It gets harder and harder each year to argue that voting matters. Consider: in Minneapolis, a black mayor who to this day is best described by the election-night slip of onetime police chief Tony Bouza ("Sharon is the whitest person I know"). In St. Paul, a blow-dried music man whose greatest feat remains convincing otherwise thinking people that corporate welfare is something to be proud of. And on the challenger side, two smart loudmouths who promised to poke the incumbents' smug self-confidence, only to fizzle into near irrelevancy.
Further down the ballot, things don't look much better. In these one-party cities, only four City Council races hold out the shadow of a contest, the rest (along with school board, park board, and library board) having been decided six months ago. It's enough to make you wish someone--the religious Right, the Greens, anyone--would get their act together and give the DFL stooges a run for their money.
And if all that isn't enough, the press will do its best to quash any shred of interest. Recently, a local television producer called to request comment on the question, "Is race really an issue in the Minneapolis mayoral race?" Let's see: This is one of the most segregated cities in the nation; racial tension suffuses every major issue on the political radar (crime, education, housing); and people distrust each other so profoundly they can't even sort out a stupid post-debate brawl. Is race an issue? Will it snow this winter?
But all that's easy to say--as easy as sitting back, pouring a glass of wine, and prating on about what the world's coming to. Sure, you can feel superior in the knowledge that voting is a pitiful exercise, a mere diversion for those naive or uneducated enough not to know any better. Someone, you figure, is going to blow the fuckers up some day; in the meantime you'll read another good book.
Which is exactly what they'd like you to do. Forget the obligatory politician testimonials about how thrilled they are to go back to the voters. Power is a sweet thing, and no one who's ever had a taste of it could honestly claim to enjoy begging for it every four years. That's why even people like Sharon Sayles Belton get the jitters when no one shows up at their campaign offices. For it is always possible that through some fluke of fate or some sudden stirring in the sleeping beast that is the electorate, their little circus could collapse.
And there is another reason. On every ballot there's someone like Bob Rose, the cranky teacher and school-board candidate featured in this issue. Someone who, for whatever bizarre reason, decided to spend time and money to speak truth to power; someone whose mere presence at debates annoys incumbents to no end. Refusing people like that a vote is a slap across the face, a way of saying that their try at taking democracy at its word--however odd, however bittersweet the notion--is not even worth the drive down the block.
As for this issue: It's not a voter's guide, nor a list of endorsements. We're simply taking advantage of the occasion to rattle a few cages. David Schimke checks the facts on Norm Coleman's story; Britt Robson probes the Minneapolis mayor's real record on race. Joe Hart chronicles the days when, though you'd never guess it now, these cities had real political fireworks (rotten eggs and all). Keke Zulu asks what, if anything, the civil-rights referendum would really mean. Next week it's on to the city councils--musical chairs in St. Paul, gerrymandering in North Minneapolis, and the yuppie wars on the South Side. If you still want to vote after all of that, it's their funeral.