African American leaders slap Sabo for Ellison snub


Leaders of the Minneapolis Coalition of Black Churches sharply criticized Congressman Martin Sabo this week for supporting as his successor his longtime aide Mike Erlandson against DFL-endorsed candidate Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. If Ellison wins election in November, he will be the first African American member of Congress from Minnesota.

“Hypocrisy,” was how Bill English and Randy Staten both characterized Sabo’s support for Erlandson over Ellison, who was endorsed in May by delegates to the Fifth Congressional District Convention. Sabo emphatically promoted Erlandson in a recent letter to public officials and news organizations, which also appears on “Erlandson’s website”:

Without naming Ellison or other candidates poised to run in the DFL primary election in September, Sabo praised Erlandson’s “passion, values, experience and determination.”

Asked by Insight News to clarify the differences he sees between Ellison and Erlandson, Sabo declined to mention Ellison by name and reiterated much of his original statement.

He added praise for Erlandson’s experience with bureaucracies, coalitions and national issues. And Sabo said, “Of the four DFL candidates, Mike is the one who best understands the social, political and economic needs of this diverse district and its residents – urban and suburban.”

Asked about Sabo’s letter, DFL Chairman Brian Melendez vowed support for Ellison, saying “The DFL Party stands behind Keith Ellison, and is dedicated to getting him elected in November.”

Directly responding to Sabo, Melendez said, “The delegates, who took Rep. Sabo’s advice into consideration, overwhelmingly endorsed Keith Ellison, whose dedication and vision will serve this diverse and passionate district well.”

English and Staten, co-chairmen of the Minneapolis Coalition of Black Churches and African American Leadership Summit, both noted that in Sabo’s 27 years in the House of Representatives, he argued forcefully against the idea of running against an endorsed candidate, and so did Erlandson, who is the former DFL Party chairman.

Staten was Minnesota’s first black legislator, representing North Minneapolis from 1980-1986, and may run for the seat again. He said that, 25 years ago, “We fought to make this party representative.” He called Sabo’s promotion of Erlandson “the height of hypocrisy,” and said, “It also continues to raise questions why a lot of people of color tend to distrust the Democratic Party.”

English said, “The party has no control over its own philosophy, when people who have been party officials and congressional leaders say the endorsement process is best, yet they permit and indulge another process.” He added, “That’s why I support an open primary. Let the primary begin, and let the people participate in the endorsement process.”

In May, delegates to the Fifth Congressional District DFL Convention unanimously chose Ellison as the DFL candidate after three ballots. Erlandson and three others have said they will compete in the Sept. 12 primary election: former Minnesota Sen. Ember Reichcott Junge, Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow and Seventh District resident Erik Thompson of Milan, MN.

In November the DFL primary winner will face Republican Alan Fine, Green Party Candidate Jay Pond and Tammy Lee of the Independence Party.