No one actually drops to their knees in this mecca of St. Paul politics to plead for divine intervention in the mayor's race, but many do respond by imbibing some holy water. The election may be a squeaker, but there is little doubt that the Randy Kelly camp is weaving its way to a landslide victory in alcohol consumption.
Kelly supporters have been blithely predicting victory all evening. "'Kelly Wins'--that's your headline," Don Maietta, chairman of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce's political action committee, repeatedly hectors. But despite the surface swagger of the Kelly supporters, whispered asides and anguished glances at TV monitors suggest that they are still wary of defeat. Rumors that exit polls show DFL-endorsee Jay Benanav winning by 200 votes have been filtering through the crimson leather booths all night.
At this late hour the wood floor directly in front of the podium resembles a rugby scrum. Reporters vie for space among suits with whiskey breath, craggy-faced East Side politicos, and burly police officers and firefighters. Amid the frenzy, vanquished mayoral hopeful Bobbi Megard makes an appearance, fresh from the Benanav gathering. "It's a very different atmosphere in here than it is over at the Saint Paul Hotel," she comments. "There's much more energy here."
After being routed in the primary election, Megard remained neutral in the mayoral race. She points out that a Kelly victory would mark the third straight time that the DFL-sanctioned candidate has gone down to defeat. "If Kelly pulls this off tonight, it's a final blow to the endorsement process," Megard declares. "They had to win this time."
A few minutes later, pregnant WCCO-TV (Channel 4) reporter Esme Murphy makes her way, grim-faced, through the crowd. "You're looking a little fatter than the last time I saw you," Megard comments. "That's all right." Not surprisingly, Murphy has little to offer by way of response.
As 11:00 passes, one of the TV stations reports that Kelly holds a 403-vote lead with all precincts counted. Relieved catcalls, claps, and "Randy! Randy!" chants break out--but still no sign of the candidate. Someone accidentally smashes a wine glass directly in front of the podium.
When a beaming Kelly finally glad-hands his way to the stage, joining a crowded cast of at least two dozen St. Paul politicos and family members, it's pushing 11:30. Kelly thanks a laundry list of supporters before repeating his campaign mantra. "Now is not the time to radically change direction, and I can assure you we won't," he says, Coleman beaming by his side. "We will build upon the progress of the past eight years, and we'll do so with your energy, your vision, and your commitment."
State Rep. Andy Dawkins has been here before. In 1993 he garnered the DFL endorsement but still lost to Norm Coleman. This year Dawkins backed Kelly all the way, despite earning the scorn of his party's faithful. "The DFL party's gonna be competitive for the near future," Dawkins says. "It all depends upon our willingness to be pragmatic. I do think that Randy Kelly is a Democrat."
Not everyone here is so certain. A real estate agent enjoying a beer near the bar confidently declares that Kelly will follow Coleman's path and switch to the GOP. "This is a Republican party," he says.
Kelly dismisses such conjecture. "I'm a lifelong Democrat," he declares. "I remain a Democrat."
No matter what changes lie in store for the DFL party, chances are pretty good that four years from now Mancini's will play host to another election-night gathering--be it a wake or celebration. "This is an institution," says Kelly as last call approaches. "I cannot think of another place that is more St. Paul than Nick Mancini's place."
About 50 minutes after the Minneapolis polls closed on Election Day, Dean Zimmermann hung up the phone and addressed the 20 or so volunteers, friends, and family members who were packed into his pleasantly
ramshackle duplex on 17th Avenue South in the Phillips neighborhood. As the Green Party's endorsed candidate for the city council's predominantly liberal Sixth Ward, all day long Zimmermann had been telling anyone who asked that he was "cautiously optimistic." Now, with the final numbers phoned in, he flashed a big, broad grin at his supporters and let loose. "We're gonna make Newsweek!" he exclaimed.
Maybe, maybe not. But Zimmermann could hardly be blamed for a little giddiness--or, for that matter, ascribing some national significance to the night's events. A few minutes before learning of his own victory, he'd heard remarkable news about another Green candidate for city council: Over on the north side, Natalie Johnson Lee had eked out a 72-vote victory over the Fifth Ward incumbent, powerful council president Jackie Cherryhomes. As a result, Minneapolis had suddenly attained the distinction of the nation's Greenest big city, with more Greens in high office than any city of equal or greater size in the nation. And this, the local Greens hastened to add, transpired in the first year the party fielded candidates in the city-council races.