Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published May 27, 2004

Gunning for Fay

No one likes a goody-two-shoes. No one likes a whistle blower. No one likes Joanne Fay. At least Joanne's colleagues on the St. Louis County Board don't seem to like Joanne. Suddenly everyone is gunning for Commissioner Fay.

Because Joanne single-handedly killed the County Board's self-serving redistricting plan, by taking it to the courts thus guaranteeing Duluth fair representation, she finds herself facing two challengers in this Fall's election.

First out of the gate to challenge Fay was Laura Ness, Duluth City Councilor Donny Ness's bride of one week. Laura Ness's bid to build a Ness dynasty seems to be predicated on the idea that we need more women - check that - we need more "younger" women in public office. Evidently the forty-something Fay has been prematurely aged into irrelevance by her own grade school children and those on the County Board.

The following day, Steve O'Neill, a folksy, bearded presence in many Politically correct causes announced his intention to file against Fay. The many AFSCME (public employee union) officials who surrounded Steve at his press conference hint at the fissures within the DFL. This may be Fay's only hope.

Laura's husband, Donny, is Congressman Oberstar's Duluth factotum. As a city councilor he has assiduously avoided taking unpopular stands, most recently on the tempestuous issue of the Ten Commandments. Donny finessed this controversy by nitpicking some demands of the ACLU. Officially Donny did not join the council majority which voted to remove the monument from City property. Such a vote could have been unhelpful for his wife's campaign.

Donny's valiant attempts to court young and old alike with his inoffensive politics has not endeared him to the region's Greens who along with AFSCME have commandeered the DFL. Look for a primary donnybrook.

It's tempting to speculate that Fay's embittered colleagues might have had a hand in recruiting these eager challengers. If it hadn't been for Fay two county board members might not be facing reelection this year half-way into what otherwise would have been four year terms. Fay took them kicking and screaming to court, along with their gerrymandered redistricting plan, and she won.

The losers have attempted to put the best face on their loss by insisting that they really won. The Supreme Court let stand Fay's and Judge Hallenbeck's redistricting plan but did not insist that St. Louis County reimburse Fay for her legal costs. According to Fifth District Commissioner Peg Sweeney this was a victory.

Not only was this small minded satisfaction it was hypocritical. Peg and the other Commissioners made much of Joanne's greed in trying to stick county taxpayers with her legal expenses. In reality, Peg and her partisans on the Board used the County Attorney's office to defend the safe districts that they had drawn up for themselves. It would be interesting to know how much this losing legal diversion for the County Attorney cost. Alan Mitchell didn't seem very enthusiastic about defending the County Commissioner's assault on the "one man one vote" standard but they forced him to defend their self-serving plan. They had no compunction about sticking the taxpayer with the costs for their own self preservation.

I can only shake my head at the County Board's intransigence. Had they been less preoccupied with guaranteeing their own reelections they would have saved the taxpayers the costs of litigation. They also might have avoided an unexpected mid-term election this year as well. Pity!

I can also only shake my head in wonder at Joanne Fay's tenacity and self-sacrifice on behalf of Duluth's voters. She spent $22,000 of her own to fight for an honest reapportionment. This is almost half her annual commissioner salary. This fight was completely unnecessary for her own reelection since the original plan barely changed her own district.

I have no difficulty imagining what I would have done with $22,000 because I'm spending half that much on a thirty-year anniversary cruise of the Mediterranean this summer.

What does Joanne get for her sacrifice? She gets to fight all summer for her political survival.

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

Laura Ness wrote a response to my column