Notes of a Native Son

For an immigrant kid from Northeast, Walt Dziedzic did all right for himself. His proudest accomplishment? That he never forgot where he came from.

Dziedzic "was absolutely instrumental in getting Hofstede elected," says Derus. And in the polarized atmosphere of the MPD, backing Hofstede put Dziedzic's career at the police department in jeopardy. "I went way out on a limb to help him against the Stenvig crew," Dziedzic says. "If Stenvig had won he would have tried to fire me."

As it was, Hofstede won, overcoming a three-to-one margin early on. His first term as mayor was a radical departure from the get-tough rhetoric of Charlie Stenvig. "The issue was very simple," Hofstede says. "People didn't know what to do with the core city." Hofstede's answers would be familiar in today's political environment: investing in communities, improving race relations, reining in rogue cops. He cleaned out Stenvig's police leadership, and Dziedzic enjoyed a bit of patronage for his efforts, becoming a high-ranking inspector of police. But after just one Hofstede term, Stenvig launched a successful comeback.

"Some people in Hofstede's office said, 'We're not having any more cops working on the campaign,'" Dziedzic recalls. "He changed the signs, changed the literature. He went to this 'community based' thing; he's preaching 'community' out there now. Shit, he got fancy. I like a nice, hard sign: 'Hofstede mayor.' But he put the community this, the community that and all kinds of bullshit on his sign--you could hardly figure out what it was. And no cops working. They just got lazy. It turned out to be a great, nice day that November. A warm day. Nobody voted. We lost by 500 votes. I really felt bad. We started to get the town going in the right direction, and then we get two more years of Stenvig."

But if Stenvig's re-election was bad news for the city, it was even worse news for Dziedzic's career in the police department. As the outspoken and visible leader of the Hofstede contingent on the force, Dziedzic had made a sworn enemy out of Stenvig. Now that he was back in office, it was payback time. Stenvig's appointed police chief quickly demoted Dziedzic to the burglary division. The department launched an investigation Dziedzic says was politically motivated after some loot turned up missing on his watch. Dziedzic was eventually cleared, but he was reassigned to a desk job handing out burglary investigations.

The desk job proved to be fortuitous--he was assigned to work closely with an officer who claimed he had personally padded Stenvig's overtime hours during his first mayoral campaign. The election cycle was underway again with a rematch between Hofstede and Stenvig. With Dziedzic's encouragement, the officer told his story to a reporter. "It ain't a week later," Dziedzic chuckles, "there's a big headline: Stenvig Padded Overtime. That was a crime--stealing city funds." The mayor was never charged--the documents in question had disappeared from the department. But the damage was done. "Well, a few weeks before the election, you get a headline like that in the Star," Dziedzic shrugs. "Al beat him. Beat him bad. It was funny. They had figured, we'll fuck that Dziedzic--we'll investigate him, we'll put him on a desk job. So they put me right next to the guy who could bring down Stenvig."

With the Stenvig era over, and his man once again in the mayor's office, Dziedzic decided to throw his hat in the ring for the Council seat in his ward. He won his first election, and has held onto his seat with little effort for 21 years.

In the past two decades, the issues that Dziedzic stumped for and staked his police career on have become the dominant themes in Minneapolis DFL politics. In the wake of the Plymouth Avenue riots, Dziedzic was one of the first cops in the newly formed "community relations" department, which has evolved into the MPD's CCP/SAFE program. Hofstede advocated rebuilding communities; Dziedzic has supported the NRP program, which is supposed to funnel money out of downtown and into the neighborhoods. Hofstede took Stenvig to task for letting businesses slip out of the city; Dziedzic has helped to amass one of the largest business districts in the city.

So you can hardly blame the councilman for resenting that he's often labeled a conservative and a throwback. "I remember a bartender told me, 'God you're the most liberal guy down there and you would think you're Attila the Hun,'" Dziedzic grumbles. "I never could figure that out, because I was liberal. I'm for gun control, and I was a cop. When you look at my background, with my dad dying in '35, why wouldn't I be for the little guy? Especially kids who are trying to pull themselves up out of the neighborhood. That's why I supported the Edison hockey arena on Central Avenue and why I worked so hard to help kids on athletic programs. So when people say, 'Ah, you're nothing but a conservative,' I just shake my head and laugh."

His rule has not been without controversy. In the early 1980s, WCCO's I-Team ran a story linking Dziedzic to illegal gambling, a story he blames on politicized cops taking a page out of the Hofstede/Stenvig political manual: "It was pure unadulterated trying to get a guy for political bullshit." A grand jury cleared him of wrongdoing, and the stories didn't seem to tarnish him at election time. Dziedzic's reputation took another hit in 1982 during a Council discussion of the school board's redistricting effort. He complained about too many children from Native and African American neighborhoods coming to Edison. "I bitched when they redistricted the schools because you know what they sent to Edison? They sent all the kids from the projects," he bristles. "They didn't send any of the two-parent-family kids. I said, 'Christ, you drew the district up like a toilet and you gave Edison the royal flush.' Oh jeez right away I'm some kind of a bigoted racist--that's pure unadulterated bullshit. My middle two kids were the first ones to get off the bus at North when they started that program. So it gets a little old and a little thin when people accuse me of doing this and that for racism." At the time, Dziedzic issued a public apology.

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