Smashing Pumpkins

          FORGET MILLION DOLLAR ads, debates, green buses. No matter how sophisticated political campaigns have become, they eventually end up where all good old-fashioned civic fights go: in episodes of harassment, vandalism, and assault. What follows is a recap of recent campaign abuses.

          § Lawn sign theft has been around forever, but it's taking on new dimensions. Paul Wellstone noted in a recent debate that his campaign estimates having lost 7,000 signs this year, enough to plaster the Target Center top to bottom. Rudy Boschwitz's campaign hasn't tallied its losses. But over at Dole-Kemp headquarters, a volunteer says that in northern Minnesota, "little silver-haired ladies" have been spotted going up and down streets to pull up every Republican sign in sight. And an anonymous e-mailer has distributed messages to College Republicans offering a $20 bounty for "whomever is able to remove the most Bruce Vento for U.S. Congress signs." FYI, the average lawn sign costs around $5 to make, not counting the rebar. Taking signs involves assorted misdemeanors on the order of trespassing and theft.

          § In a seasonal twist, Renee Jenson--who's running for the state House seat in District 53 (Shoreview, North Oaks etc.)--reports that while working on a mailing at her campaign manager's house, two volunteers had their cars "vandalized by someone throwing frozen pumpkins through their back windows. It took over two hours to clean up all the glass and smashed pumpkin."

          § Beth Walker, a volunteer for
the campaign of Fifth District Congressional challenger Jack Uldrich, says she was at the intersection of 36th Street and Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis with an assortment of Republican signs when a white van careened toward her on the curb, missing her by inches, and flattened several of the signs. When she glared at the driver, he gave her the finger and drove off. Walker says police have told her the van's license number is registered to a Minneapolis company.

          BEAT RADIO IS beat--for the time being, at least. For 103 days the low-power Minneapolis dance music station survived as an unlicensed "microbroadcaster" at 97.7 FM despite industry complaints and a Federal Communications Commission order to cease transmission. U.S. Magistrate John Mason finally granted a motion October 29 for the FCC to seize station operator Alan Fried's transmission equipment; around $1,000 of hardware (and broadcast accessories like Fried's mixing board and VCR) was taken from Beat headquarters the day after Halloween. Fried argues the forfeiture came with neither due process nor legal proof that the station has caused any harm through airwave interference or otherwise.

          Prior to the shutdown, the Beat's unique format had garnered a strong grassroots following along with opposition from the local radio establishment. The Beat is going back to court and hopes to challenge the regulations that prevent low-power, independent broadcasters from taking to the air. A Beat Radio Defense Fund has been established to help defray legal costs; more information is available at 391-BEAT, or at www.beatworld.com on the Internet.

          IT'S GETTING HARDER still for low-income families to find housing in suburban Hennepin County. That's the conclusion of a survey conducted by the tenant-advocacy organization HOMELine on the acceptance of Section 8 certificates by suburban landlords. Section 8 is a federal program under which tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent, while the government kicks in the rest. It's become the top housing subsidy for low-income tenants as the government has shifted its assistance programs toward the private market. According to the study, fewer than one in five of the more than 40,000 apartments surveyed either qualify for or accept Section 8. That's 3,500 fewer than HOMELine found in 1995. And of course, notes the study, the remaining units are also highly sought after by unsubsidized families in an ever-tightening housing market. Adding to the pressure is Minneapolis's effort to displace more than 700 families from public-housing projects under the Hollman decree; many of those families are also supposed to look for housing using Section 8.

          ART, THEY SAY, can be dangerous--never more so than during a wind storm. Last week's near-tornado knocked over one of the massive sculptures on the terrace of the Walker Art Center and scattered its pieces along Hennepin Ave. Luckily for the museum, the metal chunks flew at 2:30 a.m. and didn't hit anyone.

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