Dear Political Diary,
Sam Solon died this afternoon.
I met Sam twenty-five years ago shortly after I moved to Duluth. I had gotten the bright idea to run against Mike Jaros for the legislature and someone suggested that I meet with Sam, one of Duluth's two State Senators. I was a Republican. Sam was a Democrat. There was no way Sam would help me but he was happy to have coffee with me when I called. Solon is Greek for law maker. His parents chose the name after moving to the US and Sam had the right temperament for the job.
A few years later I was substitute teaching for Sam when he went off to St. Paul to legislate. I did this for a couple years until I got a full time teaching job myself. My second and third years teaching in Duluth were at Morgan Park, Sam's school. We shared a room.
After the 1997 election which brought four new people to the school board Sam commiserated with me. Our new board members had no clue how things worked in St. Paul and Sam was pretty impatient with them. They were very naive and demanding. Of course, for all I know, Sam may have commiserated with them about me.
In 1999 when I ran for the state senate against Sam's buddy Doug Johnson Sam worked overtime to talk the Duluth Chamber of Commerce into endorsing Doug. Sam knew that the Chamber liked me but he probably didn't have to worry. Fortunately for Johnson the Chamber likes winners even more than friends. Sam and I got together for coffee November 12th and Sam told me that if Doug found out about our meeting he'd prefer to have Doug think that we'd just bumped into each other. I don't have to keep the secret anymore.
I had called Sam up to talk politics. He cautioned that because his health was so shaky he couldn't be certain he'd make it. The chemo could be tough. He did make it and we met at Coney Island. He was very clear eyed about his chances of surviving liver cancer. I can't recall if he said he had a one in twenty or twenty percent chance of survival. Either way it was grim. Friends of Sam's kept stopping by our table to say hello to him and wish him well.
We talked about his church, the Twelve Holy Apostles, Greek Orthodox Church. I'd visited it a number of years before and noticed Sam in the "choir." It was a very different choir than the one I sing in at Glen Avon. I asked Sam about his new priest, the one who had brow beat me last March. Sam groused that Rev. Philemon insisted that all the liturgical stuff that was said in English be repeated Greek. It doubled the length of the service and since only Sam and a few other old timers could understand Greek Sam couldn't see the point. He also thought it kept newcomers from joining the church.
After a cordial hour I finally got around to talking about the legislative elections. I told Sam that I intended to run but that with the reapportionment up in the air as well has his health I had no idea what office I might seek. I did tell Sam that if he was a candidate I wouldn't run against him. Not, I told him, because I'd lose but because I didn't want to run against a guy who would get all the sympathy votes. Sam found that amusing.
I also asked Sam if he thought his wife Yvonne might be interested in running for his seat if he was too ill. She had been a well respected City Councilor before retiring, ironically, due to a bout of breast cancer. It was common knowledge that she had been interested in running for Mayor and I suggested to Sam that holding his Senate seat might be a step in the direction of getting back into politics. I also told Sam I wouldn't run against Yvonne either. Sam told me he had no idea what his wife might do. Of course, he had no idea if he'd be up to running for reelection. His plan had been to run in 02 and then retire in 04 so that there would be an orderly succession for a DFL house member to take over his seat. He advised me that if I wanted the seat I should run no matter who the DFL candidate was.