I first came to work at this newspaper in January 1973, covering Minneapolis City Hall for the princely sum of $147.50 a week. It wasn't much, even then, but it was enough to buy a couple of tasty Andekers with the guys at the Little Wagon while the Blue Streak, the dinnertime edition of the next day's Tribune, was running on the presses and getting ready to be loaded on a train bound for Montana.
I know, it sounds like 1873, not 1973. But the buffaloes were gone, replaced by a hulk of a newspaper building that several times a day came to life with the rattle and hum of the presses.
The presses are a mile away now, in a different building; the old newspaper office on Portland has no pulse. But in 1973, people in Glendive and Billings wanted to know what was happening in the heart of the Ninth Federal Reserve District, way off in Minneapolis.
I did, too.
I was 22 years old, a St. Paul kid who was coming off a year as editor of the Minnesota Daily with a naive belief that journalism was a calling, not just a paycheck. I got my first tours of City Hall from hard-nosed Dennis Cassano, a no-nonsense reporter who looked like he knew guys who could hurt you, and from the gracious Catherine Watson. From their combined wisdom, I learned about the grubby little back rooms where deals got done, as well as the soaring stained glass (still dingy at the time) that was intended to lift the taxpayer's gaze and distract him as his pocket was picked.
I got an early lesson in how Minneapolis worked from the sly old managing editor, Wally Allen, who wore a bow tie and told me I would start on New Year's Day 1973. When he called back later to tell me New Year's was a holiday and that I didn't have to show up until Jan. 2, it was like a gift from a kind uncle. It took months before I figured out Wally's "gift" meant I would not earn any paid vacation for 1973. I hadn't worked a full calendar year.
Charlie Stenvig, the law-and-order cop who was mayor, took a liking to me but was annoyed that I lived in St. Paul. Charlie made me an honorary citizen of Minneapolis. I still have the certificate somewhere.
I still live in St. Paul.
Yes, 1973 was so long ago that I had hair and a Fu Manchu (I looked like a cross between Gene Wilder and Charles Manson) and the Republicans had a majority on the City Council, led by Dick Erdall, John Bergford and Gladys Brooks. There aren't many Republicans in City Hall these days. But some things never change.
The big fight in City Hall when I arrived in 1973 was over a plan for a glitzy new football stadium on the west edge of downtown, near the place where the new Twins ball park will open next year. It was a behemoth, built into a circular parking structure, probably twice the scale of the Metrodome, which didn't open until 1982.
The dubious original sports palace -- financed entirely with city bonds -- passed the City Council but got hung up at the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which had to issue the bonds. The board was split, with the outcome resting on the vote of the chairman, a friend of Stenvig's named Albert P. Hum, who owned the liquor store at W. 22nd Street and Lyndale Avenue S. (still called Hum's, but is no longer owned by the Hum family).
Stenvig had vetoed two City Council stadium resolutions, but he claimed to want the stadium. The deal that had been worked out in those back rooms meant he would publicly posture against the plan without actually doing anything to stop it, not even lean on his friend. Hum was for it.
On Valentine's Day, the morning the board was going to issue the bonds, Eric Pianin of the Minneapolis Star (the Star and Tribune didn't combine operations until 1982), got a tip. He drove to Hum's house at dawn and looked in the windows. The house had a for-sale sign in the yard and was empty except for a lawn chair in the living room: Hum had moved to Golden Valley.
By the time the bonds were supposed to be approved, the "afternoon" paper was circulating like wildfire through City Hall, with Pianin's story on the front page: Hum was no longer a resident of the city. He had to resign. The board was stalemated. The bonds were never issued. The stadium died.
Thirty-six years later, you can't find an Andeker, the afternoon paper is gone, the newspaper building is for sale, and everything is in flux. But maybe there are still Pianins out there (Eric is senior editor of politics for Washingtonpost.com now) who would scramble in the early morning to look into a window in time to Twitter or blog or post and foil the back-room plans of the powers that be.
We better hope.
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