“We thought Ed Felien and David Tilsen were going to storm the stage and try to take over the Convention,” one of the DFL Party Bosses told people at the Farmer Labor Caucus table.
That didn’t happen. Actually, we never thought about doing that. We did think about challenging Dan McConnell for Chair of the Convention, but Dan graciously stepped down as Chair (he’s still Chair of the Minneapolis DFL Central Committee) and asked other members of the Central Committee to chair the Convention. We thought about putting duct tape over parts of our delegates’ badges (rather than over our mouths) to signify that we’d been silenced in our attempts to raise issues at the Convention, but the Central Committee loosened up and did allow resolutions to be discussed, debated and voted on by the Convention after gathering 170 signatures of delegates or alternates. Marcia Greenfield, a DFL veteran, said that was probably as much of a compromise as we could hope for, so we didn’t do that protest either.
So, we started gathering signatures at about 7 a.m. We needed to present 170 to the Chair by noon. By 10:30 I knew we didn’t have enough, and I was starting to panic. At one point Dan McConnell came over to the table. In “Revolution in the DFL” in the May editions of Southside Pride, I had been very critical of what I considered McConnell’s undemocratic policies. As Chair of the Central Committee he had appointed rules committee members for the ward and city conventions and he had ruled that resolutions would not be heard at the Convention. I became hyperbolic. Many people at the Convention thought I had gone too far. They thought I compared Dan McConnell to Pol Pot. Actually, I never compared him to Pol Pot. I did compare him to “Our Dear Leader” in North Korea, but decided “that comparison is perhaps not apt.” I compared him to an Ayatollah, but I also rejected that comparison. But I did finally go off the deep end and compare him to Hitler and Mussolini and gangster Marxism. So when Dan came over to the table, I was a bit nervous. David Tilsen was behind the table, and he said, “Hey, Dan, sign our petition. Ed Felien and I have a bet that you won’t sign it. Sign it and he has to buy me dinner.” Dan McConnell signed our petition asking the Convention to urge the Minneapolis mayor and City Council to use the city’s powers of eminent domain to buy houses that are in foreclosure and sell them back to the homeowners at a fair market value.
Buoyed up by McConnell’s signature, we went around the convention hall lobby trying to get to the magic number. There was an announcement from the Convention Chair saying the time to hand in petitions was over. I quickly gathered all the sheets from the people canvassing. I had a number of sheets but I had no idea of whether we had the requisite number of 170. Secretly, I didn’t think we did. But I gathered them together and ran into the hall. I ran up to the stage, and they had already started the speeches of the candidates. There was no one on the stage from the Central Committee to whom I could deliver the petitions. Then I saw Dan McConnell walking up the opposite aisle. I ran after him. I caught him just outside the door. I handed him our petitions and said, “There’s no one at the head table to give these to. Would you give them to the Platform Committee?” He looked at me, looked at the petitions, took them and walked away without saying a word.
Later, while I was sitting at my seat as a delegate, when the Central Committee was back at the head table, Dan McConnell walked on stage and handed our petitions to one of them. Later, we heard that our resolution was one of three that had been accepted and would be discussed. So, our petition owed its existence to the generosity of Dan McConnell, a man from whom I certainly deserved no generosity.
When it came time for debate, I spoke in favor, saying the use of eminent domain by the city would save the home for the homeowner, save the home for the neighborhood by avoiding the blight that could result from a vacant and boarded house, save the city’s tax base, and even save money for the bank because even though they might have to take a haircut on the mortgage (get the market value versus the inflated value of the mortgage), they would be getting more than if the house were left vacant, vandalized and eventually torn down. David seconded the resolution and gave one of the best speeches of the day, saying the city uses eminent domain for Target Center and the Vikings stadium, why can’t they for just this once use it for ordinary people and not billionaires?
The other two resolutions, the one by Minneapolis Energy Options calling for clean energy and the one to save Dinkytown from developers, passed, but ours failed. I called for division because I wanted some idea of how many people were supporting a Farmer Labor Caucus agenda. Later I asked Rick Stafford, the acting Chair of the Convention, what he thought the count was on the vote on our resolution. He said we got 20%. I think that’s low. I would have put the number at 30 to 40%, but even at 20% that means out of 1,200 delegates, 240 supported the resolution—which is encouraging.
Rick ran a smooth and graceful convention. He is charming and witty and doesn’t get easily rattled. Our argument with the City Central Committee was that the Convention should allow more time for discussion and debate of ideas vital to the governance of the city. Candidates are always leery of conventions talking about ideas. There’s always the danger that they will support planks that could embarrass a candidate and make them unelectable. This is never given as the reason convention organizers don’t want to allow time for resolutions. Almost always the reason given is that delegates are tired and want to go home. The City Convention lasted almost 12 hours. For most of that time delegates sat and waited for votes to be tallied. During those extended intermissions we were entertained by piano music and an accordion recital. With all due respect to the organizers of the convention, and fully appreciating the time they spent and the unpaid agony they went through, it does seem there would have been time for the delegates to express their opinions on questions like the Vikings stadium, downtown development, taxes, etc. And, with all due respect to the musicians, discussion and debate might have done more to strengthen and excite the party than an accordion solo.
After publishing this in the Phillips/Powderhorn edition, we received this from Tony Scallon: Actually, Eddie you were three signatures short so I and two other rules committee members signed the petition. I had to leave early but I would have voted for the resolution. I do not know if it is workable but I think we should do something with the vacant houses and at least you had an idea.