Left at the Altar

It was supposed to be a grand event--a truly grassroots celebration of Jesse Ventura's inauguration, put together by and for the people who elected The Body governor. The organizers, a coalition of Ventura campaign volunteers and Reform Party activists calling themselves the East Metro Reform Movement, had rented a hall big enough for 500 people; booked eight local bands (including postpunk rockers the Shepherders); circulated fliers urging supporters to dress "Jesse Casual"; and even lined up a Ventura impersonator. And unlike the official inaugural concert (the People's Celebration, scheduled for this Saturday at Target Center), this party wouldn't require attendees to shell out up to $20 a head. The only ticket required was a nonperishable food item for the food shelves of the Salvation Army, which was co-sponsoring the fete. The highlight of the evening was to be an appearance by The Body himself.

But when Greg Copeland, one of the organizers of the "Crow's Ball" showed up at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 110 hall Friday to begin setting up for the following night's festivities, the union's assistant business manager, Dick Vitale, pulled him aside. He had just gotten a call from Lila Moberg, the governor's inaugural coordinator, Vitale told Copeland: Not only was Ventura not coming, he'd been informed, but the Crow's Ball had never been officially sanctioned by the governor's office or the Reform Party. He had no choice, Vitale said, but to withdraw the group's access to the hall.

"She said she didn't know what to do, and that she'd told Copeland repeatedly that the governor was not going to show up, but he kept promoting the party," Vitale remembers. "If it was a sanctioned party and the governor was coming, we would have hosted it. But we can't just let anybody use the hall."

Ultimately, a union member who was involved with the Crow's Ball rented the hall himself and the event went on as planned--albeit without the governor. But Copeland remains livid. "We'd been working with Moberg since her appointment, and she told us he'd be there," he insists.

Fellow organizer Andy LaMotte agrees, noting that in separate conversations Moberg told both him and Copeland that Ventura would attend. The Ventura staffer even convinced the group to change the date of the event, he recalls: "She told us that he couldn't make it on [January 2], and to switch it to the 9th instead."

Copeland adds that it was Moberg's assurances that sold the IBEW on the idea of co-hosting the event. The hall, he says, was a perfect choice for a party to celebrate Venturamania on St. Paul's historically blue-collar, DFL-leaning East Side, and union leaders were excited about it. "They wanted to open up a dialogue [with the Reform Party] and create some unity," Copeland explains. As for the issue of whether the bash was sanctioned by Ventura's office, Copeland says his group never sought authorization; it didn't occur to them that a "permission slip" would be needed, he says.

Finally, according to Phil Fuehrer, another Crow's Ball organizer, the celebration had plenty of official Reform Party connections--through him, the party's 4th Congressional District chair, and other volunteers. "One of the things [the Reform Party] has been criticized for is that we're too small," he says. "So here we got all of these people active and involved, and we put together an event that puts the party and the governor in a charitable light, and we get pushed to the curb because it wasn't 'officially sanctioned.'"

Neither Moberg nor Ventura's press secretary John Wodele returned phone calls for this story. Gerry Drewry, the spokeswoman for Ventura's campaign and the governor's inaugural committee, says Ventura can't attend every party he's invited to: Supporters were throwing at least four other inaugural events January 9, she points out, and the governor didn't attend those, either. Drewry adds that Moberg told her the Crow's Ball organizers "knew the whole time that Jesse probably wouldn't be there. The whole thing was just one big miscommunication."

In the end, LaMotte says, the ball was a success: More than 400 people danced the night away, and the food drive netted three full 50-gallon drums. "We did what we set out to do," he maintains. "We celebrated our victory and gave something back to the community."

For Copeland, though, the experience left a bitter aftertaste. "I voted for Jesse because he promised to get rid of the control freaks and bring the people back into the process," he says. "If this is any indication of how his administration operates, I'm deeply disturbed."

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