(The following was sent to me by David Zingler, who writes for the Bleacher Bums blog at MPR, another blog I (and he) helped start last year. He still writes for it; I don’t)
It’s 3pm on Thursday, September 21 and I’m sitting in Ms. Harder’s room on the third floor of Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis. State Representative Keith Ellison is two rows over, picking at his finger nails, fidgeting. Businesswoman and former TV news reporter Tammy Lee is sitting across the room, calmly running through her mental notes.
The three of us are sitting in cramped desks as students file in, most of which are here to pick up some extra credit points. A few minutes later the room is full and Alan Fine, an author and businessman has arrived.
Ellison, Lee and Fine, of course, are the Democratic, Independent and Republican nominees for Martin Sabo’s vacated seat in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. The trio is at the high school for a “Political Forum on Education/Students’ issues.”
If the event was a fashion contest, Ellison would place a distant third. Fine and Lee are immaculately dressed in formal, business-like attire while Ellison dons a greenish, tweed sport coat and well-worn, brown shoes.
The highlight of the intro period came after Fine asked the students “Do any of you have a dream?” When one youngster said that he wanted “to be in the NBA”, the Republican nominee mistook the “N” for “M” and replied, “Oh, you want to be a businessman.”
About 10-15 minutes into the festivities, Michael Cavlan, the Green Party nominee for Mark Dayton’s Senate seat, ambles in. A registered nurse, Cavlan does not look nor act like a political candidate. Disheveled in appearance and lacking composure, he warns the students about the evils of military recruiters and calls for the impeachment of George W. Bush.
Cavlan’s radical views did attract the attention of the students however, and they pepper him with inquiries during the Q&A period. That unfortunately, means less face time for Ellison, Lee and Fine. The aggressive Ellison is quick to jump in first when students do not address a question directly to Cavlan.
It doesn’t take long to see why Ellison, despite his controversial past, had the support needed to bring home the Democratic nomination. A dynamic speaker, his personality casts a large shadow that Lee and Fine have a hard time escaping.
Lee is composed and appears very capable, but lacks the force to counteract Ellison’s charisma. Fine, while intelligent and articulate, seems out of his element and has trouble connecting with the students.
As the proceedings wrap up a female, African-American faculty member chimes in with a stern scolding of Fine for his criticism of Ellison’s ties with the Nation of Islam. Ellison tries to jump in first, but Fine eventually wins out and defends his earlier comment by labeling the organization a “hate group” and compares its leader Louis Farrakhan to David Duke.
The Democrat stood arms crossed, glaring at Fine as he wrapped up his comments. Then, at the urging of the previously identified faculty member, Ellison took the high road, and retorted, “Although he hasn’t asked me, I forgive Mr. Fine (for his comments).”
With the tension receding, class was adjourned. As Ms. Harder passes out bus tokens to the students, Ellison and Fine exchange a limp handshake. Fine and Lee quickly headed for the door and Ellison lingers in the classroom, chatting with some students for a few moments before exiting. Cavlan meanwhile stays put, he is surrounded by students and clearly basking in the attention.