On-the-Job Training


It's just after 7:00 a.m. on a Thursday in February, and Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein is headed for his first appointment of the day. If he attends all of the meetings and events on his schedule, he'll be working well into the night. He's used to this pace, but it's not good for his health, he admits. He doesn't eat much, and what he does eat is mostly junk. Today all he's got with him is a big bottle of water.

He's got the seat as far back as it will go, but he still looks somewhat cramped behind the wheel of his red Mercury Grand Marquis. At six-foot-four with broad shoulders and a head that fellow commissioner Mike Opat often describes as "really big," Stenglein always looks a little rumpled; his suit coats have no choice but to ride up on the back of his neck.

Pulling the car into the Hennepin County Government Center's ramp, Stenglein says it's funny how different things were when he first went to work as a commissioner in January 1997. On his first day, he showed up wearing a Rolex and driving a forest-green Jaguar that he'd written a check for on a whim on St. Patrick's Day 1993. He was single and earning more than $200,000 a year. It was, he says, the last impulsive act of a man who drank too much too often.

After a brief stop at his office, Stenglein is off to a meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, a group formed in 1995 after the New York Times immortalized a summer of drug-related violence by dubbing the city "Murderapolis." The committee meets monthly to talk about everything from dealing with chronic offenders and elder abuse to the cost of the new county jail. It's a tense coalition, Stenglein says, made up of elected officials who have too much at stake politically to really get much done a lot of the time.

Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's chair is vacant and Stenglein isn't pleased. "Just because the murder rate has gone down in this city doesn't mean she should stop attending these meetings," he rants. "This is the kind of thing the mayor needs to participate in, because we can talk all we want but nothing's going to get done if she's not in on it." His complaint about Sayles Belton may be legitimate, but she's also a convenient target. Stenglein last week announced plans to run against her in the 2001 election.

"You know, I didn't run to be something," he adds. "I ran to do something."

While that statement may sound like a politician's platitude, Stenglein expects people to believe it. The trouble is that it's hard to pin down just what it is he wants to do. Mark Stenglein bills himself as an independent, which he says means he votes his conscience. But in the five years he has held political office, his colleagues--even those who consider him a friend--say he's garnered a reputation for being inconsistent. The ideological tiebreaker on the seven-member county board, his all-over-the-map voting style frequently leaves people scratching their heads in confusion and occasionally asking whether he knows what he's doing. As another commissioner says, the question is, "Is he dumb, or dumb like a fox?"

Despite all of this--or perhaps because of it--pretty much everyone seems to like Mark Stenglein. And if you believe the murmuring on the 24th floor of the Government Center, that's bad news for the other three candidates, Sayles Belton, Minneapolis City Council member Lisa McDonald, and neighborhood activist and Internet entrepreneur R.T. Rybak. "They're calling up people asking, if the election were held today would they vote for them or me," chortles Stenglein. "All of them have called me to ask if I'm going to run and all of them want to go to lunch or something."

On the way back to his office, Mike Opat spies Stenglein in the hall and follows him into the elevator. Stenglein complains about Sayles Belton's absence. "So you lost control of the meeting, I guess," Opat jibes.

Stenglein changes the subject. "I heard your name come up on the Barbara Carlson morning show today," he says. "What was that all about?" They were talking about teen pregnancy, Opat replies, and Carlson "tried to turn it into a discussion about race and I wasn't going there." Opat pretends to ask himself a question in a screechy imitation of Carlson's voice.

Stenglein heads back to the parking garage, his black rubber shoe-covers slurping on the wet floor. He's still irked with the mayor. He's convinced he could do a better job. "I have three children under the age of five and I'm already really busy," he says. "But I also think the city needs good leadership right now. I know what my campaign posters would say, something like, 'It's time to fix Minneapolis.' There would be a picture of me in a hard hat with a tool belt on."

Stenglein laughs. "I mean, for Sharon not to know that Honeywell was going to move out of town? Come on. I mean, I would have been sleeping with them."


When Mark Stenglein was nine years old, his mother was carried out of the family's St. Anthony Village home on a stretcher. It was the last time he ever saw her. Georgine Eleanor Cloutier had been born with a hole in her heart. The ailment didn't give her any pain, but she tired easily. Every now and then she would have to take to her bed to rest, sometimes for weeks at a time.

