One Last Time in Congressional District 5

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L to R: Alan Fine (R), Keith Ellison (D), Tammy Lee (I)

It's a warm, sunny November afternoon and I am sitting inside room M49 in the Sabes Jewish Community Center waiting for the final CD 5 debate to begin. The St. Louis Park facility is clean, modern and largely empty at this point. I do however, notice Eric Eskola sitting alone on the opposite side of the room. Inspired by boredom and curiosity I approach the Almanac co-host.

I introduce myself and we exchange pleasantries. For the record, he did not notice the blue-pen written notes on gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch's right palm during Friday's show. Eskola did however, admit the "blogosphere" had made note of that tidbit.

A few minutes later a woman from the Fine campaign asks me to wear an "Alan Fine for Congress" lapel sticker. I politely decline. Another Fine staffer hands me a flyer featuring an American flag draped Alan Fine.

Tammy Lee is the first candidate to appear. She poses for pictures and chats with supporters. She notices me and says "Hi". After a short discussion, she asks, "Aren't you a blogger?" I've been outed! I confess and she acknowledges reading a previous post while offering a complement.

Soon, information concerning Alan Fine's whereabouts circulates. The Republican nominee is at an aunt's funeral and will be late. By that time Kim Ellison has arrived. Her husband, Keith, is reportedly in the lobby conducting interviews with the media.

Since the festivities are now running over a half hour behind schedule, moderator Ron Rosenbaum decides to begin minus Fine. Rosenbaum dives right into the Martin Sabo situation. He mistakenly says the longtime congressman has endorsed Tammy Lee. Ellison shakes his head and says the assertion is "not true." Lee agrees and talks about the picture she and Sabo posed for.

Ellison laughs and says he also has a picture with Sabo. The Democratic nominee says he "respects and admires" the incumbent congressman and cites his impressive list of endorsements. His strategy seems to be to keep talking until someone makes him stop.

After about 10 minutes of watching Lee and Ellison square off, Fine and family arrive. His mother sits next to me, flanked by his son and brother.

Lee and Ellison meanwhile, are pressed to explain their differences. Ellison says he supports the current "vouching" process for voters and requiring a picture ID would "suppress" the vote. The Democratic nominee then compares himself to Paul Wellstone and Hubert H. Humphrey. Lee rolls her eyes.

With Fine now in attendance, the candidates are asked to give their opening remarks. Ellison and Lee express their condolences to Fine. Lee, attempting to run to the center of Ellison, says she is "open to discuss many policy options" and describes herself as a "coalition builder, not a controversial lighting rod."

Fine, still upset about a Star Tribune story chronicling his expunged domestic abuse arrest states he has "never hit a woman" and points out he has primary custody of his son, which he says is rare for a male in Minnesota. When asked if he thinks Ellison is an "anti-Semite", he replies with a simple "Yes".

Ellison meanwhile, admits he is not "a perfect person", says he is sorry about his parking tickets and other personal problems and calls Fine's anti-Semitism claim a "lie". He then points out to his stance against a fellow state representative's "holocaust denial". When pressed by the moderator about his bold claim, Fine gets combative and defiant.

As the panel repeats their stances on issues discussed ad-nausea throughout the campaign, Fine's mother leans to me and asks what the term "progressive" means.

With the forum rolling along, the candidates are asked to discuss their prospective committee assignments. Fine covets the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and dreams of a spot on the Ways and Means committee. Ellison touts his claim for the Energy and Commerce and Judiciary committees, while Lee agrees, but asserts Ellison has duplicated her designs on an Energy and Commerce post.

It is now time for closing statements. Fine tells voters his campaign is not about "divisive issues - no heckling" and says that an "Attorney who studies the law and a legislator that makes the law, should obey the law." He closes by stating this is not "divisive", but instead promotes "awareness." Ellison denounces negative campaign tactics and asserts they "suppress" the vote. The Democrat then apologizes for his mistakes and claims to have "learned" from them. Lee closes out by talking about her ability to reach across the aisle and stresses her moderate themes.

After the proceedings conclude, Ellison makes a point to shake hands with the Fine family. The three candidates work the room as they leave. As I exit, I notice a table containing each candidate's literature. Ellison's seems dated with a quote of support from "Rep. Matt Entenza". Fine's features the before-mentioned flyer and Lee's piece includes her well-publicized photo with Martin Sabo.

-David Zingler
 November 5, 2006

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