Off Beat

Sex and the City Council

Voters in Minneapolis's Sixth Ward could hardly have been blamed for thinking the race between Green Party city-council candidate Dean Zimmermann and DFL endorsee Dean Kallenbach was a referendum on prostitution. That, at least, seemed to be the aim of two pro-Kallenbach leaflets that were widely distributed in south Minneapolis in the waning days of the campaign. "City Council Candidate Zimmerman [sic] says he wants the Saunas (massage parlors) along Lake Street Re-Opened!" blared one of the DFL-funded ads, subsequently dubbed the "Scarlet Letter" owing to its bright-red type. Zimmermann responded by pointing out that he hadn't advocated anything of the sort but had merely voiced the possibility during a "brainstorming" session about how to get prostitutes off the streets. In the end the Scarlet Letter backfired: Peeved at the message and tone of the leaflet, two DFLers who'd run in the primary endorsed Zimmermann, who went on to win the general election.

The fracas between the two Deans wasn't the only prostitution-fueled controversy to erupt in a tightly contested city-council race. Just three days before the election, Green Party activist David Strand authored a post on the e-mail newsgroup Minneapolis-Issues in which he contended that the city-council candidate with "the real connection to prostitution" was Fifth Ward incumbent and sitting council president Jackie Cherryhomes. Citing unidentified sources, Strand--who backed Cherryhomes's Green Party-endorsed opponent Natalie Johnson Lee--claimed that F. Clayton Tyler, Cherryhomes's husband, was both part owner of a downtown sauna and attorney for the notorious Evans Brothers prostitution ring.

In an e-mail the next day, Cherryhomes tersely denounced Strand's post as "a bold-faced lie." Tyler, meanwhile, called Strand and demanded an immediate retraction and apology. "I am truly sorry for sharing misinformation and furthering hearsay," Strand posted to the newsgroup, blaming his misstep on "bad rumors being bandied about in this part of ward 5." That satisfied neither Cherryhomes nor Tyler, who responded, "We don't consider [Strand's] reply to be either a retraction or an apology." Whereupon Strand returned to his keyboard and offered his "utmost apologies" three more times.

Under normal circumstances, such abject groveling might have spelled the end of the matter. But Cherryhomes subsequently found herself on the receiving end of one of the election's most shocking upsets: a defeat, by a mere 72 votes, at the hands of Johnson Lee.

In a brief e-mail in response to questions posed for this story, Cherryhomes wrote: "I believe the rumors could have had an effect on the election. I would prefer that you speak with my husband about potential legal action."

Says Tyler: "I'm currently talking with an attorney and will probably be instituting a suit in connection with this. It's one thing to go after somebody on their record, on what they've done and what they've said. It's another to willingly disseminate lies. I'm not gonna take that lightly." He adds that he has also asked city election officials to look into possible voting irregularities in his wife's ward. -- By Mike Mosedale

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