"I remember she was upstairs lying on the bed," Stenglein recalls. "There was all this tension in the house because my dad was having financial problems again and she decided to lie down for a while. My brother went up to check on her, and he came running back saying that she was gasping for breath. I remember her looking at me as they took her out of the house to the ambulance. It's funny how you remember things like that so vividly."

Her death left his father Merrill Peter Stenglein somewhat lost. With three of the couple's five children still at home and all kinds of overdue bills to pay, he had little time for play. He worked long hours selling insurance and real estate and occasionally dabbled in other business ventures that didn't always turn out to be as profitable as he had hoped.

Less than a year after Georgine Stenglein's death, a sheriff's deputy came to say the bank had foreclosed on the family's home. At the time 10-year-old Stenglein and his 14-year-old brother John were the only ones home. The deputy told the boys they would have to leave immediately, so they grabbed a few things and hurried out the front door.

"It was a really cold day and we didn't know what to do," Stenglein recalls. "My brother was too embarrassed to go to the neighbors for help so we just sat on the curb across the street from our house. There was a huge padlock on the front door. I didn't really understand what was going on, but I remember I was crying and the tears froze to my cheeks."

Somehow their father had everyone back in the house before dinner. "I never asked him how he did it," says Stenglein. "I really didn't want to know. My dad was a very generous man, almost to a fault. He grew up poor and he wanted his family to have everything, so he borrowed from Peter to pay Paul and soon there were no more Peters--just a whole lot of Pauls looking for him to pay up."

When Stenglein was in high school the sheriff came again. This time there was no saving the house. His siblings were gone by then so he and his father moved into a nearby apartment building. Stenglein, 15, hitchhiked to Totino-Grace, a Catholic high school in Fridley, every day.

He graduated in 1974 and enrolled at the University of St. Thomas, intending to study business administration. But the first term had barely started when his dad, then 58, had a crippling stroke that left him unable to speak. It took a year of practice, the two painstakingly reading aloud one little snippet of the Wall Street Journal at a time before the older man was able to talk again. Things were just starting to get back to normal when doctors took Merrill Stenglein off of his blood thinners so he could have some routine dental work done. He suffered another stroke, and this time he never really recovered.

"They told me he was never coming back," says Stenglein. "He was partially paralyzed. He couldn't talk and his brain was damaged so much, he didn't know what was going on most of the time after that. I had to put him in a nursing home in Roseville. He lived there for seven more years and he hardly knew me. It was horrible."

Stenglein managed to finish his degree anyhow. Sympathetic financial-aid workers were quick to okay the loans that got him through school. He graduated $30,000 in debt, with no idea how he would ever pay the money back.


On a Saturday morning a few months later, Stenglein was setting up the bar for his regular shift at a Bloomington restaurant called Eddie Webster's. As he wiped down glassware and stuffed beer into coolers, he could hear his boss and some other men talking about how Dairy Queens in the Middle East were running out of soft-serve. His boss, Eddie Webster, owned the territorial rights to those ice-cream shops, and if he didn't come up with a way to keep better control of inventory over there, DQ was going to pull its name from the stores. Webster needed someone in Kuwait, but he could only pay $30,000.

It was 1978 and that was a lot of money. Stenglein was 22 years old and scheduled to start making payments on his student loans in six months. "I leaned over the bar and I said, 'Well, I'll go over there. I can do that. Send me,'" he recalls. "That night I thought about how I'd never been farther away from home than Billings, Montana. I remember I was so scared. I wondered if I could really do it."

He was such a "roaring success," he says, that two years later another group of businessmen made him a different proposition. This time he moved to Nigeria, where he worked for a U.S. export company. It was his job to move money out of the country--a complicated process involving months and possibly years of delays. Stenglein turned bank clerks into drinking buddies and soon his requests were making it to the top of the pile. "The secret I discovered," he explains, "is you pay attention to the smallest person in the office and they will make you successful."

He came home in 1982, started a company that provides office space and clerical services to small businesses, got married, earned a master's degree in international business from St. Thomas, and, in 1992, got divorced.

