The debate at the Hennepin County Board got a little dark for an hour while commissioners discussed whether to shed more light on Syttende Mai, Juneteenth and African Liberation Day. The question: Should those special days get the same treatment as Hanukkah (blue and white), Christmas (red and green) and Thanksgiving (red, orange, brown)?
The board was preparing to dictate which days deserve automatic lighting of the Lowry Avenue Bridge, an award-winning steel tied-arch truss bridge over the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis that opened in 2012.
The bridge’s LED lights can strike a multitude of rainbow variations with little more than the flip of a switch. Some commissioners would like to see the switch flipped more frequently than others. Until now, there was no policy on what colors are used for what occasions.
The push for more official lightings came from Commissioners Peter McLaughlin, Gail Dorfman and Linda Higgins, who wanted lighting for occasions to represent the “big tent” and “diversity” of the county.
“It would be kind of a fun thing to do with our bridge,” Higgins said.
For her reasoning, Dorfman said the bridge looks “really pretty” when it’s lit up.
At the other end of the spectrum, Commissioner Jan Callison wanted only federal holidays designated as lighting days. People who wanted other colors on other days would have to apply for them through the county administrator.
McLaughlin took a dim view of that, saying that “relegating” bridge lightings to “what the federal government wants is understating our ability to celebrate this county.”
Residents “shouldn’t have to deal with administrative paperwork to decide whether we’re going to light the bridge green on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said.
McLaughlin also wanted to flip the switch permanently for Juneteenth, “the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery: pretty important.”
After failed attempts to add other automatic lightings to the list — including the summer Pride celebration that won support only from Higgins, McLaughlin and Dorfman — the board adopted Opat’s midway proposal, in which federal holidays as well as some others would permanently merit lighting. Look for Halloween (orange and black), Father’s Day (light blue), Mother’s Day (pink), Kwanzaa (red, black and green), University of Minnesota Homecoming (maroon and gold) and Worker Memorial Day (red, white and blue).
Higgins successfully persuaded her colleagues to light the bridge if any of the Twin Cities sports teams win championships. Opat jibed that “none of us will be here to see it.” McLaughlin, however, pointed out that the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx have won the past two years.
After the debate, one wag said the dispute was a little silly given that the bridge would look similar on many days. “Most of these holidays are red, white and blue anyway.”