Three vying for Rybaks job

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July 20, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
They may not be established figures at City Hall, but Al Flowers, Dick Franson and John Charles Wilson are all running for mayor — and they want to get people talking


Al Flowers
Moving beyond public open-time speeches.

Al Flowers’ arrival at a public meeting usually is a harbinger that tough comments are coming. Flowers doesn’t go soft on any politician, especially not the established ones.

He’s known at the School Board, at truth-in-taxation hearings, at the City Council. If there’s an issue with the Minneapolis Police Department, he can be expected to be there.

Anyone who has tracked Flowers, who could not be reached for this story, knows his views on youth violence (not a public health issue, as the city is trying to get it classified as), the Civil Rights Department (not a fan) and Minneapolis police (he said the department assaulted him in 2003).

During his April announcement that he was running for mayor, he was expected to give a speech that outlined hope for a brighter future of Minneapolis. Prepared words described the city’s potential as “mighty,” “strong” and “great.”

But he ditched all three. He went the traditional Flowers way, adlibbing for a half hour about what he views as police infractions, the millions of dollars the city has spent on legal settlements, the absence of transparency at City Hall. He wasn’t exactly concise — as he admitted several times throughout the speech — but he was clear: He wants change at the top.

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Dick Franson
Forget the third time. This man hopes 24th is the charm.

It was just a moment, but in that moment, Dick Franson was confused.

“Hello, Dick Franson for Senate,” Franson said, accepting a recent phone call from a reporter.

For Senate?

“Err — I mean for mayor,” he quickly corrected. “Yes, for mayor.”

Forgive him for the slip-up. Franson has run for a lot of positions over the past two decades.

This is campaign No. 24 for the 80-year-old South Minneapolis resident, No. 5 for mayor. He’s run for Congress (once lost by less than 700 votes in the primary), for lieutenant governor (he filed while serving in Vietnam and received 119,177 votes), for state auditor (lost to Mark Dayton in 1990) and for secretary of state (let’s just say he’s no friend of Mark Ritchie’s).

He’s fought tough battles, calling out former Gov. Jesse Ventura over his war record and holding a 44-year-long grudge against former Gov. Arne Carlson, who beat him in 1965 for 12th Ward Minneapolis alderman.

Franson has won a few battles. He’s happy to note, for example, that a 2001 Minneapolis Star Tribune poll showed he had as much name recognition as then-first-time mayoral candidate R.T. Rybak.

But political victories of the traditional sort have been few. Specifically, he’s won just one race.

That was in 1963, when he became one of the first, if not the first, former city employees to become an elected official. On the council, he was an outspoken proponent of making public the votes taken by aldermen and, he said, one of the first to put out a regular newsletter to constituents. (He still carries copies of Vol. 1, No. 1 of “Franson Reports” in an inch-thick scrapbook.)

Two years after being beaten for reelection, he enlisted for service in Vietnam. That, he said, brought him leadership experience. Now, for the 24th time, he’s trying to get people to realize that.

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John Charles Wilson
Yes, he’s running for mayor. Yes, he’s serious.

This is John Charles Wilson’s year for redemption. He’s going to show his naysayers that no, he won’t stay quiet although yes, maybe you won’t agree with him. Actually, you probably won’t agree with him. After 42 years, the burly, bespectacled Whittier resident expects it.

He’s always been different: never one to have many friends, usually one to get weird looks.

Since he was a kid growing up in St. Paul, he’s always been obsessively interested in transit. When he was in his early teens, he converted to Communism. When he was 15, he had a vision of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of “Little House on the Prairie,” and was convinced that she is God. The same year, he decided he some day would run for office and start his own political party. From 1983-1987, he spent time in several mental health institutions.

Afterward, he moved. A lot.

For the majority of two decades, he lived all over the United States. He went east to Madison, Wis., and south to Tucson, Ariz. He went west to Denver, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Sometimes, he had a home. Other times, he slept on park benches.

At first, he tried to hide who he was and what he believed. His views were what got him committed in the first place; why share them again? But people asked questions, lots of questions. That changed his mind: Maybe he shouldn’t cover anything up.

Maybe tell them that yes, he believes children should have many of the same rights as adults. Yes, he believes there are many dumb laws, including the illegalization of drinking alcohol in public. Yes, his dream is for his brand-new political party, the Edgertonite National Party, to become a force and for a major portion of the country — with Minneapolis at its core — secede from the United States.

He began laying it all out there. Let people know the full truth. If they disagree, they disagree. Live with it.

Doing that built up his strength, and now he believes he’s ready for primetime. The best way to get his word out there is a run for office. It’s a pulpit.

No, he’s not a polished politician. He’s not a Ken Doll, as Wilson calls Mayor R.T. Rybak. He’s been castigated on the online Minneapolis Issues List for not being locally focused enough when writing that he hates his sister. And he’s made moves that most politicians wouldn’t dream of making, posting explicit comments on his personal Twitter page. “Personal frustrations,” he calls the written outbursts.

But Wilson is also serious about getting a chance to preach. People will hear him. And that’s more, he says, than what any of his childhood naysayers expected of him.