Not Eudora  By Harry Welty
Published May 3, 2002

Peeing Contest

Don't sell the great temple of Duluth, the school administration building! ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION? We really, really, really mean it!

The News Tribune must mean it. Really. Really. Really. Over the past two months they have written virtually the same editorial three times forbidding the Duluth School Board from selling our trophy headquarters, "Old Central."

The first editorial in February swaggered a bit, fairly ridiculing Garry Krause for suggesting that we unload the building. You'd never have guessed from their editorial that private owners would be just as obligated to maintain the historic site as we currently are. When it was suggested that the Trib was putting bricks and mortar ahead of our mission to educate children the Trib softened its position a little. Its second editorial pointed out that the CAB was also an educational facility. Their third editorial last weekend said much the same thing but with a hint of desperation as though the school board might not be moved by its entreaties. It's rare, perhaps unprecedented, for any single subject to receive so much editorial attention.

Most politicians would rather light a cigarette next to a natural gas leak than get into a peeing contest with the local paper. I don't mean that newspapers are like skunks. They are much more like Niagara Falls with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of pee, or ink if you'd prefer. They have professional writers/reporters. They assign and edit stories. They write editorials. They choose what to publish and can release letters-to-the-editor when it suits them to generate public interest. And a newspaper always gets the last word.

Despite this power I'm comfortable with the press and its prerogatives. I've gotten along well with all six or seven education reporters who have covered the School Board for the Trib.  I've also gotten along with the editors. Jim Heffernan has saved me from myself a couple times when I've sent intemperate letters-to-the-editor his way. The Editorial Board has interviewed me a half dozen times when I've run for office. Three times I've won their endorsement. Five times I haven't.

The editors have a tall responsibility. They must know everything about everything. It's an impossible task and they sometimes find themselves having to cover stories dug up by the alternative press that they would prefer to ignore for fear of losing subscribers or advertisers. And not covering these stories might cost them something even more dear - their self respect. Its not surprising then that the Trib gets especially testy whenever local tabloids or television reporters scoop them.

A year ago when the Trib's editors decided that Julio Almanza, the Duluth School Superintendent, was limiting their access to public information concerning the public schools I innocently got a Trib reporter into big trouble. When a television reporter, KDLH's Chad Thomas, interviewed me I mentioned a memo that Julio had sent out to the Board. It seemed harmless enough to me so I didn't mind passing it along.  Besides, I agree with the Trib that anything we touch is public information unless it deals with personnel records, litigation or contract negotiations. Evidently the Trib's editors thought the molehill I'd given Chad was a mountain because there was hell to pay.

Usually the Tribune's major morning headlines become the stories covered on television in the evening. On this occasion the Trib found itself doing the follow-up. The Trib's Education reporters were raked over the coals and told that if local television ever scooped the Trib again they'd be history. For the next couple of weeks the Trib's reporters stuck to the Superintendent like lamprey on a whitefish. Both reporters quit shortly afterwards.

Can the Board weather the current peeing contest over Old Central?  School board members certainly understand that if they cross the Trib there could be unpleasant repercussions, an unflattering story perhaps or a lost endorsement.

Three editorials is a strong message but so far the Trib's crusade has elicited only six or seven letters-to-the-editor mostly from long lost Duluthians who seem to think we're about to tear Old Central down. I've received ten times more correspondence from parents and students - our actual customers - begging us not to cut course offerings. None of our customers has mentioned the CAB to me.

If I have to get into a peeing contest with Niagara Falls I know exactly what to wear. I just hope I look good in a barrel.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com 

My apologies to Dennis for reporting a few columns back that the Independence Party didn't hold a precinct caucus in Duluth. Apparently they did meet. I was just reporting what I'd read in the Trib.  If you'd like to straighten me out send an Email to: harrywelty@snowbizz.com