Wednesday, November 3, 2010

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Back Story On The Chanda Smith Baker Versus Rebecca Gagnon Recount Battle!

Contibuted DFL convention stock photo, xoxo, blog post by John Hoff

Today published an intriguing story about the pending recount between school board candidates Chanda Smith Baker and Rebecca Gagnon, click here, who are separated not just by one percent of the vote total but also by a wide gulf of viewpoints and background.

Some of the interesting back story in this race made its way to me this morning...

First of all, as described in more detail by MinnPost, the Minneapolis School Board is phasing in a system whereby most seats would represent particular districts, and then there would also be a few at large seats. Though this "phasing in" scheme was probably not intended to temporarily deprive North Minneapolis of representation on the School Board, as events played out at the DFL convention in May it became increasingly clear how a certain combination of candidates in the race could create precisely that result in November.

Minneapolis is a DFL-dominated town. Very often, what happens at the city DFL convention effectively determines the final election because the GOP is so completely shut out. This may seem an odd thing to write this morning, as every television set in North America features news channels babbling about an overwhelming tide of GOP victories in yesterday's election, but we're just talking about this little Minneapolis school board race here, okay? The big beach of national politics is made up of many grains of sand, and I'm all over this one. Anyway...

At the DFL city convention in May, when it came to the issue of school board races, one candidate was easily and overwhelmingly endorsed. That was Richard "Dick" Mammen, who (to nobody's surprise) garnered more votes in last night's election than any other school board candidate. However, the next endorsement at the DFL convention was more of a battle. From a pool of many contenders, the race became a three-way-contest in which Rebecca Gagnon was dropped early for lack of support. The race for the endorsement at that point was between T. Williams, who is from North Minneapolis and was already an incumbent on the school board and Chanda Smith Baker, a newcomer to the school board political scene but a longtime North Minneapolis activist with deep family roots in the education system and, finally, David DeGrio, a white, openly gay, resident of Northeast. DeGrio is also a current school system employee.

In regard to T. Williams, some political analysts say he is a brilliant and fascinating man, but he just doesn't toot his own horn or campaign hard enough. Some in North Minneapolis were emotionally torn between T. Williams and Chanda Smith Baker, knowing that T. Williams is a laid back older gentleman, while Chanda seemed like the kind of energetic personality who would jump in headfirst in the battle to help North area sorely in need of help for its children, as evidenced by the recent controversy over whether to close North High.

In this three way battle between Williams, Smith Baker, and DeGrio, nobody was able to walk away with the DFL endorsement after five ballots.

The rules of the convention allowed for a motion to adjourn after five ballots and that's what the body of delegates chose to do because nobody was anywhere near 60 percent and there was no movement. One source provided numbers on the final vote and these numbers were on the Minneapolis issues list prior to being published here, and are as follows:

T. Williams, 48 percent.

David DeGrio, 47 percent.

Smith Baker had dropped out by the fifth vote, and her supporters apparently shifted to T. Williams. But this shift of support was still not enough for T. Williams to get the endorsement. The end result was an unsatisfying convention stalemate though, notably, Rebecca Gagnon wasn't even part of that stalemate. Gagnon was barely on the radar at the convention.

Right after this convention battle, an amazing thing happened. David DeGrio made a moral choice to drop out of the race and, instead, support Chanda Smith Baker. DeGrio articulated his reasoning on his website as follows: We can all do better when everyone is at the table. What this lovely thought apparently means, stripped right down to reality, is this: if DeGrio ran, he realized he would be contributing greatly to the stark possibility that North Minneapolis would be left without any representation on the school board until January of 2013. There was extensive discussion about this matter on the Minneapolis Issues List.

Meanwhile, despite a painful lack of support at the DFL convention, Rebecca Gagnon continued her campaign, most likely concentrating her door knocking in the affluent "fertile crescent" of Southwest Minneapolis, where she resides. Chanda Smith Baker campaigned all over the city, including North Minneapolis. The final results of this contest--unless anything is changed by the recount--have produced the very situation which DeGrio sought to avoid by dropping out of the race: North Minneapolis has no representation on the school board until 2013.

If the results stand, Rebecca Gagnon will become infamous as the school board member who deprived North Minneapolis of its "seat at the table."

Blogging From Wisconsin Dells


Anonymous said...

Who cares, there won't be any schools in NOMI anyway.

Rob Levine said...

Um, maybe people didn't vote for Baker because she called teachers "cynical and morally bankrupt" in the Star Tribune.

Mike "Spidey" Weinand said...

Also, Baker's kids aren't in minneapolis schools, and she works for the charter schools, which many see as a HUGE conflict of interests. And Rebecca did NOT rely solely on sw minneapolis. She busted her ass doorknocking all over the city, including at least once a week in NE minneapolis, which hasn't had any representation on the school board in decades.

I also need to point out, that based on the past decade or two, having representation on the school board certainly hasn't seemed to help north minneapolis schools one damn bit.

I really think the people who are most upset about this aren't so much at issue with the fact that there isn't a northside person, as much as that there isn't an american-born black person. There is a pretty thinly veiled racism behind a lot of this discussion.

For what it's worth, I voted for both baker and gagnon, as they are the only two at-large candidates who actually talked to me personally, and seemed like they cared more about making sure the job was right than that the job was done by them.

Don't forget too, that our governor-elect didn't have a single vote at any convention, caucus or straw poll.