Blame the Messenger

With elections just seven months away, Minnesota’s leading candidates for U.S. Senate—Norm, Al, and Mike—are spending major cashola on campaign advisors. Who exactly are the consultants behind the candidates? Here’s a peek past the curtain to glimpse the image-makers who’ve grossed the most so far from each campaign.



Al Franken

A. J. Goodman
Flies under the radar;
has worked for Midwest
Values, the political
action committee
Franken founded.
Base of operations:
fundraising strategy
Payments from
Franken campaign: $89,649
Past clients: Howard Dean,
John Edwards, U.S. Senator
Barbara Boxer
Likely strategy:
Be funny.

Senator Norm Coleman

FLS Connect
Got $26.9 million
from GOP candidates
and interests in 2003—04
election cycle;
firm endorsed by Karl Rove.
Base of operations:
St. Paul
Specialty: identifying
voters; phone-banking to get
the vote out
Payments from Coleman
Past clients: You name it,
including Bush/Cheney ’04,
Arnold Schwarzenegger and
former House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay
Likely strategy:

Mike Ciresi

Ed Gross Consulting
A veteran of local campaigns;
during DFLer Jerry Janezich’s
ultimately failed 2000
state-senate campaign,
focused campaign ads on
certain voter demographics.
Base of operations:
Specialty: publicity,
grass-roots organizing
Payments from Ciresi
Past clients: Former U.S.
Senator Paul Wellstone,
former Minneapolis mayor
Sharon Sayles Belton,
St. Paul Public Schools
Likely strategy:
Be serious.

Druid Awakening

The leader of the Reformed Druids of North America, Daniel Lessin, says he has been struggling with how to mark the spring equinox on March 20. The Archdruid, as the sophomore at Carleton College in Northfield is known, says his predecessor rushed him through training before going off to grad school. But he doesn’t feel prepared for the high holiday.

The Reformed Druids’ celebration of the equinox goes back to 1963. A group of Carls who chafed at the college’s rule requiring students to attend religious services decided to mock the rule by observing it—sort of: They cooked up a religion so free-form that anyone could participate. Druidism has just two tenets, says Lessin: “One, nature is good; and, two, nature is good.” Though the school eventually dropped the religious-service requirement, Carleton’s druids have managed to keep the faith.

As with other religions, however, the flock is dwindling. When Lessin enrolled at Carleton, there were several druids. Now, there are only a half-dozen—five of which he recruited. But a strong equinox event could help revive the sect, he says. “I think a lot of people really are druids at heart,” he says. “They just haven’t taken the time to look into druidism.” Wonder why….


Legal Appeal

Product-liability claims have become one of Minnesota’s top imports. In fact, the state has become a magnet for suits brought by non-resident plaintiffs. Of the 9,680 plaintiffs who have filed such suits in Minnesota since 2004, says Scott Smith, a Minneapolis attorney who has tracked the trend, only 7.5 percent are residents.

What gives? Minnesota’s statute of limitations for personal-injury suits is unusually long, and the clock doesn’t start ticking until the cause of an injury is discovered. The state saw a spike in lawsuits a few years ago, for example, after a study was published that linked hormone-replacement therapy to breast cancer. Women seeking to sue often were barred by their home states: Their cancer had been diagnosed too long ago. So, noting that the drug makers also did business in Minnesota, lawyers representing thousands of cancer patients filed suit in federal court here—rushing to meet our own state’s statute-of-limitations deadlines. The plaintiffs don’t live here. The defendants don’t live here. But because the products were marketed here, the suits are here.


Last Rites

Superstitious theatrical types have long believed that wishing someone “good luck” leads to bad luck—so instead they tell performers to “break a leg” as they hurry on stage. Such rites are not the only oddities practiced by musicians, actors, dancers, and other performers prior to a show. Here, a list of local pre-show rituals.

Steven Copes, concertmaster, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Checks his zippers.

Penny Freeh, dancer, James Sewell Ballet: Puts on right shoe first, knocks on wood three times, searches the ground for penny.

Kathy Romey, conductor, Minnesota Chorale: Wears jewelry given by loved ones and thinks of late father, in whose professional footsteps she is following.

Steve Epp, actor, Theatre de la Jeune Lune: Does 20 minutes of stretching (arm, shoulders, neck), ending with a little tap dance flourish. Warms up vocal cords. Checks props. Drinks Emergen-C powder drink and takes two ibuprofen. Brushes teeth, puts in contacts, shaves, applies makeup. Fixates on hair.

Jearlyn Steele, singer: Drinks concoction of green tea, powdered ginger, honey, and splash of nutmeg. Prays.

