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Throughout Jesse Ventura's campaign, whenever his leadership qualifications were questioned, Ventura pointed to his four years as mayor of Brooklyn Park. Mayor Ventura's first foray into politics might tell us about the job Governor Ventura will do.
JESSE VENTURA WON HIS FIRST ATTEMPT at public office in 1990 with the help of lifelong Brooklyn Parker Rob Shafer, who also voted for Ventura for Governor.
Shafer: Brooklyn Park is our little world. We needed some help here in Brooklyn Park. And he had the right ideas.But Brooklyn Park is also the little world of Ron Dow, a ten-year council vet - mostly in the '70s - and now self-described gadfly.
Dow: You have to look at what he accomplished here in Brooklyn Park. I'm not aware of anything.In other words, if you look up "ambivalence" in the dictionary, you won't see Jesse Ventura's picture next to the definition - a fact the governor-elect is well aware of when he looks back on his four years as mayor.
Ventura: Well, you're going to see two sides very distinctly, you know, because I took on a mayor and council who voted seven-to-nothing, seven-to-nothing - it was like a rubber stamp. And any time you come into a hostile environment like that, you're going to see ... You're going to find very much black-and-white, probably.In 1990, the northern suburb Brooklyn Park was the state's sixth-largest city with about 55,000 residents, and it was the home of Jesse Ventura, who lived with his wife and kids in a house by the river. The governor-elect got his first taste of Brooklyn Park politics in 1988 when, as citizen Ventura, he took a gripe before city council. He was upset about stormwater run-off being piped into a wetland. Ventura felt the council blew him off and that made him run for mayor in 1990. He beat the 18-year incumbent Jim Krautmeyer by a landslide.
Krautkremer well remembers his first encounter with Ventura during a council meeting.
Krautkremer: There was somebody in the audience talking and somebody on the sideline kept speaking out and I gaveled him quiet. And one of the councilmen whispered to me, "Do you know who that is?" and I said, "No, only one person can speak at a time," and he said, "That's Jesse Ventura." And I says, "Who's that?"Krautkremer says he's not bitter about losing to Ventura. He says the city had a good reputation for careful planning, and while he didn't worry about Ventura ruining that, he was a little worried about some of Ventura's allies. And while he says Ventura's victory in 1990 might have been a good thing overall, he saw some good people leave city government during or after Ventura's term in office.
Krautkremer: It used to be that whenever an opening would come up in Brooklyn Park, we'd have literally hundreds of people applying, and I don't think that's the case anymore. I don't know what the reasons were, I just know that there's been a big changeover, 'cause like I said, I've stayed out of that.
Rapp: Well it's certainly on the public record that I left about four months after his term.Craig Rapp served five-and-a-half years as city manager of Brooklyn Park.
Rapp: The folks that supported me leaving perhaps were more aligned with him than others, but there were a lot of other larger political issues going on at the time, and I don't know that it would be fair to say that it was directly him and me, and that he would have run me off.Rapp says Ventura was a "hands-off" mayor who didn't try to micromanage the city manager's job. From that viewpoint, Rapp says, Ventura was "a city manager's dream," and - projecting into the Ventura Administration - you probably don't want a governor who won't delegate any authority.
Ventura says he knows the difference between wrestling, talk radio, and being governor, but Ron Dow, the former council-member, disagrees, and said as much to Ventura in person and in a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Park paper.
Dow: I do have down there the mayor is a professionally trained intimidator. He likes the conflict. He's said this in interviews over and over again, about how if someone wants a good fight, just try him.Dow says Ventura and his supporters brought attack politics to Brooklyn Park City Hall, and that Ventura had very little tolerance for the opposition.
Dow: The part I did not like is that the people on his side got to say whatever they wanted to as long as they wanted to, but when somebody who opposed him got up there, that was a different ballgame. He would always find a reason to cut them short.And Ventura encountered a lot of opposition, much of it having nothing to do with regular council business. Some council members complained Ventura missed meetings. Ventura said he needed to travel for business reasons. Opponents claimed Ventura wasn't a city resident because of his house in Maple Grove; a judge ruled in Ventura's favor. Plainly put: newcomer Ventura didn't make a lot of friends among the longtime council-members.
But was Ventura really abrasive and politically naive, or were his opponents just mad that he wanted to change the status quo? Ventura supporters say the city council was filled with good old boys who were themselves dismissive of opposing viewpoints, and Ventura needed to shake things up.
Dick Gunderson owns Blondie's, a sportsbar on Brooklyn Boulevard he built as a Mister Steak in 1969. He says Ventura's "shaking up" made the city finally deal with problems it ignored before - like crime - and he may have the same effect as governor.
Gunderson: He called attention to the problems, made us come together and start working on those problems, and I believe that's what he brings. I doubt he thinks he has the answers as a self-anointed savior for everything, but I believe he's passionate about what he thinks is wrong and has a feel for the goal he's trying to achieve.Gunderson says Ventura's attention helped lower the crime coming from some notorious low-rent apartment buildings. But while crime did go down in Brooklyn Park during Ventura's tenure, it went down everywhere. It's the same story with the improving economy. But it's dangerous to try to draw too many parallels between Ventura's term as mayor and his upcoming term as governor. Brooklyn Park has a strong-council/weak-mayor system. The mayor runs meetings, but has no veto and is just one vote out of seven.
Rabe (reporter): So does it make any sense to compare what you did as mayor to what you might be able to do as governor?In Brooklyn Park, the power did shift, and Ventura's hand-picked successor will start her second term next year. It's probably safe to say Ventura brought change to Brooklyn Park, and all other predictions aside, it's change he's promising to bring to the governor's office.
Ventura: Well, it'll be an adaptation. You adapt a little to that. I like that idea that I have more power. Certainly. I mean it gets very frustrating when you don't. I would have loved to have had a veto pen.