A year later he went to a party hosted by some friends from grad school, and ran into his current wife Lynette. She hadn't been very interested in Stenglein when the two were classmates, and she was surprised to see how much he had changed. "I saw him standing there and I thought to myself, 'Hmm, that's Mark Stenglein. Isn't he looking good,'" she recalls. The next day Lynette called a girlfriend and offered to set the two up. "She's very tall," Lynette Stenglein says of her friend, "and I thought about how hard it is for tall women to find dates. So I thought they'd be perfect." The three went out and had a great time. To the friend, however, it was obvious that Stenglein liked Lynette more. "Three weeks later," she says, "we got engaged. We were sitting in his office and he threw me a little box with a ring in it. No romance. No proposal. Just a ring. So I put it on and that was it." They were married shortly thereafter.

Nicholas was born in 1996, followed closely by Eleanor, who recently turned four, and Conrad, who is two. Stenglein quit drinking, traded in the Jaguar for a Suburban, and replaced the Rolex with a watch his dad gave him when Mark was in eighth grade. The family lives in the same home in northeast Minneapolis that Stenglein bought back in 1978, a cozy turn-of-the-century beige wood house filled with mismatched, well-worn furniture and decorations done by the children.

Back in 1996, when Lynette was pregnant with Nicholas, the Stengleins did consider moving out of the city to raise the baby in a "safer" place. They decided not to, but the discussion started Stenglein thinking of ways the city could be better. He decided to run for office. County commissioner (an $81,000-a-year post) seemed attainable. Lynette took over running the business (which they have since sold) and became his campaign manager.

Choosing an ideology, he says, was much tougher than deciding to run. "I met some neat people in both parties and I believed some of the same things that each of them believed," he explains. "So I decided to do some research. I read a bunch of stuff and I went to the state fair to watch the candidates in action. Boschwitz stood in his booth like a cadaver and did nothing. Wellstone spent 30 minutes talking to a guy with Down's syndrome. No one was watching, so he wasn't doing it for show. He was just talking to the guy." Both parties gave him the willies in different ways. He campaigned briefly as a Republican before declaring himself an independent.

Stenglein ran in the Second District against incumbent DFLer Sandra Hilary, who was vulnerable because of a widely publicized gambling addiction and bankruptcy. A stalwart liberal, Hilary cast her opponent as a Newt Gingrich-style right-winger. Hilary's warnings helped her rake in the bulk of the district's votes in north and northeast Minneapolis. But Stenglein campaigned on promises to be tough on crime and welfare cheats, to fight for lower property taxes and reduced government spending, impressing voters in suburban areas--St. Anthony, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, and much of Plymouth. He spent $29,862, nearly $6,000 more than Hilary, and won by 427 votes. (And he did get a congratulatory call from Gingrich, a friend of Stenglein's oldest brother David, who lives in Atlanta.)

The board's DFLers told reporters that Stenglein's election meant the end of progressive politics in Hennepin County. But that's not exactly the way things have gone. Whereas Hilary could be counted on to side with the Democrats, Stenglein is a wild card. Charged with managing the county's $1.5 billion budget, the seven commissioners spend most of their time unanimously rubber-stamping routine expenditures. But when they take up a controversial issue, even Stenglein's closest colleagues don't know how he'll vote until roll call.

"He could go any way on things and that's frustrating sometimes. He's quiet in meetings a lot and he doesn't say as much as he needs to or could. I think it's because he's still fairly new to this job," says Commissioner Mike Opat. "You can look at his votes to see that he goes issue by issue. He supported the Midtown Greenway Project, the jail, and light rail. He's not in favor of public spending on a new stadium or domestic-partner benefits for government employees."

Opat, a DFLer, tends to vote with the Republicans on the board, Randy Johnson and Penny Steele. On the liberal side are DFLers Gail Dorfman and Peter McLaughlin, and Republican Mary Tambornino. When there is a contentious issue, Stenglein invariably ends up in the role of tiebreaker. "Four votes control a billion and a half dollars of county funding," Stenglein complains. "I'm often the one to cast the swing vote and that means I've got three people mad at me all the time. And I hate that, because I'm the kind of person who wants people to like me."

Dorfman often disagrees with Stenglein's positions, but she likes him. And she thinks critics are off base when they see his tendency to make up his mind at the last minute as a sign that he's not too bright. It's more likely, she says, that he's just still talking to people. "He will discuss it right up until the vote sometimes," she says.

But, she and others say, he is right in thinking that he's accepted on the board as much because of his personality as anything else. "People like him because he's good at the human-being side of things," she says. "We're all really busy here and it's easy to just not take the time to connect with people. But he walks around and talks to people. He focuses on you when he's talking to you. It's that kind of personal attention that makes people feel good and I think it's real with Mark. He never seems like he's in a hurry, even though I know he is."

