DFLers at the Fifth Congressional District endorsing convention back Ellison
Charles Underwood entered the DFL's endorsing convention for the fifth Congressional District May 6 ardently supporting peace activist Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.
He left with plans to start working on Keith Ellison's campaign.
Like a majority of delegates to the convention held at St. Louis Park High School, Underwood knew which candidate he would vote for before he stepped inside the doors. But like many of the more than 200 delegates, the Minneapolis resident rallied around Ellison when it became clear his candidate wasn't going to win the backing of the party. Ellison, a state representative from Minneapolis who represents House District 58B, easily nabbed the DFL endorsement to succeed U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo by acclamation after just three ballots.
“I've known Keith for years, and I support him completely,” Underwood said. “It's certainly not a problem for me that he got the endorsement. I wish Jack had, but I expect to be working on Keith's campaign.”
Downtown resident and delegate Dennis Dillon also came in supporting Nelson-Pallmeyer, but walked up to Ellison immediately after he received the endorsement and offered his support. Dillon said he expected Nelson-Pallmeyer to draw more votes from delegates and was surprised at how quickly candidates were whittled down and the endorsement went to Ellison. But he said Ellison came in with a strong number of delegates already committed to voting for him and, as a state representative, had strong support from the political establishment. What impressed Dillon was the level of congeniality among the campaigns of all the candidates, which led to few hard feelings after the convention.
“There are no sour grapes,” Dillon said.
But the convention did have a dramatic moment when Mike Erlandson - Sabo's former chief of staff who had the congressman's backing - withdrew after giving his speech to the delegates before the first ballot. He reportedly attributed the decision to heckling from the members of the crowd who wanted to know whether he would abide by the endorsement. Candidates were asked to state in the beginning of their speech whether they would abide by the endorsement, and Erlandson did not do so.
Scott Persons, a Southwest resident and a delegate who went into the convention supporting Erlandson, said he thinks Sabo's former chief of staff was confused about the rule that required candidates to declare whether they would abide by the endorsement. Persons voted for Erlandson in the first ballot. When Erlandson withdrew from the endorsement contest before the second ballot, Persons threw his support - and votes - behind Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. Persons said he knows both Erlandson and Dorfman very well, and it was difficult to decide who to give his initial support to. So when Erlandson withdrew, it was an easy decision to offer his support to Dorfman. Persons said he was surprised at how quickly the decision was made to endorse Ellison.
“I think everybody thought going in that it would be a long time because all the campaigns and all the candidates were working hard, and when that happens, you expect people to be split a lot of different ways,” Persons said.
Underwood was also prepared for a long day at the convention.
“I mean, I brought dinner,” he said with a laugh. “So to me, to have such a quick and cordial paring down of the candidates and such an incredible agreement that (Ellison) is somebody that just about everybody in the room not only feels comfortable but enthusiastic about is great.”
Jon-David Schlough, a Minneapolis resident who was elected as a Fifth Congressional District director, said it was easy to see at the convention why Ellison drew such broad support. The vision outlined in his speech looked beyond the endorsement, Schlough said, and resonated strongly with DFLers.
“He's just incredibly authentic,” Schlough said.
However, he acknowledged that many of the candidates had strong, enthusiastic support bases. The large field of DFL candidates provided the rare opportunity to examine the subtle differences in their platforms, Schlough said. But he also noted that all of the candidates were surprisingly supportive of one another.
“We all feel like this convention had a really positive atmosphere,” he said. “ And that set the tone for unity.”
Persons said he, like others, is still waiting to see whether Erlandson continues on to the primary before offering his support for Ellison.
Nathan Carmack, a Minneapolis attorney who was an alternate delegate to the convention, said his first choice would have been “no endorsement” largely because he would have liked to hear more from the candidates and because he feels the views of delegates don't always match those of the population as a whole. But endorsing Ellison would have been his second choice, and he feels Ellison was in many of the delegates' top three choices if not their first.
“In some ways, it's unfortunate because it's a fairly safe Democratic seat and so I wish we could hear more debate and more views over time,” Carmack said.
To some extent, he'll get his wish. Minneapolis City Councilmember Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) and former State Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge have declared they will run against Ellison in the September primary election. Erlandson has yet to make a decision on whether he will run in the primary.
Sabo announced in March that he was retiring at the end of this term after 28 years in Congress. Although the Fifth Congressional District is one of the most Democratic Congressional districts in the country, three other parties have also endorsed candidates for the general election. The Republican Party endorsed Alan Fine, the Independence Party endorsed Tammy Lee and the Green Party endorsed Jay Pond.
Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at [email protected] and 436-4373.