Hello again

Earlier this month, I became the editor of the Southwest Journal, which represented a homecoming. For two years until last August, I wrote a column called "Starting the Conversation" near this space.

Trust me — future editorials will concentrate on real issues, but I figure the first ought to tell you a bit about the guy who will write them.

I took the Journal column to revive my spirit. My freelance career was going fine, but I was writing stories for editors and readers in other places who I never saw. "Starting the Conversation" was a tonic, a way to reconnect with a place that is now indelibly my home. Although I was born on Long Island and raised in Iowa, after 22 years I am a thoroughly Southwest guy.

I’ve lived in CIDNA, East Isles, Linden Hills and now Kingfield; I was a renter for 14 years and have owned a home for eight. My parents co-signed my first mortgage; the house is now worth three times what we paid for it.

I moved here as a single guy, met my wife here, had two kids here and just survived our first nerve-wracking bout with school-choice and kindergarten-section lotteries ("simmer down, honey, p.m. kindergarten is fine").

I jog around Lake Harriet (not enough), bike to work (not enough) and drive too fast down city streets until Lutheran-guilt-by-association causes me to slow down. I have a weakness for Sebastian Joe’s ice cream and Pizza Luce pizza. I usually vote DFL, but often grudgingly. My least-repressed prejudice is against suburbia. I detest graffiti and would like to travel back in time to stop the lunkhead who first dumped fish-tank milfoil into a city lake.

I passionately believe that government affects people’s lives and that the average citizen can affect local government. I believe individual freedom must be balanced by community responsibility. I believe information is power. In 1998, I founded the Minneapolis-Issues e-mail list so people could sanely discuss city civic affairs 24 hours a day from the comfort of their desks.

In 1999, I became a Kingfield Neighborhood Association board member, and for two years was its president. I have felt public anger and public gratitude.

Now I get to meld all those experiences and avocations in this job. I can’t help but feel grateful — and humbled, because since 1990, an indelible part of living here has been reading the Southwest Journal.

When my wife first told a colleague that I’d gotten this job, he went off on a several-second sputter about how much he loved the Southwest Journal. No biggie? "He’s the quietest guy at our firm!" my wife shrieked, retelling the tale. "You never hear him get that excited about anything."

That’s a tribute to the editors and writers who have poured their passions into this paper and earned the community’s enthusiasm. The wonderful thing here: you see the people you’re writing about and writing for, and that human connection we seek is more often on the page.

The Journal is a business, but co-owners Janis Hall and Terry Gahan have also built a public trust. Even in a recessionary climate, they have given the Journal its biggest reporting staff ever, and I’d like to tell you a bit about the folks you will see at your local meetings and events.

Scott Russell is one the most indefatigable reporters in town, who has somehow made the city parks beat one of the most fascinating around. Scott was raised in Southwest (check out his fish tale in this issue’s Southwest Life), is a history geek and will soon be married. He also covers airport issues, city services, and the Whittier, Stevens Square, Lyndale and CARAG neighborhoods.

Ellen Nigon is a member of the Southwest Journal Intern Hall of Fame, who has almost single-handedly written the news section of Skyway News for 10 months and now covers the Loring Park neighborhood for this newspaper. She is our poster child for soaring rents, having recently been forced to move to St. Louis Park because Southwest prices were too high.

Kevin Featherly’s last gig was as a high-tech reporter for a division of the Washington Post; after the dot-bomb hit, he became our City Hall and public-safety reporter. Call him with your political and crime tips. He also plays a mean guitar.

Robyn Repya is a recent graduate of my alma mater, the Minnesota Daily (the University of Minnesota was incidental) where she covered — get this — neighborhoods. She rents in ECCO and is genuinely enthusiastic and tirelessly curious about neighborhood stuff. Robyn covers transportation and business issues as well as CIDNA, Windom, Kingfield, East Harriet, Lowry Hill East and Kenny.

Caitlin Pine was raised in Linden Hills, was most recently an Americorps/VISTA volunteer and reporter for KFAI radio. She admits to some disturbing flashbacks covering old haunts in Linden Hills, Lynnhurst, Fulton, ECCO and Armatage. She is also our schools reporter and covers housing issues and the arts.

Rich Ryan remains our tireless artist/photographer, with a smile as bright as his flash and a devilish streak just barely concealed. We will soon be hiring a sixth reporter to cover Kenwood, Tangletown, East Isles, West Calhoun and Lowry Hill.

We love what we do, and we want to tell your Southwest stories. Our phone numbers and e-mail addresses are on page 2. Please be in touch.