In the wake of former City Council Member Dean Zimmermann’s conviction on three counts of bribery earlier this month, the local Green Party issued a somber statement supporting their fallen comrade while emphasizing its longstanding commitment to ethical politics. It read, frankly, as a half-hearted effort to salvage some semblance of self-respect after what has clearly been a crippling blow to the party and its loyal core of followers at a time when rising DFL progressives like City Council members Elizabeth Glidden, Betsy Hodges, and Ralph Remington are threatening to strip support from the Greens throughout the city.
With Park Board Commissioner Annie Young, the city’s only other Green in elected office, battling various health issues and the party’s only true celebrity, Farheen Hakeem, waging a longshot campaign against Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, the political heavy lifting has fallen to City Council Member Cam Gordon.
Yesterday, Gordon released a statement on the Zimmermann conviction that balanced his affection for the former council member with his own commitment to ethical politics. In it, he vows never to accept campaign contributions from anyone doing business with the city, never to allow anyone to pay for a meal or an event, never to accept money from anyone but his campaign committee, never to serve on the board of any organization except in his official capacity as a council member (a slap at Zimmermann’s membership on the Green Institute board of directors), and to always abide by campaign finance laws.
“As the highest Green elected official in Minneapolis, I will not only do my best to personally exemplify ethical representation, but I will push to strengthen the ethical standards by which we measure all Minneapolis officials,” he said.
Gordon’s statement, while a necessary attempt to publicly clear the air after the Zimmermann embarrassment, will likely do little to erase the stain from a party that has always advertised itself as being above the political grime produced by the two major parties. To some degree, it’s the price they pay for holding themselves—and everybody else—to a higher standard. But it’s also about a party that found political success before it had matured enough to develop and maintain sufficient party discipline.
As high-minded as the Greens political platform may be, its candidates—especially those who gained political office—were essentially free agents, no longer beholden to party leaders or, as we saw in the case of Zimmermann, particularly attuned to the party’s ethical compass.
If there’s any good news for the Greens in the wake of the Zimmermann debacle, it’s that Gordon is proving to be an effective and collaborative council member who has grasped City Hall’s often perplexing political equation more quickly than most who arrive there. Zimmermann and Johnson Lee never quite accomplished that; they were effectively marginalized by their colleagues—a situation that, sadly, never appeared to particularly trouble them.
Beyond Gordon and Hakeem (who remains a charismatic and articulate spokeswoman for Green principles), however, there are few bright spots for this once-promising party. That doesn’t mean the Greens won’t revive themselves at some point; it just means they’ll probably have to wait for forces beyond their control to make it happen.