The Education of Sharon Sayles Belton

No party endorsement, a disastrous primary, and an opponent who attracts wealthy liberals: Can Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton revive her reelection campaign?

When she was done, a black woman, a 22-year-old senior by the name of Alicia Bennett, wanted to know how the city could be shutting down elementary schools if the mayor's record on children and education was so strong. The mayor explained that while she has no direct control over the school board, it's an area where she seeks to have some influence. For about ten minutes, she explained that some schools will close but others have opened.

Bennett seemed less than pacified, and when the question-and-answer period was over, the mayor walked right over to Bennett. "I've met you before," Bennett said. "You don't remember me? You owe me an apology."

Mayor and student scurried out to the hallway, where Sayles Belton listened as Bennett complained that she had contacted the mayor's office to find out how to work for her campaign, to no avail. Sayles Belton, genuinely chagrined, took down her name and phone number.

P-Jay Fidler

Bennett wasn't done, however. "Your campaign, it's depressing," she scolded. "I know you. You are warm, and you are focused, and you care. But you have an inability to convey the human element in your campaign. And it's sad. R.T. does it, and everything he talks about, he just picks up from you. It makes him look like he cares more than you. To me, it's sad."

Sayles Belton, perhaps reminded of herself 30 years earlier, did not recoil. "I hear you," she said quietly, looking at the floor. "I hear you." •

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