In public, Stenglein and Opat tend to razz each other. But they are genuinely close. Their families spend a lot of time together, and now that Stenglein and his wife are done having children, their baby crib is in the Opats' new nursery. Still, a year ago, Stenglein cast the vote that cost Opat the chairmanship of the board.

"He's a very generous man," Opat says of his friend. "Sometimes he's maybe too generous. I bought his Jeep. We negotiated a deal during a board meeting by passing notes." He pauses for a moment, looking out the window. "But I still don't know why he did it. I don't know why he voted for Randy [Johnson]. I was madder than hell, but I got over it."


By 10:00 a.m. Stenglein is on his way to Pilot City Neighborhood Services, a north Minneapolis social-service agency. Steering the Grand Marquis down a street lined with rundown houses, he says that representing the Second District has been a constant tug-of-war: Many of his urban constituents need help escaping poverty, while their wealthier suburban counterparts clamor for things like lower property taxes. The latter bunch is the one that votes. But most of his day-to-day decisions affect the former.

He gets out of the car and heads inside. The county provides almost all of Pilot City's funding, and for the past couple of years Stenglein has repeatedly challenged the agency to prove that it is still important to the community. His main criticism has been that the nonprofit was not keeping adequate records, making it difficult for the board to know whether county money was being spent wisely. At Stenglein's urging the board recently voted to cut Pilot City's $917,000 budget by $200,000. (County staff will work with Pilot City to try to improve the paperwork end of things. If they're successful, $150,000 will be restored.) The debate earned Stenglein a reputation as hard-hearted, true to his former campaign motto, "Streamline with Stenglein."

The commissioner isn't here to revisit that debate, however. Instead, he makes his way through the standing-room-only crowd for a meeting on the African American Men Project, another of his controversial initiatives. In 1999 he was driving along Broadway and Plymouth avenues in north Minneapolis and saw lots of young black men just standing around in the middle of the day. What was up, he wanted to know, that they weren't working during an economic boom? He got out of the car a few times and asked questions. But he wasn't satisfied with the answers he got so he called Gary Cunningham, director of Hennepin County's Office of Planning and Development, and asked whether the county had ever really looked at this problem.

At first Cunningham, who is black, didn't know what to make of Stenglein's questions; plenty of white people, Cunningham has remarked in the past, can't hold down jobs. Was this guy for real? But the two got to talking and Cunningham concluded that the commissioner's concerns were genuine. They came up with a plan to analyze the education level, housing situation, family background, and employment and criminal history of the 8,400 black men between the ages of 18 and 29 who live in Hennepin County. The findings, they hoped, could be used to figure out where the system was failing.

Plenty of people questioned Stenglein's motivations. Halisi Edwards Staten ran against Stenglein in 1996 and is married to controversial African-American activist Randy Staten. "If you don't ask the right questions, you can't get the right answers," she told the Star Tribune a year ago. "African-American men have been 'data-ed' ad infinitum. Taking a year to collect data that already exists will not tell us anything." The problem, she asserted, was a lack of educational opportunities for young black men.

But as time goes on, the hubbub is dying down. "He was asking some very legitimate questions about a group of people that usually gets ignored," says Cunningham. "No one wants to talk about them for fear of being called a racist. Of course, he had some preconceptions that have changed along the way. But he's admitted those and he's stepped up to talk at some pretty heated discussions at Lucille's Kitchen on this issue. Who else is doing that?"

Today at Pilot City, the project's steering committee is trying to figure out how to turn the group's preliminary report into action. When it comes time to start spending money on those actions, Stenglein will have to talk his colleagues into it. Such feats of persuasion aren't easy for anyone, and it doesn't help that Stenglein is no great speechmaker. Capable of saying very thoughtful things in private, he's nervous speaking in public and frequently falls back on a handful of clichés and weird analogies.

"These men have been stepped over and not served for years," he says, rubbing the fingers of his left hand anxiously on the table. "There may be a lot of lemons out there, but we can make lemonade out of them."

A woman in the audience notes that it's hard to land or keep a job if you don't have anywhere to live. "That's right," Stenglein jumps in. "I mean, guess what, you can't make a cake without a bowl. It's a mess. Social-servicing people who don't have affordable housing is just like that. You've got to have a bowl." His comment produces a few nods and a murmured "That's right" from someone in the crowd.

