Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002

Citizens in Action

Dear Political Diary,

I had promised Rosie Loeffler Kemp earlier in the week that I would show up at the "Citizens In Action" seminar this afternoon. Its an annual confab that the League of Woman Voters puts on with a dozen other organizations to train locals how to lobby elected officials. All the local elected officials are invited each year to mingle with its attendees at noon.

The actions were confined to a rather cramped space in the new UMD library. I crammed myself into the back of the room with a bunch of other politicians. Julio was there and I teased him about his Friday. He had taken the afternoon off only to have a couple year's worth of minor crises break suddenly - two auto/bus accidents and a firearm (unloaded) in a school building. 

School Board members are all connected to a District phone messaging system so that we can be alerted about potential headline inducing traumas before the media contacts us for our reactions. The messaging system can be glitchy.  I hadn't gotten any messages on Friday but I woke up to three of them Saturday morning long after the incidents were reported or the messages were phoned into me. Julio motioned Pati Rolf and me out of the room so that he could give us an update. Pati mentioned that she had no sympathy for the gun toter and added that her father was a gun dealer. I cheekily asked her if her father supported the concealed weapon legislation being trotted out by Republicans and the Governor. Absolutely not. I nodded my approval of his good sense.

The seminar was about to conclude and ten adolescent black girls from St. Mark's AME church were entertaining the conferees clapping and snapping their fingers rhythmically. I was struck that they were all about the same age and that their were ten of them. It was evidence of the growing presence of African Americans in Duluth. Ten years ago you couldn't have found ten African American children the same age in all of Duluth let alone ten of the same gender from just one church.

After the entertainment Rosie called the elected officials up to form a "horseshoe" at the front of the room. She asked Julio to come up too even though, as the Mayor suggested in a good natured aside, he'd been "selected" not elected. In response I whispered to Julio that he'd been selected after he'd been elected on a 5 to 4 vote.

Rosie asked Pati and Garry Krause to stand by her as she introduced School Board members but when my turn came I balked saying I could just stand where I was. She laughed and told the audience I had told her that I was going to avoid her during the seminar. It was true. Rosie is nine months pregnant and her baby is due on Valentine's Day. It was strictly a guy thing. I had told her I didn't want to stand anywhere near her in case her baby was impatient.

After the introductions we mingled with the audience for an hour or so. One parent asked me about class sizes at Congdon and I quickly surrounded her with Pati and the Superintendent for an extended conversation about staffing. Another parent asked me what he could do to make sure the federal government honored its unfulfilled promise to fund 40 percent of special education. It was a good question without a good answer.