by Ed Felien
Publisher of Pulse of the Twin Cities
According to a Federal affidavit and search warrant, Dean Zimmermann is alleged to have taken bribes in exchange for support on a zoning change for a developer.
Gary Carlson, the developer who built the housing project at 2401 Chicago Ave., wanted to get more retail into the first floor of his building. He called Zimmermann and asked for his help in getting the zoning change. Zimmermann listened and was probably genuinely trying to be helpful. Then, Carlson, probably acting as his new best friend asked Zimmermann how he could help him.
probably talked about his campaign. Carlson probably said he’d like to
contribute. Zimmermann probably said the limit was $300. Carlson probably said
that’s too bad because he’d love to do more. Zimmermann probably
then told him about FREE—For Redistricting, Evenly and Equitably. This
was an organization that initiated a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis
to protest the redistricting map drawn up by Rick Stafford on behalf of the
DFL to cut Green Party Councilmember Dean Zimmermann and Green Party Councilmember
Natalie Johnson-Lee into wards with DFL incumbents. It was payback time for
Stafford because Zimmermann had beaten Stafford’s former roommate in the
Ward 6 City Council election four years ago. Councilmembers Natalie Johnson
Lee and Don Samuels joined the lawsuit, and the organization held fundraisers
and tried to raise $100,000 to pay the lawyers who initiated the suit.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell the reader that I was a
contributor to FREE. I attended a fundraiser at Babalu Restaurant along with
about 150 other people, and as I was leaving, Councilmembers Robert Lilligren
and Gary Schiff were coming in.
Further, I was a member of the City Council 30 years ago when a man called me
up claiming to be a friend of my wife’s deceased father. He wanted to
have lunch and talk about transferring an off-sale liquor license he had on
Franklin Avenue to 42nd and Bloomington. I told him I’d be happy to have
lunch with him, but the location he had chosen was probably not a good one.
I didn’t think the neighbors at 42nd and Bloomington would welcome an
off-sale liquor store. During lunch he persisted. I said I’d check with
some of the neighbors, but I urged him to consider another location. I excused
myself to go to the restroom.
He followed me into the restroom and slipped $200 into my hand. I asked, “What’s
this for?” He said it was a campaign contribution. I said, “Thanks,”
and I didn’t think anything more about it. Later that week I called a
few of the neighbors and, as I thought, no one wanted an off-sale liquor store
on 42nd and Bloomington. I called up the man and told him the results. I told
him I couldn’t support a liquor store at that location, but I’d
be happy to help him look for another location. I lost my bid for re-election,
and a few months later this man went into the new Ward 8 Councilmember’s
office and told him he’d paid $200 for a liquor license and he wanted
it at 42nd and Bloomington. The new councilmember called the county attorney
and eventually there was a full-scale investigation of the granting of liquor
licenses. It is my judgment, and the judgment of the legal establishment, that
I did nothing wrong. In any case, once I understood the meaning of the transaction
that the man had placed on it, I returned his $200.
more to the point of the current question, the $200 wasn’t a bribe as
far as I was concerned because I was not intending to change my vote based on
that campaign contribution. He pretended to be a friend of the family, and I
wanted to help him, but he wasn’t buying my vote. On the other hand, he
did believe he was offering a bribe to an elected official. For that reason,
he should have been prosecuted for trying to corrupt an elected official.
It was three months after my election when WCCO TV called and said they wanted
to come over and interview me about liquor reform. I had no idea there was an
investigation underway. I agreed to have them come into my home. We talked for
a while on camera about some of my reformist ideas and, then, out of the blue,
the interviewer asked, “Did you take $200 from someone in a men’s
room for a liquor license?” That was what was broadcast that evening on
the 6 and 10 o’clock news. I had been set up and ambushed by the media.
The stain from that broadcast was so deep and so permanent that 28 years later
when I was running against Peter McLaughlin for county commissioner, Wizard
Marks (who is generally a respected authority on South Minneapolis politics)
publicly accused me of being indicted in the liquor scandal of the 1970s. I
corrected her. She apologized. But once again damage had been done.
Dean Zimmermann has already been indicted and convicted by the StarTribune.