Josh Koestenbaum, cellist, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Says to self, “If you play well you can have a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s as you watch mindless TV.”

Dan Chouinard, pianist: Brings a small camping mattress to dressing room, takes a nap before showtime.

Prudence Johnson, singer: Fixes hair and sings whole-tone scales.

Dominique Serrand, actor, Theatre de la Jeune Lune: Gets so nervous, thinks he’s going to throw up. Smokes a cigarette. Right hand shakes his left hand to wish himself good luck.



Meth: The Musical

There’s music about drugs, and then there’s choral music about drugs. Or maybe just the one piece, Through a Glass, Darkly, a 45-minute oratorio commissioned by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus to address methamphetamine addiction among gay men. Slated for the choir’s March 29 and 30 concerts at Ted Mann Concert Hall, the piece features 135 singers; a mix of classical, swing, and rock; and Hazelden treatment center’s stamp of approval.

The singers’ desire to tackle the subject surprised and impressed even their own leadership. “That’s just brave and crazy and odd—and an interesting marketing challenge,” says TCGMC’s executive director, Jon Lewis. The composer, when recruited for the project, agreed: “He said, ‘I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life—I’ll do it,’” recalls TCGMC artistic director Stan Hill.

But boldness isn’t out of character for the choir. Given the choice of touring almost anywhere in the world, they once sang their way through the Deep South. They’ll restage the meth piece this summer in Miami at a national convention of gay and lesbian choruses.


Blarney Breakdown

Can’t tell a local Irish band from a band of leprechauns? Here’s your St. Patrick’s Day tip sheet.


Boiled in Lead

Known for:

Cycling through 13 members in 25 years. This spring, they’re releasing their first original album since the mid-1990s.
Sounds like: Riverdance on speed. Or, as they call it, Celtic rock ’n’ reel.
Tradition factor (scale of 1 to 10): 6
St. Patty’s gig: March 17, 25th Anniversary Show, First Avenue, Minneapolis,

The Sweet Colleens

Known for:

Blending Irish and zydeco music with original tunes. The fiddler and drummer also happen to run their own law practice.
Sounds like: Polished Irish country, or Wilco after a few too many green beers.
Tradition factor: 4
St. Patty’s gig: Visit

Katie McMahon

Known for:

Being the original lead vocalist in Riverdance. The Dublin native married a local rocker she met at Lee’s Liquor Lounge after a Riverdance show.
Sounds like: Lord of the Dance meets Lord of the Rings—“amazing,” according to U2’s Bono—with Irish dancers, of course.
Tradition factor: 11 (several songs on her new CD are in Gaelic)
St. Patty’s gig: March 14, Chautauqua Fine Arts Center, Mahtomedi,

The Tim Malloys

Known for:

“Whiskey in the Jar,” “Whiskey from the Field”—pretty much every classic Irish rave-up about drinking, roving, and battling Brits.
Sounds like: A steerage party on the Titanic.
Tradition factor: 9
St. Patty’s gig: March 14, 15 at Kieran’s Irish Pub, Minneapolis; March 17 at Kip’s Irish Pub, St. Louis Park,


A Guthrie First

Sucketh it up, Shakespeare. The first Guthrie Theater production to be brought back in the same season it opened isn’t Hamlet. It’s Jane Eyre, which premiered last fall and is already returning March 8 to 30, by popular demand, with the same cast. Seems audiences can’t get enough of Stacia Rice (left) as Jane. And neither can she—“I’m not ready to let her go,” says the actress, whose growing popularity has forced her to put plans for her own company, Torch Theater, on an extended hiatus. Rice has previously tackled such iconic roles as Lady Macbeth and Blanche DuBois—to critical acclaim. “I’m drawn to those roles,” she says. “But every time I do it, it scares me. You’re afraid you’re going to give a different view of the character than what someone is hoping for.”


Tortured Souls

Murder. Mayhem. Dismemberment. It’s just another film from a pair of Minnesota brothers. Only this time, instead of Joel and Ethan Coen, John and Drew Dowdle are behind the horror flick, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which promises to take viewers inside the mind of a serial killer when it debuts this month.

“We’re just editing our next film,” says Drew from the pair’s Los Angeles office. “So if you hear any pigs or baboons screaming in the background, that’s what that is.” One pities any pets the boys might have had growing up in St. Paul.