On the way back to the car Stenglein is still talking about race. "People say Minneapolis isn't segregated, but that's not true," he says. "Things are very separate here; all you have to do is look around." He pauses. "I used to lie in bed at night before I got this job and think black people had the same opportunities as white folks do. But now that I've been doing this work for a while, I realize I was wrong. They don't. And nobody wants to talk about it because most everybody is racist in one way or another. I am. You are. Nobody is blind to color. To say that people are is just stupid."

Just then the car phone rings. Lynette's voice comes over the speakerphone. "Hi, babe," is all Stenglein manages to say before Nicholas is on the line chattering away in his breathy five-year-old voice. He squints with the effort of trying to understand what the boy is saying--something about rock climbing and a new jacket. Lynette comes back on and explains that they went shopping at an outdoor-gear store with a rock-climbing wall. Nicholas wants his dad to take him some time. Then she lists the food she has ordered for a fundraiser Stenglein is hosting that night at Nye's Polonaise Room for DFLer John Casserly, who is running for Doré Mead's 11th Ward Minneapolis City Council seat. Stenglein doesn't seem wild about the idea, but he's willing to play host at the request of his friend, council member Joe Biernat.

"I ordered real food, you know, like potato-and-cheese dumplings, and Polish sausage, and sauerkraut," Lynette explains, "because it will probably be mostly men and they're going to want dinner." Stenglein asks what he should bring home for the family to eat. They agree on Totino's. "So, I should get meatballs for the kids?" he asks. No, she answers, they won't eat those anymore. Cheese ravioli is what they're eating now. "Since when don't the kids eat meatballs?" he wonders aloud as he parks the car at Plymouth City Hall.

He piles into an SUV with Plymouth City Council member Judy Johnson and heads off to turn on a new stoplight. Some neighbors who headed up a four-year battle to get the light are already there. "It really was Plymouth's effort," Stenglein explains. "We didn't give them any money for this. It's just that it was a county road so they needed permission to do it." The light goes on, and as everyone stands looking up at it Stenglein paces around in the snow. "Public safety," he says to himself. "We're into public safety."

It's noon and the sun is so bright against the snow it's hard to see. Stenglein slips on a pair of cheap sunglasses meant for the ski slopes. They look really silly, he knows, but he recently had laser eye surgery and he's excited to wear nonprescription sunglasses. The sun turns the lenses into rainbows that cover both eyes. "How can people stand to live out here?" he asks quietly. "It's so clinical. Everything looks the same. It's awful."


It's well into the afternoon, but Stenglein seems to have forgotten lunch. Instead, he's driving the length of Lowry Avenue pointing out what must go and what can stay. Revamping this busy thoroughfare, which runs from Theodore Wirth Parkway on the west to Stinson Boulevard on the east, is high on his list of priorities.

In the 20 years he has lived two blocks south of Lowry, Stenglein has watched traffic on the skinny stretch of road increase dramatically. Businesses and homes along much of the route have fallen into disrepair. He points out garbage-clogged gutters and boarded-up houses, explaining how he hopes his proposed Lowry Corridor Project will transform this area over the next few years into something more like Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

"I know people are worried that this area will gentrify and they won't be able to afford to live here. I want it to be a good place for the people who already live here," he says stopping to gape at a house that has been boarded up since he ran for office in 1996. "Look at this. Would you want to live next to this? They tell me all these boarded-up houses are tied up in paperwork with the Minneapolis Community Development Agency. It's ridiculous. With so many people going homeless, we ought to be doing something with buildings sitting empty all over town."

This from a man who still has trouble voting to fund affordable housing. Last year Gail Dorfman convinced Stenglein to tour homeless shelters with her. The experience, she says, seemed to change his mind about the level of need out there. Shortly thereafter the board had to decide whether to put county funds into low-income housing for the first time. It wasn't a lot of money, just enough to help some developers finish up 11 projects. Stenglein surprised Dorfman and the rest of his colleagues by supporting the measure. But he refused to sign off on one of the developments, the conversion of an empty nursing home at 18th Street and Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis.

"He told the board that he didn't want the county to support this so early," says Dorfman. "He said, 'Let's wait until it gets through zoning.' It just doesn't make sense. It's a good project. I thought Mark's opposition was really puzzling."

