doing their job."
On McKnight's Facebook campaign page, as of today, McKnight was stating that the majority of the community voices had not been herd (sic) and were not present on Saturday, but she was still pondering whether to continue her quest or "end the journey."
It is my worry that Kenya McKnight will indeed drop out of the race. Which would be a shame. The whole contest is such great blogging material.