Off Beat

Patriotic Patronage?

Rudy Giuliani is coming to town to speak on the subject of "Leadership in Difficult Times," September 13 at Touchstone Energy Place in St. Paul. A press release announcing the former New York City mayor's visit notes that his address will occur just two days after the first anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing. But the timing is propitious in a partisan political sense as well. September 13 falls just three days after the primaries, a time when Minnesota voters will have put the summer behind them and begun to focus on the November elections. The Minnesota race sure to be on Giuliani's radar is the contest between incumbent U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and Norm Coleman, Giuliani's former colleague among Republican mayors. The close contest has been targeted by the national Democratic and Republican parties as crucial in determining who holds a majority in the next U.S. Senate.

Giuliani's visit was arranged by Peter Johns, the director of marketing for the St. Paul Arena Company. SPAC is the owner of the Minnesota Wild hockey franchise, which owes its existence to Coleman's unflagging efforts to build the team an arena--the Xcel Energy Center--funded in large measure by tax dollars from the state and the City of St. Paul. At Coleman's urging, SPAC holds the contract to manage events at the city-owned Touchstone Energy Place, the convention center adjoining the arena. Another organization whose name is prominent in the Giuliani press release is the Capital City Partnership, a St. Paul business organization whose members have been heavy contributors to Coleman's campaigns.

As the press release states, Giuliani has become "an icon of the 21st Century. Named TIME Magazine's Person of the Year in 2001 for his heroic leadership in New York City's darkest moment, he left office a savior and one of the most recognizable figures in the United States." Having an icon appear with Coleman, or mention him in his "leadership" speech, or even have Coleman onstage during the event, would be an enormous boost for Coleman's campaign.

"The consequences were always a consideration," says Johns, when asked about the political timing of Giuliani's visit. "But we felt the goodwill from a more significant anniversary"--the World Trade Center bombing--"superseded any political considerations."

It's understandable that SPAC and the Capital City Partnership might not be bothered by the political ramifications of the visit. But what about WCCO radio and the Star Tribune, who are cosponsoring the event (presumably with free advertising, since Johns says they are contributing no money)? Do they worry that their involvement might be perceived as compromising their journalistic credibility? "We got into it because of our fantastic ongoing relationship as the exclusive radio sponsor of the Minnesota Wild," says Brian Whittemore, vice president and general manager of WCCO and KCCO radio. "We'll promote ticket sales [for the Giuliani speech] and we're allowed to use our name as a promoter of the event. Politics doesn't have anything to do with it. Rudy Giuliani is a private citizen."

Star Tribune Senior Vice President of Communications Ben Taylor took a similar tack. "I certainly don't know Mayor Giuliani's intent or what he is going to say. But it is our intent to do this as a public service. The timing of September 13 is close [to the World Trade Center incident] and it is our view that he is someone people want to see in that role. If he chooses to put on a political hat, that's his option. Our promotion department is truly just trying to bring in someone who is a national hero."

In other words, journalistic independence has nothing to do with it. --By Britt Robson