Attorney Boivin, self-described "gunslinger,"chosen as tough negotiator
Dan Boivin, Minneapolis' new representative on the Metropolitan Airports Commission, has minimal political experience, no political affiliation and no background in airport issues.
Yet Boivin, a 45-year-old business lawyer with Meshbesher & Spence, does have a couple of key credentials -- experience in tough negotiations and the trust of Mayor R.T. Rybak.
He describes his style -- both as a lawyer and as Minneapolis' MAC representative -- as an Old West "gunslinger." He would have to push the city's anti-noise agenda without being dismissed by others on the MAC as an extremist, he said.
In the first weeks after his appointment, he has shown he is not afraid to float some potentially controversial proposals -- like an airport casino to fund more home sound insulation.
Boivin, a Fulton resident, replaces Roger Hale, former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's appointee to the MAC, a 15-member board that operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and six reliever airports. It reports directly to the Legislature and the Governor.
This is a high profile appointment for Rybak, who was a founding board member of Residents Opposed to Airport Racket (ROAR) and ran for office as an anti-noise candidate.
Marnie Boivin, Dan's wife, attended high school with Rybak and introduced the two men in the early 1980s, Dan Boivin said. They have been friends since.
"In some of the toughest times where I have sought advice from people on the outside, he usually has been one of the first I have turned to -- because he is a very clear thinker," the mayor said.
But Boivin's appointment goes beyond trust, Rybak said, calling him "an extremely effective advocate."
"What this requires is someone who can take a vast amount of information, distill it down, and make a case," he said.
Noise a top priority Boivin lives south of Lake Harriet with his wife - a teacher of preschoolers with autism - and three sons, Alex, Andrew and Teddy. Their home is outside the area that would qualify for sound insulation from MAC under its expanded program.
The airplane noise at his home has gotten worse since he moved there in 1987, he said, calling the current level "bad" -- but not as bothersome as the conversation-stopping noise experienced by his friends who live closer to the airport.
Noise issues are right near the top if not the top priority for him on the MAC, Boivin said. Finances have to be a top issue, too, "because you can only work with the money that is out there."
His only previous political experience is serving on the Minneapolis Charter Commission, something former City Councilmember Steve Minn (13th Ward) encouraged him to pursue.
He views himself as a "true independent," Boivin said. "I belong to no political party. I do not attend political caucuses. I have given money to all three parties, probably four. It depends on the candidate," he said.
Gunslinger Dan His clients range from a major car dealer to a businessman who ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service, Boivin said.
Roughly 90 percent of cases settle before trial, he said. Part of his job is helping clients assess the risk of going to court -- and he views his relationship to the city, as its representative to the MAC, as he views his relationship to his clients.
"I can sit there and argue with my client and tell them 'you are wrong. Don't do this. You are stupid. You've got to settle,'" he said. " In the end, the judgment is always the client's."
Boivin said Rybak told him to go to the MAC with an open mind and advise him and the citizens of Minneapolis what can and cannot be done.
"As a lawyer and a litigator, I am constantly forced to go in, build coalitions, negotiate deals, and strategize on how to get what is best for my client," he said. "It is a skill I do every day. I don't think I'll have a problem going in there (to the MAC)."
Boivin characterizes attorneys in his line of work as akin to Old West "gunslinger gamblers." "We get hired by people to go into town to deal with an unhappy problem," he said.
Does he expect a shoot-out at the OK Corral at the MAC?
"I hope not," he said. "I am a gunslinger. I am a hired hand. I am coming to advocate for a position for the citizens of Minneapolis."
Striking a balance? Northwest Airlines had no comment on Boivin's appointment shortly after it was announced. Sara Strzok, chair of ROAR, said she thought it was a good choice.
"If you had a hard core anti-noise person, you are going to alienate the other members of the MAC," she said. "You need someone who can present it diplomatically and present it as win-win."
Boivin said he wanted to make sure the city of Minneapolis is not marginalized on the MAC, with people saying, "Here is crazy Boivin who is going to want to shut down the airport," or something like that. "We can't go in promising the citizens of Minneapolis that in 10 years that airport will be gone, because it will not," he said.
Rybak said his choice of Boivin is consistent with his past approach to airport issues. "I am hoping that people will pay attention to the message I have always had -- which is that the environmental problems of the airport are intolerable, but so are the economics. And there are solutions."
Those solutions include moving some of the traffic now at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to regional airports, he said.
Sound insulation and airport casinos Boivin inherits the tail end of the home sound-insulation program debate. MAC has committed $150 million to expand the current program to noise-proof more homes.
Like Met Council Representative Frank Hornstein, Boivin said he would like the $150 million to be a floor, not a ceiling.
"You say to yourself -- how do you generate more economics to do this thing?" he said.
"We have a lottery in this state that funds environmental issues. I am asking myself -- and I haven't talked to anybody about this -- 'why don't we have an Amsterdam-style casino out at the airport to fund noise-abatement programs?'"
"I'm sure they've talked about it," he said. "I'm sure I will hear some explanation about why it can't work," he said.
He personally opposes gambling, Boivin said, but maybe this is a new funding source.
"Maybe it just primarily affects travelers who, like in Vegas, throw a few bucks in a slot machine when they are going through the airport," he said. "I am trying to keep an open mind, because revenue is always an issue."
MAC, Boivin vote to redraw sound-insulation map
The Metropolitan Airports Commission unanimously voted to redraw the airplane noise map that will define who gets home sound insulation -- and who does not.
It was the first vote for Dan Boivin, Minneapolis' new representative on the MAC, and he joined the other commissioners in approving the remap, even though it could reduce the number of eligible homes.
The MAC staff recommended redrawing the map and Boivin realized all the other commissioners were supporting it, he said. "The question was whether I was going to be a lone vote and oppose this," he said.
"Northwest (Airlines) has gone to the MAC people and said, 'We are changing our fleet around -- substantially getting rid of the noisy planes, moving them to Memphis. We have to restudy the issue,'" Boivin said.
The May 20 vote means MAC will base the new map on 2002 flights, projecting ahead to 2007 using economic and historical forecasting, as well as information on the type of planes flown, said Patrick Hogan, MAC's director of public affairs.
The reduced number of flights since Sept. 11 should shrink the lines on the airplane noise map and therefore reduce the number of homes eligible for sound insulation, Hogan and others say.
Boivin said he isn't sure. "A number of people contend the contours were wrong before and were too small," he said.
He is pushing for a better public process in developing the new noise map, he said. The public was "cut out" at various points in MAC's last effort to draw the map.
MAC soon will begin a six-month public process of projecting 2007 flight levels, Hogan said.
The MAC had recently completed a long and often contentious public process of drawing the map and had submitted it to the Federal Aviation Administration. The previous map used flights in 2000 as the base year.
The MAC also voted May 20 to spend $150 million on the expanded sound-insulation program. MAC had previously voted to pocket any savings if the program came in under budget.
The Metropolitan Council has oversight of MAC's capital budget and pressured MAC to spend the full $150 million.
MAC staff said it would take a decade to complete insulating all eligible homes.
It is unclear what would happen if MAC has money left over when it finishes insulating all eligible homes.
"That hasn't been decided yet," Hogan said.