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An Earlier Model of Political Activism

This is the part of the political model that has already been tried. Starting in 1994, a small group of landlords concentrated in the poorer neighborhoods of Minneapolis successfully fought City Hall through direct political action. This group, called "Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee", arose in response to the anti-landlord policies of the city's politicians, police, and neighborhood groups. It was led by Charlie Disney, a former table-tennis promoter.

These mostly small property owners engaged in a series of protest events related to the city's policy of scapegoating landlords for crime and then using housing inspections to punish them. It held monthly meetings which were videotaped and broadcast on the Minneapolis public-access and the metro cable-television stations. Certain members of this group also published a free-circulation newspaper.

Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee (MPRAC) reached a peak of membership and militancy in the period between 1998 and 2001. During this time its leaders conducted a series of so-called “crack tours” to show dignitaries how easy it was to buy crack cocaine on Minneapolis streets. Once, after the city had revoked a landlord’s rental license, its members marched into the Minneapolis City Council chambers with picket signs during a meeting and closed the meeting down.

Repeating certain themes in its televised meetings, the landlord group gradually convinced the public that buildings - a.k.a. “problem properties” - were not the cause of crime. It was persons who had committed those crimes. The group urged the city police to target the hardened or repeat criminals responsible for the bulk of crimes instead of blaming the owners of apartment buildings where those persons occasionally hung out. It also criticized city government for tearing down structurally sound buildings at a time when there was a shortage of affordable housing.

In 2001, political outsiders seeking election to city office sought the landlord group’s support. Its televised meetings offered free publicity to such candidates. R. T. Rybak, seeking to oust incumbent mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, came to its meetings three times. He is now the Minneapolis mayor.

The group identified the mayor and four City Council members (including the President and Vice President) as candidates whom the group wished to defeat and four Council members whom it wished to see reelected. All four in the latter group were reelected. Three of four persons in the former group, along with the incumbent mayor, were defeated; and the fourth person, who was reelected, did not serve his full term because he went to prison.

This was the peak of the group's influence and power. Afterwards, the Property Rights group continued for another four years amid dwindling membership before running out of money in December 2005. It has since been revived on a smaller scale as “Metro Property Rights Action Committee”.

Despite its impact on the political process, MPRAC was seldom mentioned in the press. With its mission largely accomplished and its leader sidelined by a heart attack, this group gradually lost its focus and core of members. With the election of a new group of officials in 2005, the weeds grew back. City policies reverted to what they had previously been.

This convinced Bill McGaughey to try his hand at electoral politics. Something with structure and public recognition was needed to keep issues on the political map.


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Those who wish to learn more about the landlord group or its issues can pursue the following links:

How it got started - the group’s early history 2696 words

How this landlord group once shut down a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council 4279 words

Election blow-out in 2001 Minneapolis voters dismiss the landlord-bashing politicians 1095 words


Some landlord “horror stories” illustrating what Minneapolis city government was doing in the 1990s:

Landlord horror story #1: A paraplegic tenant thrown on the street following condemnation of Sam Czaplewski's triplex 1672 words

Landlord horror story #2: Floyd Ruggles forced into bankruptcy after the city returned his tax payment 1012 words

Landlord horror story #3: James Wu’s battle with vagrants and scheming non-profit organizations 1514 words

Landlord horror story #4: condemnation of David Sundberg’s building by eminent domain 2630 words

Landlord horror story #5: the racial “lawsuit from hell” brought against Reynold and Pat Mattson 3005 words

Landlord horror story #6: Community policing isn't what it's cracked up to be 3265 words


City officials in the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, were apparently talking with each other about how to make property owners the “fall guy” for their own failings with respect to crime. Across the Mississippi river, in St. Paul, city were targeting home owners and the owners of bars.


First, some “horror stories” from that side of the river:

Homeowner horror story #1: Betty Speaker's house is condemned by a harassing inspector. 772 words

Homeowner horror story #2: When Nancy Osterman refuses to become a drug informant, the city goes after her house. 4141 words

Bar owner horror story: Debra Johnson is blamed for crime by city officials and a Roman Catholic priest. 3767 words

 

What Property Rights people did to challenge the St. Paul politicians:

How Mayor Randy Kelly was defeated in the 2005 municipal elections after two landlord-led picketing events at St. Paul city hall 808 words

How agents of the Watchdog newspaper infiltrated a community meeting to confront a City Council member 1278 words


In the political culture of the Twin Cities, the landlord activists were generally considered to be vile right-wingers. Critics often charged that these individuals were irresponsible property owners, guilty of negligent management, and their militant activities were a smokescreen for their own bad behavior. Others, a bit more charitable, considered them to be merely a rental-housing industry group. In the landlords’ own eyes, they were instead a “good government” group. They were like a union for landlords that confronted abusive city government to avoid being picked off one by one.

This raises the following question: Can landlords like those belonging to MPRAC be considered “progressives” - in some sense, representing progress toward a better society? Interestingly, an answer comes from contemporary China.

Read these two articles:

Minneapolis landlords and Chinese peasants 1660 words
Landlords looking for a place in the progressive spectrum
4779 words

Note:

English speakers can seek further information about the landlord group at this website: http://www.landlordpolitics.com. It is titled “The Archives of Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee”. Some of the archival material has been presented here. The rest has not been translated from English into other languages.

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