A Downtown bartender needs a leg up

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February 12, 2002 // UPDATED 1:13 pm - April 30, 2007
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

Jimmy Wrayge is the sort of Downtown bartender you wish you had everywhere. Relaxed yet attentive, wry but not pushy, the sort of fellow who won't butt into your conversation but, if it flags, can pop in a wise thought nearly as stimulating as that Jaegermeister in front of you. How cool is he? His gorgeous color-swathed paintings grace Eli's Bar, 1225 Hennepin Ave., where he vends libations.

On December 1, Jimmy was leaving Eli's, when he passed by a couple of folks arguing. Out of the blue, one of them cold-cocked him. Jimmy slipped on the ice, busting his ankle and tibia. He hasn't worked since. Lacking insurance., Jimmy is out 10 grand in medical bills and $25,000 overall including lost wages. "He might get some money from the crime victims' fund," says Eli's owner Eddie Nagel. "But 90 percent of his income comes in tips, and you can't get tips back from the crime victims' fund."

But remember, we said he's cool. On Jan. 31, some of Jimmy's regulars -- Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, the dudes from SemiSonic, Paul Metsa and others -- gathered at the 400 Bar on the West Bank for a fundraiser organized by bar owner Billy Sullivan. Around 400 people paid $20 for Jimmy's benefit. "I don't have a speech prepared, but they have my heartfelt thanks and appreciation," he said from his south Minneapolis home.

Even after the $8,000 raised at the 400 Bar benefit, Jimmy is still massively in debt. If you know/love/appreciate Jimmy and couldn't make the gig -- or if you're feeling some February charity for a guy who really is a Downtown institution -- send your donation to Jimmy Wrayge, Eli's Bar, 1225 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 55403.

Early in 2002, Downtown crime reports drop dramatically Cold winter weather is supposed to deter crime, but the balmy weather has brought cooling crime rates to Downtown, according to Minneapolis Police Department statistics from the first three weeks of 2002.

The statistics track crime reported, which is not necessarily all crimes. However, police department officials say Downtown is the only precinct among the city's five that has shown a drop so far this year. A weakened economy has many experts forecasting a rise in crime this year.

So-called "livability crimes" have shown the most dramatic decreases, with trespassing reports down 93 percent, disorderly conduct down 83 percent and property damage down 74 percent. Among more serious crimes, homicides declined from four in the 2001 period to one in 2002, a 75 percent drop, auto thefts declined 71 percent and burglaries fell 59 percent. The only crime category that increased was prostitution, where reports doubled from two in 2001 to four this year.

Downtown crime-prevention specialist Luther Krueger had no explanation for the good news, except to note, tongue-in-cheek, "we are either off to a great start Downtown, or our system is screwy."

-David Brauer

Ready for extra city elections? Did you enjoy the 2001 city

elections? One legislator wants another round two years sooner than scheduled. Downtown-area state Rep. Phyllis Kahn has introduced a bill that will force Minneapolis to conduct new City Council elections in Fall 2003, rather than 2005 as scheduled. Kahn's bill is co-sponsored by fellow Minneapolis DFL representatives Greg Gray (who also represents Downtown) and Len Biernat. Kahn said Minneapolis state Sen. Julie Sabo will introduce the bill in the Senate.

Ward lines are redrawn every decade to reflect population shifts documented by census. However, 2000 census data was not available to re-draw political boundaries in time for 2001. That means the first council class to be elected in districts designed on the latest census won't take their oaths of office until January 2006 -- after the decade is more than half over.

At the state level, four-year Senate terms are cut to two years in election years ending in '00, so everyone can run in re-drawn districts for the '02 elections.

Kahn said using the current council districts -- drawn after the1990 census -- into 2006 "makes a mockery out of the timely use of census data to implement a one-person, one-vote philosophy."

Some political observers suggest that if Kahn's bill doesn't pass, the city may face a lawsuit from voters in minority groups or areas that have increased population since 1990. Plaintiffs would argue that 1990-era districts denies them more council representation.

Kahn added, "I do not sense a lot of enthusiasm from council members I have spoken with."

Council president Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said Kahn has a valid argument, but adds, "My gut reaction to it is, like a lot of things, there is more than immediately meets the eye."

Ostrow said voters might feel cheated, since they thought their 2001 votes were for four-year terms. Ostrow said Kahn's bill leaves uncertain when the next council election after 2003 would be. If in 2005, council members will have to run for back-to-back two-year terms, way off the four-year design city voters have said they want. If the 2003 term last four years, and elections aren't until 2007, councilmembers will be elected in different years than the mayor, who -- as a citywide elected official not affected by redistricting -- will still be up in 2005. In the '90s, city voters rejected so-called "staggered" elections, which allow council members to take a "free shot" at the mayor's office yet return to the council if they lose.

An open question: would DFLers, who lost two council slots to the Green Party in 2001, have a better chance to regain those seats in a quicker election, or would the Greens be able to more quickly gain council power?

Kahn's bill may foment a family feud between councilmember Joe Biernat (3rd Ward), who wants to keep his seat for four years, and his brother Len Biernat, who is co-sponsoring the bill to lop off a couple years. "I haven't spoken to my brother about it," said Joe Biernat. "He does what he feels he needs to do, but I'm sure we'll have a discussion at some point."

-- David Brauer