The View from Here

The terrorist attacks of September 11 took place far away. But they hit close to home.

--Leyla Kokmen

 

 

David Paul Schmit

THE POLLS HAVE BEEN CLOSED for an hour, but no one at St. Paul City Council member and mayoral hopeful Jerry Blakey's election-night fete can figure out the results. The television sets in the section of Joseph's Grill reserved for the subdued crowd of about 30 supporters are all tuned to the news, but it's all terrorism, all the time.

The crowd is a diverse mix of residents of Blakey's Ward 1 and Republican Party bigwigs. GOP gubernatorial hopeful Brian Sullivan is mingling, as is Corey Miltimore, the executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party.

In the middle of the banquet hall are David Strom and his wife Margaret Martin. Strom is legislative director for the conservative advocacy organization the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. Martin is a graduate student. Both are 37 years old.

Strom: "It was very odd. I went into the shower and Margaret called in to me and said, 'Go watch the TV, the World Trade Center's burning.' So I get out of the shower and come, and the second plane hits the World Trade Center. I have to go to a meeting, and I hop into my car and the Pentagon gets hit. So there's just this overwhelming sense of the unrealism of the whole thing.

"I remembered vaguely that 30,000 to 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center and I knew that they were at risk. But the buildings hadn't collapsed yet, so I thought, All right, maybe a few thousand people or a few hundred people may be hurt. But when I heard that they collapsed, the first thing I thought was: 25,000 people had died. It's a city."

Martin: "I was in Venezuela in '92 and there was a military coup. It lasted all day--from like five in the morning until the soldiers gave it up at like five o' clock in the afternoon. All day you could hear aircraft fire, you could hear bombs going off. You just never knew when it was gonna end. We were inside. We were just hunkered down. You didn't go outside, because you could hear the bullets whizzing by outside. You just didn't know when it was gonna end. The TV only gave you partial information. Nobody really knew what was going on. Some TV stations had been hit. It was one disaster, then another disaster, and then another disaster. You just never knew when it was gonna end. This is sorta like that."

Strom: "The thing that flashed through my mind was when that truck bomb went to the Washington Monument. This was years ago. Nothing blew up, but there was just sort of the sense of hours and hours, waiting. But to put it in terms of the scale here, I just can't imagine. What since the bombs dropped at Hiroshima, or Dresden? When have tens of thousands of people died? It's inconceivable."

Jerry Blakey was gathering his family Tuesday morning to go and vote when he became aware of the hijackings. "As we were getting dressed, we just couldn't believe what was going on," he says. "I couldn't believe it. My first thought was: This must be an accident. And then I heard a report on the radio--they had a specialist on, and he was saying there's no way that anybody who's a trained pilot would have any problem being able to steer away from a building.

"My oldest daughter is seven, and we're in the process of adopting a five- and a three-year-old. They were all with us. We actually turned the radio off, because we kinda felt it was a little too much, too heavy for them. My oldest daughter asked what was happening. My wife and the kids just came back from Chicago a couple weeks ago on a plane, so we didn't want to scare them about airplanes. We just said that we weren't sure what was happening and we were gonna talk to them later about it."

By this point in the evening, the primary results from Minneapolis have all been tallied, but the St. Paul numbers seem to be trickling in. With about 25 percent of precincts counted, Blakey lags far behind in fourth place. He absorbs the disappointing returns with a shrug. "We're gonna still hold out hope," he says.

--Paul Demko

 

 

A VOLUNTEER FOR MAYOR SHARON Sayles Belton's reelection campaign is putting food on a conference table draped with a royal-blue tablecloth and framed by blue balloons. But none of the 50 supporters gathered at the Richard R. Green School in south Minneapolis has lined up for the grub. They're gathered around three TV sets a few yards from the table, watching the Tuesday evening news. "What do you say after something like this today?" asks John Sugimara, a 37-year-old campaign volunteer. "I would have raced to the polls to defend my right to a democracy, but I know some people don't feel that way."

At a little before nine o'clock, the results start coming in. With 80 percent of the votes counted, the mayor is safely in second place behind challenger R.T. Rybak. No one seems very interested, but a few folks form a line at the buffet. In a corner on the other side of the room, a microphone stand and an American flag sit on a riser. In the background, blue-and-white campaign signs are taped to the concrete wall. On a boom box at the front of the room, mayoral candidate Lisa McDonald can be heard giving her concession speech. Still, the local affiliates have yet to interrupt the national news with primary coverage. Two TV reporters wait to do their live reports from the rally.

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