REMEMBER THE FLAP over Minneapolis Council Member Brian Herron's letter on City Hall stationery calling for reduced bail for reputed gang leader Reggie Ferguson after a jury deadlocked in Ferguson's trial? Keith Ellison, a Minneapolis lawyer, says outrage over Herron as a politician meddling in the court system is an example of race-based hypocrisy. In a blistering attack in Insight News recently, Ellison noted that Herron, the Council's lone black member, was vilified while Dennis Schulstad, the white 13th Ward representative, received no criticism for writing a letter in another case calling for stiffer penalties for an Ellison client.
"Why is it bad for Brian Herron to write a letter in favor of Reggie Ferguson, but good for Dennis Schulstad to write a letter against my client?" Ellison asked. "Can government officials only inflict pain and punishment on Black defendants, but not the reverse?"
Schulstad, for his part, denies ever writing a letter--which Ellison could not produce. However, Schulstad acknowledged calling Judge Kathleen Blatz about the case; Blatz says the call came after she invited community input following a drug-dealing conviction. Schulstad says one difference between his and Herron's actions is that he intervened as a community resident, not as a council member; Blatz confirms that Schulstad did not mention his political position. "He merely reiterated the community's call for a tough sentence," Blatz recalls.
However, it's unlikely that Schulstad and Blatz needed a formal introduction. Blatz is a former Republican legislator from Bloomington, a stone's throw from Schulstad's ward, and Schulstad is the council's only GOP (though officially independent) member. Unsaid political connections are a privilege of the city's long-time political elite, which newcomer Herron does not enjoy--one reason, perhaps, that he naively put pen to paper.