Lilligren accusations rile up 6th Ward

A postcard accusing City Council Member Robert Lilligren of such things as being intoxicated at public meetings has neighbors and candidates in the 6th Ward fired up.

The card, which arrived in area mailboxes on Oct. 23, said Lilligren is guilty of drunken driving, attends meetings while intoxicated, represents special-interest groups, is being investigated and could be indicted, and is “against all immigrants, minorities and women in the 6th ward.” The card is credited to a group called Citizens for the Sixth Ward, which lists “Darren” as treasurer. No contact information is given.

Citizens for the Sixth Ward is not a registered political action committee.

Lilligren said it’s the first time in his three City Council campaigns that anonymous materials have been sent out to attack him. He said he doesn’t know the source.

Asked about the card’s statements, he acknowledged that he did plead guilty to driving while intoxicated. He was pulled over Downtown in April 2005 and was found to have 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content, above the 0.10 percent legal limit. He said nothing like it has happened since.

As for the card’s other claims, “they’re so outrageous, I don’t even want to dignify them with a response,” he said.

Ironically, the card has Lilligren feeling more hopeful about Election Day, which is Nov. 3. He said he had heard from many passionate campaign supporters over the weekend. The card seems to have shaken some people out of complacency, he said.

“Now they have a reason to go out and vote,” he said.

Leo Whitebird, a Whittier resident, said he was so shocked to receive the card that he called the city attorney’s office the same day.

“I was outraged,” Whitebird said. “This is just awful.”

He called it “the most evil kind of politics.”

One argument proponents of ranked-choice voting have used for Minneapolis’ new method is that it makes for cleaner campaigns. Candidates theoretically don’t want to alienate voters who might make them their No. 2 or No. 3 choices by attacking their No. 1s. Some 6th Ward candidates — including Andy Exley, Laura Jean and Mike Tupper — occasionally have campaigned together.

Exley said he fears the card, regardless of its source, could put his and his fellow candidates’ campaigns in jeopardy. He said he wants to unseat Lilligren because he disagrees with votes he’s taken while on the council, not because of what’s outlined in the card’s “nasty” accusations.

“It seems like a pretty juvenile assault,” Exley said. “… I don’t know if this is going to help us.”

The Office of Administrative Hearings, a state agency, handles complaints about election activity. Mary Beth Gossman, a staff attorney there, said her office had received no complaints on the Ward 6 race as of Tuesday afternoon.

Gossman said the anonymous nature of the postcard would make it tough to bring the issue before an administrative law judge. Anyone filing a complaint about unfair campaign practices must identify the person or entity they believe has violated the law.

If the source can be identified, the case would be fast-tracked for review by a three-judge panel. If the panel were to find a violation occurred, it could assess a civil penalty, issue a reprimand or take other actions, including forwarding the case to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for possible criminal charges.

Lilligren said he’ll look into legal action — but not before Nov. 3.

“After Election Day, I’ll review my options,” he said.

For an overview of the 6th Ward City Council race, click here. For a recap of a 6th Ward candidate forum, click here.