by Ed Felien
In the interest of complete disclosure, I confess I’ve run against Peter McLaughlin on at least two occasions: 20 years ago I competed against him for the DFL endorsement for an open seat in the Legislature, and two years ago I ran against him for County Commissioner. I had hopes of beating him both times, but, realistically, I’m a radical, Peter’s a liberal, and in both contests liberal was as far out as most people wanted to go. Peter’s unabashed support for Pohlad’s baseball stadium was an issue I trumpeted two years ago. There was some traction with voters on the issue, but not enough to get me even 20 percent of the votes in the General Election.
We sat down last Friday and talked for about an hour and a half about some of
the issues. I posed the question: “The City Charter says the people of
Minneapolis want to vote on a sports stadium before public funds are used. You
want to swear to uphold the City Charter. Do you believe the people of Minneapolis
should be allowed to vote on the proposed baseball stadium?”
a county issue,” he said.
But the increase in the sales tax is going to collect probably over $10 million
a year from Minneapolis. Shouldn’t the voters in Minneapolis be allowed
to vote on it?
“It’s a county issue,” he repeated.
I agreed with him that we live and vote in a republic, where officials are elected
to make decisions about governance, but on those occasions when the voters insist
on reserving for themselves the right to make decisions on certain questions,
then, shouldn’t that right be respected?
He looked at me like I was either willfully naïve or nuts. We moved on.
“What is your view of the Minneapolis police? Do you have any new ideas
for community policing? What could be done to strengthen block clubs?”
“We need more police,” he said. “There should be increased
funding for community policing. We need to reinvigorate grassroots crime fighting
strategies. The Federal Mediation process a few years ago did a lot to change
some police officers’ attitudes. That was great! We need to do more of
that. Paul Zerby did a great job bringing that together, one of his major contributions.”
“But what about actually paying block club leaders? In those areas where
we have trouble, when we know there’s a crack house on a block, why not
pay block club leaders something like $50 or $100 a week to welcome new people
into the neighborhood, inform them about government services and keep an eye
on kids that might not have adequate supervision?” I asked.
“We need more police,” he said.
“Dioxin levels from the Hennepin County incinerator have been dramatically
reduced, but there is still a footprint of asthma that affects children from
the Phillips Neighborhood south,” I said. “Would this be a priority
for you as mayor? What would you do about it?”
“Well, I wouldn’t eliminate the Minneapolis Public Health Department
for starters,” he said. “That’s what [R.T.] Rybak wants to
do. We need to work on mass transit. Cars are the major source of pollution.
When Xcel converted to gas from coal, Rybak took credit for it. That was a grassroots
community effort, and he jumped out in front of the parade and thought he led
it. George Crocker went to Rybak and asked him to support private ownership
of wind power generators. The utility companies have made it impossible for
individual farmers or communities to generate their own electricity by using
Rybak said he was too busy and it wasn’t a priority. I met with George
and thought it was a great idea. I got together with some of the DFL state Senators
at the Legislature and we got the bill passed. I’ve been actively involved
in real coalitions that do something. I met with legislators and got them to
agree to fund mass transit when they fund highway construction.”
“What new sources of funding do you see for the city?” I asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t turn down $25 million when the Legislature offers
it to me,” he said. “That’s what Rybak did. The Legislature
offered him $25 million to help with the police pensions, and he turned it down
hoping for a better deal. I’d favor a progressive increase in business
fees. But most of our money comes from the state, so it’s important to
build coalitions with out-state legislators. Issues like public safety can bring
together non-traditional allies.”
“You are widely seen as inheriting the mantle of Sharon Sayles-Belton,”
I said. “She was probably defeated last time because she led the charge
to give Target $65 million in tax-increment financing. Don’t you think
the voters are going to see you the same way, except you’re giving Carl
Pohlad something like $30 million a year for 30 years to build a stadium?”
“Mike Opat [of the county board] has been working on this deal,”
McLaughlin said. “I think it’s a good deal. I support it. I’ve
always been honest about my position on it. While Rybak has ducked the issue.
But did you see Sid Hartman’s column this morning, where he quoted Rybak
as having said he’d worked with Opat for 14 months on the deal? This guy’s
got way too much artifice. He’s less about liveability for the City and
more about liveability for himself.”
McLaughlin continued, “Rybak wouldn’t speak up for housing for veterans
at the Fort Snelling site. I went to the meetings. I publicly supported them.
I stood up in front of NENA (Nokomis East Neighborhood Association) and took
the hit from people nervous about homeless vets moving into the neighborhood.
“He [Rybak] said he’d do 24-hour snow plowing. Well, that didn’t
happen. He said he wouldn’t do fundraising while in office, except during
an election year. Well, that promise was broken. He said he’d reveal his
contributors. He hasn’t.”
I asked him what his count was. He wouldn’t say, “There’s
a lot of things happening. It’s the first day of fishing season, and there’s
a lot of graduation parties.”
McLaughlin has the endorsement of the Teamsters, AFSCME and the Firefighters,
and he is widely expected to get the AFL-CIO and Building Trades endorsements
as well. He is seen as the labor liberal and Rybak is seen as the limousine
liberal, appealing more to the small business and professional people. The big
difference this time is that neighborhood activists who were frustrated with
Belton and supported Rybak have become disenchanted with Rybak and are hoping
McLaughlin will save NRP (Neighborhood Revitalization Program). It’s
shaping up in South Minneapolis to be a battle across the freeway with the more
blue-collar east side supporting McLaughlin and the more affluent west side
supporting Rybak. The heavily labor union Northeast and Northside should tip
“A block is as good as a win,” McLaughlin says. In the political
world, politicians feed the press diminished expectations, so he probably wouldn’t
say that if he didn’t already have the votes to block the endorsement.
It is possible he might have the votes to win the DFL endorsement on Saturday.
Ed Felien is the
publisher of Pulse of the Twin Cities and is still an unrepentant radical.