Off Beat

When You're Up, You're Up, and When You're Down, You're Down

In her annual address to city and civic leaders last month, Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton quoted Money magazine (which recently named Minneapolis the best Midwestern city of its size), then concluded that "the state of the city is great." Sayles Belton sang a very different tune last fall when she successfully applied to the federal government to have Minneapolis designated as one of the 15 U.S. cities most affected by inner-city poverty. In groveling for Urban Empowerment Zone millions, the mayor and her staff touted the following statistics: Of the nation's 25 most populated areas, the Twin Cities metro has the highest rate of poverty among people of color. Minneapolis also has the highest rate of black unemployment of any U.S. metropolitan area (27.5 percent). All this despite having one of the smallest black populations in the nation.

Chip Ahoy

Speaking of black and white...Independent Chip Fort doesn't bring money or political seasoning to the race for the Hennepin County Board seat vacated by Mark Andrew--he's got something better going for him: an innovative self-marketing campaign. One of eight candidates on the ballot for the March 16 primary, the 44-year-old Fort seems specifically to be targeting Republican-endorsed candidate Peter Bell. His campaign signs bill him as "'Chocolate' Chip: The Other Black Guy." The pitch reflects Fort's main issue: promoting racial diversity and fighting "white flight." To get his message across, the candidate parks his pickup in high-traffic areas during rush hour, campaign sign prominently displayed. Fort dubs the Third District--which includes much of South Minneapolis and St. Louis Park--"the white-flight battleground" and says too many Minnesotans profess to be "colorblind" in order to avoid dealing with racial issues. "I've embraced it by trying to bring people in through humor," he says, noting that along with his campaign flyers he passes out chocolate-chip cookies. "'Chocolate Chip' lets people approach me."

Red Sees Green

Sports economics in the '90s can be exceedingly complex to understand--unless you grasp the fundamental subtleties of the language. Take, for example, the reveries of Vikings owner Red McCombs, featured in the March issue of Texas Monthly Biz, a new supplement to the glossy Lone Star mag. Under the modest headline "How I Made It," our favorite auto/pigskin magnate explains to his home-state audience the fiscal ins and outs of his successful bid to buy our little football club for $246 million last year: "I'm primarily an instinct trader. On paper, my deal to buy the Minnesota Vikings did not work. You take the cost involved, you take the revenue stream in the facility, and it shouldn't work. I understand that. But I'm convinced it's gonna work because I believe I can increase revenues and make changes, and then the people of Minnesota are going to respond. I just have a gut feeling." A plan to increase revenues? That, of course, is ownerspeak for a new stadium. The team did broach the issue at the Legislature early this year, but then the Vikes went and lost the NFC title game and it's been all quiet on the football front since then. So how will Red get the people of Minnesota to "respond"? His Biz essay offers a clue, in an anecdote about how he got his start in the car business in the '50s, as a salesman for the infamous Edsel: "We never sold an Edsel to anyone who wanted one," McCombs reminisces. "We had to create every sale."

When Shopping Carts Are Outlawed...

In his February 17 City Beat "Hot Wheels," Roger Swardson investigated the phenomenon of purloined shopping carts--the sport utility vehicles of the inner city--and the ways in which local retailers deal with the ongoing exodus of these costly conveyances. A few weeks later, the Los Angeles Times published a piece about the use of carts by homeless people in that West Coast burg. L.A. police can ticket anyone caught in possession of a store's shopping cart. But an anonymous donation to the Catholic Worker of Los Angeles funded the purchase of more than 300 black plastic carts, the Times reported. Clearly marked to indicate that they're not stolen property, the carts are given to homeless residents who ask for them. According to an activist quoted in the story, the only downside was that 300 carts wasn't nearly enough to go around. CP


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