Chapter 7 Harry Welty is Too Sharp
I have gotten used to being underestimated. I suffered a long and ignominious string of election defeats which began shortly after arriving in Duluth a quarter century ago. If what teachers always tell their students is true; that you only learn by making mistakes, then I must be one of the smartest people in Duluth. By the same token, I have good reason to be one of the most humble people in the world because I've had to make a lot of mistakes to get where I am and its not very far.
I had been thinking about my reelection immediately after my first election in 1995. As someone who was intent on unifying the district and assuaging the tempers of angry teachers I began making the rounds of the schools so that teachers could see a board member who cared about their work. Frank Wanner's early criticism helped spur me on and I wanted to put distance between myself and my fellow board members who were perceived as being anti-teacher. This would be a constant struggle because I agreed with the school board members who understood the limitations of the district's finances which made me their ally and a target of Frank Wanner. Mr. Wanner kept telling teachers that we had plenty of money to give the teachers and that it was only our anti-teacher politics that kept teachers underpaid.
I was also interested in winning over the Duluth business community. I couldn't expect my eccentric reputation to be popular in the no-nonsense business community. I had already tried to rehabilitate it by supporting Bob Mars in the 1997 write-in campaign. I had certainly looked a lot better to Bob Mars after my efforts for him than I had two years earlier when I joined the Board. At that time he had called me a "flake." One of the people I was to meet through the good offices of Mark Myles was the former Chamber of Commerce President Bob Heimbach. I've already mention Bob's help in a previous chapter and all during the campaign my hand in the election must have circulated through the business community. I eventually won the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce PAC.
I was particularly fortunate when Jim Gustafson agreed to be my campaign Chairman. Jim was a businessman, former state Senator and had just retired as the Commissioner of the I triple RB. (The Iron Range Resources Rehabilition Board) The letter Jim sent out for me raised several thousand dollars in short order and gave me the freedom to make some spending decisions early especially for the Bill Boards I had long planned on.
In the spring I had imagined billboard which would have pictures of all the candidates I was supporting on them. As I began picturing a MMM campaign I realized I needed to keep my own campaign separate. The idea of surrounding myself with children was a natural because I read in the schools all the time and I wanted to emphasize that fact. When it came time to find children I asked a friend at the Edison schools to round some up and I was very pleased with the results.
All of the graphics in my campaign were of my own design. One of the few ways I've learned to economize in the many races I've run is in advertising. Although the final designs were the work of area professionals with the technological skills to work the computers they were working with my ideas. The same is true for the add copy. I take great pride in my ability to state my own case.
The add copy I eventually came up with for my campaign essentially reinforced the efforts of all the campaigns I was trying to orchestrate. My final campaign brochure encouraged voters to return my allies to the School Board for all the same reasons that the MMM committee and the Save Our Schools Committee did. In a national campaign it would be called "speaking on message." We didn't have enough resources to dilute the message we wanted to get out.
Bob Mars and Mary Glass LeBlanc ran their own campaigns and had their own messages but I made sure that MMM and SOS and the Harry Welty campaign all broadcast complementary messages. To the extent that I could give input to Mary Cameron's long distant campaign I helped craft her message as well.
My efforts were sure to catch some attention. As I've said my work with the Mary Mary Mars Committee was already suspected by the unions. While I had no intention of making myself a bigger target than I had to I was proud of my work and not afraid to admit it. When Jerry Cleveland, a former DFT, officer hinted that he knew of my actions I wrote him back and took credit for my work.
As I had hoped the editorial boards of the two local newspapers began seeing school board politics through my sides point of view and both papers eventually endorsed all of my side's candidates including me although in my case not uncritically. Fortunately, my challenger was not able to make a strong case for herself.
I had not been sure what I would face until Pauline Nuhring filed against me saying that she wanted to bring "professionalism" to the school board. After my voodoo stunt I wasn't very surprised at that line of attack nor was I very worried. I had worked hard to present the voodoo as an effort at bringing good humor to a tense situation and as a peace offering. I hadn't counted on Paul Harvey picking up the story or mangling it but when that happened I just considered that to be another opportunity. While people outside Duluth would take the story at face value I was more concerned that Duluth's community and teachers would read my more noble motives into my actions.
In doing some checks of my name on the internet I have discovered a few places which posted the story as an example of oddball behavior. I just consisder that to be proof of the falability of the world wide web.
