A visitor to downtown Minneapolis on Friday had a chance to see two City Council members’ pet causes on display. At City Hall, Cam Gordon’s effort to repeal the city’s lurking ordinance went down by an unexpectedly close council vote. Meanwhile, on electronic billboards above the Pantages Theater on Hennepin Avenue, Lisa Goodman’s campaign to build downtown dog parks is up in lights.
Gordon wants to remove from the city’s books an ordinance that makes it a crime to “lurk, lie in wait or be concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act” because it’s enforced with bias against members of racial minorities and homeless people. A rap on your record for lurking sounds much worse than the actual action, said Gordon in an interview Wednesday, adding that prospective employers may confuse lurking with sexual molestation.
Gordon had presented a compromise to the City Council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, repealing the lurking law but moving some of its language to the separate loitering ordinance. In doing so, Gordon lost the support of advocates for the homeless and didn’t gain enough support among committee members to send the proposal forward with a positive recommendation. Instead the committee approved a motion by Council Member Paul Ostrow that recommended the council return the repeal proposal to its author — in effect, killing it softly.
But with Ostrow absent yesterday, a motion to return the repeal to its author failed in the full council by a 6-6 vote, leading off a rough parliamentary patch that participants later recounted differently. Goodman then moved a straight repeal with no add-on language to the loitering ordinance. Council Member Gary Schiff, a vocal supporter of Gordon’s compromise motion, saw Goodman’s move as “Machiavellian” and showed his opposition by voting against it — along with Goodman herself and five others who wanted the lurking law left alone.
It was an end, at least for now, to a long-held goal for Gordon, who came into office with sights set on getting lurking off the books. Strategically, he had first gone after easier prey — repealing a ban on dancing in the street — to ensure the council had an appetite for removing obsolete or objectionable items from the city code. But unexpected distractions in the form of battles over a proposed alley-trespass ordinance (which failed) and an aggressive panhandling ban (which passed) interrupted what might have been a one-two repeal combination.
By contrast, Goodman’s pet cause — advocating for downtown dogs and dog-owners — saw success at the state Capitol this year, where a bill passed to let cities grant permits to restaurants that want to welcome dogs on leashes to their patios and sidewalk cafes. Goodman ushered just such an ordinance through the Minneapolis City Council Friday. In celebration of that state law city ordinance, as well as progress on several downtown dog parks, a nonprofit group called Dog Grounds is planning an annual fund raiser June 26, with the bill’s sponsors, state Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), as guests of honor.
Announcements of the local event have a prominent place among a mix of ads for national beer brands and cell phone companies that light up new Clear Channel electronic billboards atop the Pantages Theater. Attached at the hip to the Pantages is the Stimson Building, which the city also used to own before selling first the building and later the rooftop billboard easement, which brought in nearly $3 million. During the city’s ownership, Clear Channel paid the city $90,000 per year for billboard privileges.
Goodman pushed hard to help Clear Channel win an operating contract for the city-owned downtown theaters (State, Orpheum, Pantages) as well as a waiver from a city moratorium on electronic LED signs for three Pantages rooftop billboards. Two of the three billboards are now displaying advertisements for Dog Grounds — an organization which Goodman serves as vice president of the board of directors and which her office set up in 2006. But Goodman aide Doug Kress says Goodman’s links to both Dog Grounds and Clear Channel have nothing to do with the local organization’s getting electronic billing alongside Coor’s beer, Verizon Wireless and Centerpoint Energy.
Rather, Kress said, Clear Channel appears to be taking advantage of the LED signs’ ability to rotate several ads in succession, including public service announcements for the city’s Art-A-Whirl festival, the Basilica Block Party, and State Theater events. In that company Dog Grounds is less out of place, though on a fairly different plane of nonprofit existence: When held for the first time last year, Dog Grounds’ event raised $10,000.
Still, if high-profile advertising space is going to go to a young organization dedicated to dogs anywhere in Minneapolis, downtown’s the place: Dog park advocates say it’s home to more dogs than children.