Junkball Politics, Part 1
"ST. PAUL STADIUM backers hold first grass-roots events," reads a September 14 St. Paul Pioneer Press headline over a story touting a series of block parties aimed to boost citizen support for Mayor Norm Coleman's plan for a publicly funded ballpark in the capital city. Grassroots? The engine behind the block parties is the same one that powered the signature drive to get a stadium tax question on the ballot, and the one that paid for Coleman's summertime tours to Cleveland, Baltimore, and Denver: Yes St. Paul. According to financial reports filed earlier this month, through September 3 Yes St. Paul had spent more than $137,000, the largest chunk of which came from St. Paul-based Minnesota Life Insurance Company. (That's substantially more than what has trickled into the stadium fund started at the suggestion of Gov. Jesse Ventura: Through September 15 the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission had collected about $78,000 from 565 contributors.) When Off Beat asked the folks at Yes St. Paul to elaborate on their definition of "grassroots," staffer Tom Marver advised helpfully, "You'd probably have to talk to Erich Mische about that--that's one that only he could answer." At least we know who's in charge. Offers Mische, Coleman's director of strategic initiatives and point man on the stadium issue: "My definition of grassroots is anytime you have people gathering together because they want to support something: That's grassroots. The definition of a grassroots campaign isn't defined by dollars, it's defined by people." John Mannillo, a St. Paul real estate developer and a frequent Coleman critic, sees it a little differently. "Grassroots is from the bottom up," Mannillo observes. "This is from the top down." (For what it's worth, Off Beat's source on matters grammatical, the American Heritage Dictionary, would seem to side with Mannillo. Which isn't to say there's no precedent for a bunch like Yes St. Paul. In 1996 a corporate-bankrolled, nonprofit group called Minnesota Wins was formed to build (you guessed it) "grass-roots" enthusiasm for a new ballpark. Needless to say, it failed.
Junkball Politics, Part 2
NORM COLEMAN'S SATURDAY-afternoon radio show on KSTP is being pitched by the suits at AM 1500 as a chance for regular folks to chat up the mayor on the issues of the day. But as St. Paul City Council member Jay Benanav recently learned, talk radio is talk radio: Before you can challenge the host, the host has to take your call. On August 28, taking time out from a Labor Day jaunt through Ohio, the Fourth Ward rep visited Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians and an oft-invoked model for a new St. Paul ballpark. On his way to his seat (which Coleman's office helped to secure, but which Benanav paid for), he chatted up local business owners and fans, aiming to gauge for himself whether the publicly funded facility was the unqualified success it's claimed to be. Then, midway through the Indians' 3-0 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the councilman took out his trusty cell phone and dialed the control booth at KSTP. A lifelong baseball fan who nonetheless opposes using public funds to appease the Minnesota Twins, the DFLer planned to tell his Republican mayor that the stadium was gorgeous, then engage in an economic discussion. But he never got to make his pitch. "I was told by the control room that he wouldn't take my call because he wasn't 'taking any calls about the stadium right now,'" a mystified Benanav recounts, adding, "My intent was not to make him look bad but to raise some legitimate questions and let him answer those questions." Coleman pinch hitter Erich Mische says the snub was just show biz: His boss was broadcasting that day from the state fair and was involved in a panel discussion with a number of KSTP's on-air personalities. "Jay has a far more important opinion of himself on almost every issue than most other people do," Mische goes on. "When you have Barbara Carlson, Norm Coleman, Jason Lewis, T.D. Mischke, and Ron Rosenbaum talking about a million issues--it's probably not a forum when the producer felt it necessary to take a call from another politician. I don't even know if the mayor knew he called." Now that Coleman does know of Benanav's trip, would he be interested in a little in-studio tête-à-tête? "No," Coleman's right-hand man says flatly. "Jay certainly has an opportunity to have a voice. But I think the fact that Jay and his folks are shopping this little story around is indicative of the guy's obsession with himself. I'm not in the business of helping people with that problem."
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