Stenglein now says he simply thought the project wasn't the best use of the money. "They wanted to put 64 able-bodied men there," he says. "If we're going to put money into affordable housing, it needs to be for women and kids. If someone wants to build that type of housing in my district, that's great."

Yet, oddly, looking at the boarded-up houses along Lowry sets Stenglein to ranting that shelters are too comfortable for people. "They should have to take literacy classes while they're staying for free," he says, adding that exceptions might be made for those with mental illness or other disabling conditions. "The point is to make sure people just don't move here to get the good benefits we offer."

Minneapolis's affordable-housing crisis will surely be one of the big issues in the upcoming mayoral contest, according to Macalester College political science professor George Latimer. Sayles Belton's challengers will need to mobilize voters around the current administration's failings, he says, but affordable housing is going to be a hard sell because the average Minneapolis voter owns his or her own home. "Comfortable people vote, but they don't always understand the housing issue," he says. "Uncomfortable people--renters, the poor--they don't vote."

It also will be tough for an independent to beat a Democratic incumbent in DFL-controlled Minneapolis, says Latimer. And it would be especially difficult for Stenglein if the race ends up being between him and Sayles Belton. "How well an independent does depends entirely on the other choices that people have," says Latimer, who was mayor of St. Paul from 1976 to 1989. "There needs to be a fundamental level of unhappiness with the way things are now. If you look at how much referendum spending got passed in the last election, it doesn't seem like people are very upset with the politics of the city."

Winning the mayoral race against a popular incumbent will also cost money. By January, Sayles Belton had raised $14,000. Lisa McDonald, a DFLer, had $21,000. R.T. Rybak, also on the DFL ticket, has not yet disclosed his contributions. Stenglein's week-old mayoral fund contains just $500--a donation from a suburban supporter. That's a long way from the $300,000 he thinks he'll need to win. If he can raise enough cash in 45 days for a race to look realistic, Stenglein explains, then he'll formally announce his candidacy. If not, he'll bow out. (As of January, Stenglein had nearly $31,000 in his county commissioner's campaign fund. He can't use that money to run for mayor. But if he doesn't win the city race, he will need the cash to run for reelection to the county board. He was reelected just last year, but all seven commissioners will have to run again in 2002 because district boundaries are being redrawn in the wake of the 2000 census.)

There's a loud thump as the Mercury's tires slap the metal on the old Lowry Avenue Bridge. "Oh, and here's a site you don't see, except in Eastern Bloc countries," Stenglein says. "How 'bout this bridge?"

At the far end of Lowry, in St. Anthony Village, is the white two-story house with black shutters that his father lost years ago. He just looks for a minute. "My dad was a really good man, you know," he says. "He wasn't good with money, but he was a really good person. He used to dress up like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and go places like Children's Hospital. It was kind of a drag for me, really, since I was still really a kid. But I remember the last time I went with him. I was 17. There was this 10-year-old girl who was dying of cancer, and she really thought my dad was Santa. She wanted to know how she would get to God when she died. My dad told her he would hook up the reindeer and come and get her and bring her to God, no matter what time of year it was."

Back at his office, he's hurrying to return e-mails and phone calls when three lobbyists from General Mills drop by. They want to know how votes are lining up for a project they're pushing. The details of their conversation are off the record, but the upshot is they want Stenglein's firm commitment and--as is his style--he isn't prepared to give one just yet. When they're gone he says he's frustrated by the fact that good Republicans "like those lobbyists" hate government handouts for the poor but they're more than happy to take corporate welfare for themselves.

"Peter McLaughlin said to me once, 'You know, you have such a deep spiritual soul, but what about your political soul?'" he recalls. "I didn't know what to say, really. Is there a soul to politics? And if there is, does that mean I have to go one way or another on issues so I make sense to people? Because if that's what it means, I can't do that. I take things on an issue-by-issue basis. That's what makes sense to me."

In a minute it will be time to go down the hall to "bug Opat," something Stenglein likes to do every day around 3:00 if he can. He puts in a quick call to his wife to confirm that he will bring home Totino's--ravioli, not meatballs. Nicholas gets on the phone again, wanting to make sure that his dad will play with him first thing when he gets home. But Stenglein knows there really won't be time for play. He'll drop off dinner and then he'll have to head out to the fundraiser at Nye's and then on to two other meetings before the night is over.