Now in their mid-thirties, the siblings split after high school, going off to seek their fortunes. John studied film at New York University, then quickly headed west. Drew spent seven years as an investment banker, then ditched the rat race and joined his brother eating ramen. The pair used up their savings producing their first film, a comedy that bounced around the festival circuit but was never picked up by a parent studio. Finally, in 2007, Poughkeepsie took off, winning acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Their recent success has prompted comparisons to Minnesota’s other sibling émigrés to Hollywood, the Coen brothers. One can’t ignore the darker aspects that typify both teams’ outputs, and wonder if there’s a subconscious connection to the state. “There’s all this weirdo art from Minnesota,” says John, citing the careers of Terry Gilliam and Prince. “Maybe because in winter there’s nothing to do but sit in a room, thinking bizarre thoughts.”


Bull’s-Eye in the Crosshairs

Target execs must have gotten chills this past summer when a single investor gobbled up nearly 10 percent of the company’s stock. William Ackman, who manages more than $6 billion in assets for a New York hedge fund, is known for bullying Ceridian, McDonald’s, and other companies, insisting that they sell off assets or divisions in an effort to boost share prices. Then, he cashes out. Here, a look at how Ackman acquired a slice of the bull’s-eye.

06.07 Raises $2 billion. Announces plans to invest in an unnamed iconic American company.

07.07 Reveals he’s acquired a 9.6 percent stake in Target, giving him clout with management. Rumors that he’ll push the company to jettison its lucrative credit-card business move Wall Street to bid up stock. Target says it has no plans to sell.

08.07 Ackman summons Target execs to a hush-hush meeting in New York. Advocates sale of $8 billion credit-card business.

09.07 Target hints it might sell credit-card portfolio. Stock jumps.

11.07 Target delays decision. Ackman reveals that he has boosted his stake in the company.

12.07 Financial filings show Ackman now holds 10 percent stake in company. He visits Target headquarters, tours Minneapolis store.

01.08 Unveils plan to double Target’s stock price to $120 within three years. Strategy: buy back shares, sell credit-card lines; and reconfigure real-estate portfolio. (Target owns 95 percent of its properties.)

03.08 If history is any guide, there’s a good chance Target will follow Ackman’s advice—and then watch him cash out.



Sober Cab

Photo by Ross Andersson

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, but do they stop perfect strangers from hopping behind the wheel? Last summer, Scott Judd decided to do just that. He and his friend Tom Kotula launched DWI Ride Home, a service that offers bar patrons a taxi service home—but in their own car.

The biz got its start when Judd stopped at an Andover bar with his cousin and came upon a group of softball players celebrating the end of the season. It was clear a few of the teammates were over their limit, so Judd offered one softball player a ride, driving the man in his car as Judd’s cousin followed in another car. They came back to take another player home. And another. Within a few hours, they had driven the entire team and a handful of patrons to their respective homes.

“People don’t want to get their car the next day, or they don’t want to leave their car overnight,” Judd says. If more bar patrons had the option to get themselves and their cars home, he says, perhaps they wouldn’t even think about getting behind the wheel. And that should be something all the liquored-up leprechauns can agree on this St. Patrick’s Day.


The Strib vies for the ’burbs

Last fall, the Star Tribune pulled several reporters off the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul and sent them to cover the subdivisions of Apple Valley, Blaine, and beyond. The Strib’s weekly zoned editions became daily, filled with stories relevant to each quadrant of the metro area. Suburban stories began hitting the front page more often, too. And some reporters now wonder if something hasn’t been lost in the bargain: namely, news.

No one denies that appealing more to the suburbs makes sense: It’s where the majority of the paper’s readers live. Zoning also allows advertisers to target their audiences more narrowly. But some reporters believe the desire for more suburban coverage has driven the paper into a journalistic cul-de-sac, shifting the news standard from what happened to where it happened. “We should cover Bloomington,” says one reporter, “but it should be meaningful and organic, not forced. Does anyone really want to read about a Blaine city administrator, except his family? I’d say no—unless of course he strangled somebody.”

Star Tribune managing editor Rene Sanchez admits there is “a risk that we could force some stories into more prominence than they deserve. But I don’t think that’s happening with any regularity.” He believes the coverage will only improve as reporters settle into their beats: “Shame on us if we can’t find credible daily news in an area as large as the South Metro almost every day.” Nevertheless, some reporters admit name-dropping suburbs in their stories to boost their Page One potential. Others have resisted the suburban emphasis altogether, believing its the wrong path to prosperity. “Those of us who don’t drink the hyper-local Kool-Aid are somehow viewed as malcontents,” says one reporter, “when nothing could be further from the truth.”

Sanchez says it’s too soon to tell if zoning is paying off in increased revenue. But the paper remains committed to serving the suburbs and the cities. “We’re trying to stay on the gas in both places,” he says.