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Letter protesting Keith Ellison's election to the Minnesota legislature

November 14, 2002

Dear legislator:

One of your newly elected House members, Keith Ellison, was elected by a wide margin through what we consider to be negative and deceitful campaign practices. Since our group (Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee) was a principal target of Mr. Ellison’s animosity, we feel obliged to set the record straight.

Enclosed you will find a copy of Mr. Ellison’s ad published in Insight News, an African-American publication distributed in north Minneapolis, during the last week before the general election. Ellison has made certain statements about Duane K. Reed and about the Property Rights group which require a response.

Ellison asserts that ”this group has made a fortune over the years off of the poorer members in our community”. Translated: Many of our members are private-sector providers of affordable housing for low- and middle-income city residents. We do this without public subsidy. While it is true that our net worths have generally increased with rising property values, what this means, in practical terms, is that the tax values of our properties have increased so that, even after last session’s tax cuts, we pay more real estate taxes each year than before. Alternatively, we can sell out.

Ellison asserts that “this group of landlords own some of the most run-down and dire property on the North side.” Response: We do not believe this to be true. Since Ellison does not have a copy of our membership list, he could not possibly know whether our members are worse or better than the typical Minneapolis landlord in maintaining our rental properties. This is a reckless charge. Since we have a high political profile in criticizing Minneapolis city government, you can be assured that city inspectors would come quickly after our members if they let their buildings deteriorate.

Ellison calls us an “anti-community group”. Maybe that is because we have effectively brought public attention to the abuses perpetrated by Minneapolis city officials including former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, who nominated Ellison at the DFL district convention and whom we helped last year to defeat. Our group’s principal activity is to sponsor a free-speech forum at the Eagles club at 25th and 25th in south Minneapolis on the 2nd Wednesday of each month starting at 7 p.m.

During the past year, our guest speakers have included elected officials and political candidates from all four major parties including Attorney General Mike Hatch, State Auditor Pat Anderson Awada (twice), State Rep. Jim Rhodes, gubernatorial candidate Ken Pentel, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council President Paul Ostrow and Vice President Robert Lilligren, Council members Dean Zimmermann and Natalie Johnson Lee, and Hennepin County Commissioners Mike Opat and Mark Stenglein.

Anyone, including Ellison, is welcome to attend our meetings. We have an open mike and a policy of uncensored speech. The meetings are videotaped and shown on regional cable TV (channel 6) on Fridays starting at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and on the Minneapolis cable-access station on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and at midnight.

It is disheartening that the new legislature will include anti-landlord zealots such as Keith Ellison who personally harassed our members on the street while they were campaigning for Duane Reed, his opponent. On election day, north Minneapolis radio station KMOJ repeatedly broadcast statements alleging that voters were being turned away at the polls because they had unlawful detainers (court orders evicting them from rental housing), as if the “evil landlords” had influence over election judges. While this “news” was consistent with Ellison’s rhetoric, unlawful detainers do not constitute a legal impediment to voting in Minnesota. Ellison co-hosts a show on KMOJ although we do not know the identify of those individuals who spread the rumors.

We are also saddened by the personal attacks on Duane Reed, an African American gentleman accused of fraternizing with the white landlords. Yes, many of our members supported Reed’s candidacy. We did so because Reed presented his views at our meeting and we liked what we heard. Duane Reed is an experienced, intelligent, well-informed, even-tempered person who has experience both in business (with Cargill) and as a member of a big-city school board (Champaign, Illinois). He was an ideal person to bridge the gap in the Minnesota legislature between urban and rural interests. We do not apologize for preferring him to Keith Ellison but do regret that our association with Reed may have subjected him to harsh characterizations in the context of racial politics.

Ellison’s lawyering business seems to depend on vilifying and suing private-sector landlords. His ad claims that he has worked for “tenants rights and (unlawful detainer) record expungements”. What he does not reveal is that Minneapolis city policies, promoted by Ellison’s political allies, severely punish private-sector landlords who fail to screen applicants adequately for rental housing. Presumably, these uncaring landlords are inviting criminals into the neighborhood and their buildings need to be closed down or torn down to make the crime problem go away. On one hand, then, Ellison and his ilk would have landlords diligently screen out potential criminals; on the other hand, he would expunge the rental-history records that landlords use to do the screening. It is this kind of hypocrisy which gives attorneys such a bad reputation in our community.

In the next legislative session, powerful groups will come to you begging for money for affordable housing, arguing that the state must step in since the private sector has failed to provide enough affordable housing. We private-sector landlords in Minneapolis believe that the private business sector is the proper party to be providing rental housing. We believe that there will be enough rental units and monthly rents will come down as soon as housing supply is brought into better balance with demand.

We at the Property Rights group are for increasing the supply of rental housing. (We actually picketed several sites of structurally sound housing slated to be demolished by the city.) But instead of encouraging us to stay in business, government officials did everything possible to drive us out of business so that the politically favored nonprofit sector could take over. We are harassed by city inspectors, sued by lawyers ambulance-chasing discrimination cases, left to fend for ourselves by the police.

We are not asking for access to someone else’s money. We are asking to be given a normal amount of respect and public support as proprietors of legitimate businesses which provide a much-needed service to low-income people.

Once Keith Ellison is seated in the legislature, certain of our members who live in his district will lose the political representation which they had previously received from Greg Gray. We are not afraid. For eight years now, our group has endured insults and epithets of every sort, thrived, and, against all odds, turned city politics around. The old guard, buttressed by foundation money, resents its loss of power and privilege. They have played the race card to their advantage and gotten Mr. Ellison elected.

We will be back because we are needed. When poor people need a place to live, they come to us, not to demagogic lawyers like your new colleague in district 58B.


Eve White and William McGaughey

Note: Ellison did later take MPRAC up on its offer to take part in the monthly meetings.

 

 

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