Poor Little Kondirator
It's not often that Off Beat cracks open the morning newspaper only to be overcome by a warm, fuzzy feeling--the kind that comes with watching little kids playing baseball, moms slicing apple pies, and sweaty men operating big, greasy machines. But it was just that kind of sensation that washed over us as we perused "Hearts of Iron," a serial advertisement that began appearing in the Star Tribune March 8. "For the Isaacs family, the age of iron began in 1885," commences the text, which is set in an old-timey newspaper font surrounding an engraving of a muscular arm wielding a hammer. "It was in that year that Abraham Isaacs founded American Iron in North Minneapolis. Using no more than a single horse and wagon, Abraham set out each day through the dirt and rough brick streets of this young city...." And so it went on, with Abe building a fine little company and passing on to his heirs a legacy of "strong work ethic, personal integrity, and a genuine concern for the well-being of the community around them." Wait a minute: American Iron. Isn't this the company that for the past decade has been doing battle with neighborhood activists and the city of Minneapolis over plans to install a five-story metal-shredding machine--a.k.a. the Kondirator--on the Northeast riverfront? (When the company proposed the Kondirator back in '89, the City Council approved a special permit, only to reverse itself and institute a moratorium on riverfront metal shredders. A nasty fracas ensued, culminating in a lawsuit and a bill before this year's Legislature that would force Minneapolis to issue a permit immediately.) "This is a story that lends itself to serialization," explains former Arne Carlson spokesmeister Cyndy Brucato, who helped create the ad. "It has the elements of a Dickens saga: the small company up against a big bureaucracy, the glimmers of hope around the corner, only to have the door shut again, the seeming inability to have justice prevail. Poor little Oliver." Perhaps sensing that Off Beat is about to bust a gut, Brucato chuckles, then divulges that the three-week campaign is the work of Bill Hillsman and his firm Northwoods Advertising--the same folks who were behind last fall's "Jesse 'The Mind'" and "Ventura Action Figure" spots. Though Off Beat is hanging on the epic's every word, Hillsman's efforts at infotainment have not won over all the critics. "I think American Iron is trying to make its case through the newspaper rather than the courts," scoffs City Council member Joe Biernat, whose Third Ward includes the proposed Kondirator site. "I think it's a dangerous approach. And let me ask you a question: Do you think people are going to read every one of these installments?"
Credit Where Credit Is Due
After 25 years of precious little progress on a federal court order to do a better job hiring and promoting minorities, there's reason for celebration at the Minneapolis Fire Department. Last week 24-year department veteran McCary Mitchell became the city's first black battalion chief. (Battalion chiefs coordinate crews at each station and make all on-site decisions about how to fight fires.) Before being promoted, Mitchell spent five years as a captain at Station 17 in South Minneapolis and has served as an assistant chief of training. His promotion is to be followed by the hiring of two of the most diverse classes of firefighters in department history: The cadets include 25 racial minorities--including blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans--as well as 11 women of various races. Civil rights activists were aghast last year when Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton dumped longtime MFD Chief Tom Dickinson only to hire one of his deputies, Rocco Forte, to replace him. Forte, however, appears to have surprised even the most cynical tea-leaf readers involved in the debate, who agree the new chief deserves a pat on the back. "Forte has the ability to listen to and to accept recommendations for change," says Ron Edwards, who heads the court-appointed Firefighters Steering Advisory Committee. "He is to be congratulated because of the sincere commitment he is exhibiting in trying to bring about meaningful change." Forte credits help from the union and from Edwards's committee, and adds, "I think we've all stepped back from our hard stances, and instead we've been trying hard to cooperate with one another. At this point we have African Americans represented in all ranks. It's the first time that's ever happened."
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