The city of Minneapolis will have elections for Mayor in November 2009. One of the candidates will be RT Ryback, the incumbent Mayor, who is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and an officer in the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. In the last election cycle, Mayor Ryback’s campaign published a piece of literature stating that the Green Party City Council member had endorsed Ryback for that election.
The article below is about how a present Green Party member, David Bicking, filed a lawsuit to hold the Mayor accountable. The story is written by a former Green Party member, Michael Cavlan, who concludes that the Mayor was very wrong, but that the elected Green Party City Council Member may have been less than independent and forthright. The story sheds interesting light on the interactions among a major party elected official, a third party elected official, and the respective third party constituents.
The full political commentary piece by former Green Party member Michael Cavlan, sent via e-mail on July 21, 2009:
Mayor Rybak Takes The Stand
by Michael Cavlan
You may have missed it but something interesting happened last week.
July 7th, 9:30 a.m. Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak held his hand up, swore an oath to a panel of three judges and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
This was at the State of Minnesota, Office of Administrative Hearings, 600 Robert St, St Paul, Minnesota. Mayor Rybak was at an administrative hearing to ascertain if he would face criminal charges. The charges were violating Minnesota Statute 211B.02, where it is illegal to put an individuals name for endorsement on a candidates campaign literature, without the persons written, expressed permission. The complaint was brought forward by Minneapolis resident and Green Party City Council candidate, Dave Bicking.
Bicking has brought the complaint forward because Mayor Rybak’s campaign listed Cam Gordon’s name on literature passed out and on his campaign website, claiming to have all 13 members of the Minneapolis City Council as supporters and endorsing Mayor Rybak. This violation of the law is a misdemeanor, punishable by a possible maximum $5,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail.
However, for those of us assembled there, there was more to be exposed under oath than was expected.
Opening statements began, first by David Bicking who made the case that the violation of law was clear and that the implications were serious. That many voters had been mislead, the political process had been corrupted and had created an unfair advantage to the Rybak campaign.
Next came Mayor Rybak’s attorney, Gregory Merz, who started off by, in fact, acknowledging that mistakes were made and that the law was indeed violated. But according to Merz, the violations were not serious but a simple technical violation with no attempt to mislead. That no one was in fact mislead and that there was no harm done to the political process. Mr Merz implied that Dave Bicking had an ulterior motive for bringing the charges forward, that it was a “political gotcha” simply to get at the Rybak campaign.
Interestingly, he said that they would show that there was an agreement between Councilman Gordon and Mayor Rybak to support one another as early as mid-2008. That the support was mutual and that Mayor Rybak was instrumental in passing a Resolution of support at the DFL Ward Two convention. Cam Gordon faced no Democrat endorsed opposition in Ward Two, which is virtually unheard of in Minneapolis history. However, we were to find out later that there more to this than originally presented.
After the opening statements, Mayor Rybak took the stand, taking an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
On the violation itself, while being cross examined by Dave Bicking, it was my opinion that RT Rybak looked like a deer caught in the headlights. His defense was filled with “I don’t know about that” and “I don’t remember”, reminiscent of president Reagan testifying at the Iran/Contra hearings.
On being questioned about his agreement with Councilman Gordon, he was much more clear and certain. He testified that “I’ll support you in the next race and that I will do whatever I can to help you and get the support of the Democrats as well. I recognize that you are in the Green Party, and I won’t ask you to not be in that, but that I want to also make the case that you should be endorsed as well. And I asked for endorsement as well, and I believe he had similar feelings towards me.” Mayor Rybak also mentioned that Councilman Gordon was a public presence at the Mayors New Year’s Eve fundraiser, as well as the official campaign kick off in February.
Next to testify was local DFL activist, Gayle Bonneville who testified to both the sense of advantage to the Mayor’s campaign as well as the potential damage to the reputation and public image it created for the Green Party. Gayle testified to the sense that this implied for the Ryback campaign that the election all wrapped up by March, with no real opposition or dissent. That it helped create a very unfair advantage and discouraged others from opposing the Mayoral campaign of Rybak.
Next to testify was Farheen Hakeem, a well known Green Party activist and former Green Party Mayoral candidate. She testified to the potential damage to the reputation to the Green Party as well as the unfair perception this would create for the Rybak campaign. Farheen also testified that of course each and every campaign she was involved in followed the law of having written permission for an individuals or groups endorsement.
Next Dave Bicking testified, again making the case that the violation of the law was clear and the implications of said violation of the law was clear. This was the central premise of his case.
Bicking also addressed the motivation for bringing the charges forward were simple and direct. His campaign was very aware of the law and they had followed it, so he wanted to ensure that the law was enforced in the future. Further, he wanted to find out the truth because Mayor Rybak had been saying one thing about Cam’s endorsement while Cam Gordon had been saying something else. Bicking was also trying to protect the reputation of the Green Party and the reputation of Cam Gordon. Not to mention protecting the political process by countering the “historic claim” of the Rybak campaign of having all 13 members of the Minneapolis City Council. This created the impression that Mayor Rybak had the election all wrapped up and created an unfair advantage, discouraging others from running. This idea of no opposition and no dissent in City Hall is obviously harmful to a true democratic process. Bicking made his case in a very clear, concise and measured manner.
Last to testify was Peter Wagenius, policy aide to Mayor Rybak and senior member of the Ryback campaign. It was at this point that things became even more interesting and much was revealed that perhaps intended by those in City Hall.
Mr Wagenius reinforced that Mayor Rybak and Councilman Gordon had agreed to endorse each other in early 2008. However, his defense was quite telling. In essence, he stated that sure we did it, but “everybody else does it too.” He mentioned campaigns in the past that he had been involved in that had done so, including his own mother’s campaign. He said this to a group of three judges which, quite frankly was not a very bright move. Try that the next time you get a speeding ticket. Yes Your Honor, I was speeding but so does everybody else is not a very effective defense, especially to a Judge.
As a side bar to this story, there is another which was exposed by this hearing. First, Mayor Rybak and Peter Wagenius testified, under oath that Mayor Rybak and Councilman Gordon had made a deal in mid 2008 to help each other and the they would indeed endorse each other. This should be most important to the membership of the Green Party as well as to Councilman Gordon’s constituents in Ward Two. You see, Cam Gordon had been asked at the 5th District Green Party endorsing convention on May 9th, 2009 very directly if he in fact supported or endorsed Mayor Rybak. Cam had responded with an emphatic no, that he did not.
Does this mean mean that the facts exposed by Mayor Rybak and Peter Wagenius under oath showed that Councilman Gordon knowingly and deliberately lied to the membership of the Green Party?
However, the more damning information was about to be revealed. Peter Wagenius testified, under oath that Mayor Rybak and Councilman Gordon had made a deal, where Cam would try and dissuade the Green Party from running a Mayoral candidate at all. Can we infer that Cam Gordon was willing to put his own campaign and possibly his own job ahead of what was best for the Green Party and could in fact damage the Green Party?
After 3 hours and 15 minutes, the hearing was over. Both sides agreed to make their final statements to the panel of three judges in a week.
City Hall politics was ripped wide open and exposed for what it was. Under oath.