Its headline on Saturday read, “Council member took bribes, affidavit
alleges.” Most people will read that headline, or read the article in
the context of that headline, and believe Zimmermann took a bribe. That damage
is probably permanent and irreparable.
But Zimmermann didn’t trade cash for a vote. He acted like an ombudsman
shepherding Carlson’s request through the bureaucratic maze that is City
Hall. That’s his job. His job is to cut through the red tape. In the end,
Zimmermann looked at the proposal to add more retail and voted against it. The
affidavit alleges Zimmermann violated a federal statute by “accepting
monetary bribes in exchange for official acts while acting as a Minneapolis
City Council Member.” What “monetary bribe”? Zimmermann asked
Carlson if he wanted to donate to FREE. Zimmermann asked almost everyone he
met if they wanted to donate to FREE. What “official act”? Voting
against Carlson’s request?
Feds have no case here. And they know it. That’s why they issued an affidavit
and a search warrant instead of seeking an indictment from a federal grand jury.
They don’t have anything serious enough to prosecute. It begins to look
like they intended only to damage Zimmermann and the Greens politically.
Carlson had other projects for which he wanted Zimmermann’s advice. Zimmermann
rode around with Carlson looking at various locations and pointing out zoning
problems and possibilities for a Somali mall. Carlson then indicated he wanted
to contribute more to the Dean Zimmermann campaign. From the affadavit: “Zimmermann
handed CW [Gary Carlson, the Cooperating Witness] a ‘Friends for Dean
Zimmermann’ campaign contribution envelope stating ‘you’ve
already maxed out though on the limit, right?’ CW advised, ‘Yeah,
I think so,’ and Zimmermann then instructed the CW to find somebody else
who wants to write a check. CW responded, ‘Got it,’ and asked for
a couple more of the envelopes. Zimmermann handed CW more envelopes (for a total
of four) stating ‘$600 for a married couple is the limit,’ to which
CW responded ‘okay.’”
What Zimmermann is proposing to Carlson is that he “bundle” the
contributions. If he wanted to contribute $1200 to the campaign, then he would
have to find four new people that would write checks for $300 each or $600 for
a married couple. Ward 7 Councilmember Lisa Goodman, with only tepid opposition
in this election, has raised more than $100,000. She represents most of downtown.
Developers would like her to like them. She only gives a few fundraisers a year,
so it’s important to show up and make a good impression. Doesn’t
it seem reasonable that a lawyer who is representing a developer who wants to
build something worth tens of millions of dollars would talk to the other members
of his law firm and bundle their contributions, understanding that any political
contribution they made would be billed to the client?
Zimmermann explained the law to Carlson. Later Carlson gave Zimmermann four
envelopes each with $300 in cash and Somali sounding names identifying the donors.
Zimmermann took the envelopes home with him. He did not record those contributors
on his Campaign Report. When the Feds searched Zimmermann’s home they
found the four envelopes with the cash. It is most probable that Zimmermann
and Jenny Heiser, his wife, looked at the envelopes, thought there was something
fishy about them, and thought they’d return them when the crush of the
what did Dean Zimmermann do wrong?
Did he take a bribe in exchange for a vote? He was raising money for a political
organization (FREE) just like he used to raise money for civil rights organizations,
antiwar activities, Jesse Jackson, Paul Wellstone and bail funds for political
Did he sell his vote? He actually voted against Carlson’s project. Molly
Ivins likes to quote the Texas Leg’(islature) on political fundraising:
“If you can’t take their money, drink their liquor and screw their
women, and vote your conscience, then you’re not a real man.”
Did Zimmermann break any laws in raising money for his campaign? He strictly
upheld the law in raising campaign funds, and when something smelled fishy the
money never got into the campaign.
So, what did Dean do wrong?
Zimmermann did nothing wrong. The FBI and Tom Hefflefinger, the Federal Prosecuting
Attorney, know they don’t have a legal case against him, so they’ve
decided to hang him in the press. They should either bring an indictment or
publicly apologize for marching into his house, taking his campaign materials,
his mailing lists, disrupting his campaign and trying to destroy him in the
Friends of Zimmermann are fighting back. They are determined to not let the
new Stormtroopers get away with this. If you want to help, send a check to Zimmermann
for Justice, c/o David Tilsen, 3220 10th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55407. ||