More campaigns knocking on your door?

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May 16, 2005 // UPDATED 1:54 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Should campaign workers be able to roam the hallways of your condo/apartment building unescorted?

Though that might sound scary for a variety of reasons, Tom Lijewski says it's frustrating to get into apartments and condos to drop literature for campaigns - an affront to the political process, he believes.

Lijewski, a Downtown resident, had trouble in 2002 when he ran for office as an Independence Party candidate for House seat 58B, he said. The problems only worsened in 2004 when he campaigned for John Kerry.

"Now there were more multi-unit condo and apartment buildings Downtown," he said. "Again, they were pretty much impenetrable."

Lijewski talked to State Sen. Linda Higgins. The Minneapolis DFLer's district includes part of Downtown, and she understood the problem.

She introduced legislation that would make it easier for campaign volunteers to get inside multi-unit buildings to distribute literature. Her bill, SF359, has momentum in the Senate, but not the House, she said. It probably won't pass this session.

On one side are people who say getting more candidate information in the hands of voters is a good thing.

On the other side is Jack Horner, general counsel and lobbyist for the Minnesota Multihousing ???Association, who said broadening current law risks unwanted traffic and intrusion into the lives of renters and condo owners. As a worst-case scenario, it creates an increased security risk.

"We are fearful that it would create a lot more traffic," Horner said. "Someone could show up and say 'I am working for Joe Blow, and you have to let me in.' Our concern is, you don't know for sure who these folks are."

Candidate required

The current law (Statute 211B.20) requires owners and managers of multi-unit buildings to give access to candidates - and/or to campaign workers if accompanied by a candidate. They can enter only for campaigning, voter registration or get-out-to-vote efforts.

The law allows managers to require that people have identification, to limit campaign visits to a reasonable number of persons and reasonable hours and to require appointments. The law also allows building managers to expel candidates and their volunteers "for good cause."

Higgins' bill would have allowed campaign workers access to a condo or apartment without the candidate - leaving the other requirements in place.

Higgins said with all the new multi-unit buildings Downtown, she can't get to them all personally.

"I would never be able to go anywhere else in my district," said Higgins, who also represents a good chunk of North Minneapolis. "I would have to spend all my time in those buildings. It has gotten to a point where that is unsustainable."

Horner said the current law works well. If a candidate went into a multi-unit building with several volunteers, they could cover a lot of ground in a hurry, he said. The law had the added benefit of having the candidate on-site, which adds accountability.

He said candidates don't need thelaw expanded.

"The law itself is not really invoked all that often," he said. "Most times, when candidates and campaigners want to get into buildings, they just knock on the door and some tenant or homeowner lets them in."

Lijewski says it doesn't work that way.

In 2002, he had a far easier time talking to potential voters in North Minneapolis than he did in the Downtown part of the district, which he considered his home turf, he said.

Adding insult to injury, his own building manager at the Churchill Apartments, 111 Marquette Ave., didn't want him bothering other tenants with his campaign pitch, he said.

"[She] pleaded with me at first and then demanded that I not distribute literature in the building," he recalled. "Ultimately, I had to strike a compromise, which was I would distribute literature but would agree not to knock on any doors."

As a volunteer during the 2004 presidential campaign, the management at Rivergate, 115 2nd Ave. S., denied him entrance during a get-out-to-vote drive. (Under current law, management was within its rights to do so.)

Rivergate management declined comment and referred questions to Sentinel Management, which also declined comment.

As Lijewski tells it, a Rivergate manager and owner called the Republican Party's Election Help Line and were told they could have the campaigners cited for trespassing if they persisted.

Michael Brodkorb, a state Republican Party spokesman, said he worked with the Election Help Line but didn't know the specifics of Lijewski's case. The volunteer lawyers provided factual, accurate and appropriate legal advice, he said.

He called such situations unfortunate and said they affected both parties, Brodkorb said. He recalled campaigning for Barbara Carlson during the 1997 Minneapolis mayor's race. He got turned away from multi-unit buildings, too.

Brodkorb had not seen Higgins' bill until asked for a comment for this story. From a cursory review, he said it seemed simple. The bill allows access to multi-unit housing by candidates and campaign workers seeking to provide information to voters, "and I think that is a great thing."

Safety and convenience

Horner said residents often urge management to restrict building access. People don't think of their hallways as a public space.

If someone knocks on an inner door at an apartment or condo, it can be startling, he said. People don't mind if it is a friend, but if they open the door and see a stranger trying to give them something or talk to them - "it is easy to see how that could raise the hackles of some residents," he said.

Horner frames Higgins' bill as a way for strangers - essentially anyone who claims to be working for a candidate - "to enter into an area people consider to be their home."

Higgins said such concerns are overblown. The law gives landlords the power to ask for identification and prearrange lit drop times, she said.

"The landlords were just convinced we would have rapists and murderers working for our campaigns, and they would come in and do damage," she said. "It is pretty unfounded hysteria on their side."