Early in the year after I told Eileen Zeitz that I planned to run for reelection she told me she didn't think I could win. I did not know how to take this prediction but it was an excellent motivator. After the filings closed it seemed apparent to me, whether it was true or not, that Eileen had recruited Pauline to run against me. They had met at UMD where Pauline had started working a short time before. Over the course of the campaign rather a lot of UMD professors wrote letters to the editor endorsing Pauline. It was reminiscent of the many letters such professors had written in Eileen's behalf two years earlier.
It had been my original intention to knock on every door in my district but by it was apparent that all the campaigns I had my fingers in would not leave me with the time to do this. Fortunately, Pauline evidently did not go door to door either. Pauline had her own problems. First her campaign, although well funded, was too dependent on my reputation as a silly candidate. I had already gone to great lengths to innoculate myself from this criticism. Second, her own personality was not ideal and numerous people offered me insights which suggested how unsuited to campainging she was. One good friend told me that he had personally introduced himself to her and asked her for information about her campaing. She was not surprisingly very flattered with the attention and very gracious. Not long afterwards however, she had occasion to call him not knowing who it was she was speaking to and proceeded to be very abrupt with him about a business transaction she was unhappy about. The first rule of a winning candidate is never to offend anyone if you can help it. Of course, someone who never offends anyone runs the risk of being a cypher. Such is politic's tightrope.
In anticipation of a busy fall season I had painted my lawnsigns early. My signs were reprised from the campaign four years earlier. In my constant effort to save money I painted over old signs and I tried an experiment. For years I had used heavy hardboard signs but working with them was backbreaking. In recent years light plastic signs have become much more popular. We had ordered such signs (at my insistance) for the Bob Mars write-on campaing in two years before and Bob had offered them to me when the campaign was over. I kept them not knowing whether they could be painted over. I was hopeful because the paint only had to adhere to the plastic for about four weeks.
I ended up painting over thousand signs, mostly by myself although my wife and son helped out on a couple critical occasions. It took two coats of primer on both sides of each sign and a final silk screen on both sides as well. The process left the Mars sign underneath plainly visible. I knew I would get grief about this "sloppiness" but as my campaign was intent on enhancing my reputation by association I was happy to let people make the connection between Bob and me.
The things I did for my own campaign were generally done at the last possible minute including passing out literature. I was coordinating four campaigns simultaneously. It was not a task for an anal retentive. Fortunatly I thrive on the fly. My general strategy had been planned well in advance but I was quick to make changes day by day as the campaign progressed.
Ultimately I was one of the biggest spenders in the campaign. Running for reelection probably cost me for than two thousand dollars by the time gas, lunches and worn out shoes were accounted for. That's one third of one year's annual stipend as a Duluth School Board member. I also made contributions to my allies campaigns as well.
The editorial endorsement of the Budgeteer? seemed pretty appropriate. While dismissing my opponant they couldn't help but suggest that I was a bit of a problem. Harry "is a little too sharp." was how they put it. A good double entendre although it was not meant as such.
There are local pols who are famously quarrelsom. Tommy Rukavina, John Fedo in his day, Bob Lessard and Irv Anderson. I am however a confirmed peace maker. In fact, one of the things which galled me and sparked me to such efforts in this election was the animus directed at me by people I had worked so hard to cooperate with.
I had met with Frank Wanner half a dozen times in my first two years on the Board despite criticism from my fellow board members for doing so. I had worked mightly to keep the two sides on the board for the last two years from getting in each other's face. I had criticised old allies on the Board when they took pot shots at the new members. I worked hard to protect a succession of school superintendents from the forces which tried to grind them down.
In a column written about me some years before I had said I always viewed myself as being one of the most reasonable people I knew. I think I've lived up to that self characterization. I just don't think its reasonable to let yourself be trampled. In this election I wasn't.
After a long history of diffidence I've also become one of the most confident people in the world so confident that I could pull out a voodoo doll in front of 300 angry teachers and resign my chairmanship with such flamboyance it caught Paul Harvey's attention.
What the heck is the public supposed to make of a stay at home Dad, who lost his teaching job because of incompetence and has spent the last twenty-five years running for political office but losing and the last fourteen years building snow sculptures? In a funny way, I don't care because I know what to make of myself. In a more practical vein I do care, because unless they think enough of me to elect me to office I'll never have the chance to serve them.