Tevlin: 'Catch-22’ for homeowner

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 29, 2011 - 9:42 PM
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Andrew Moore has built an anti-government shrine on the front lawn of his Phillips neighborhood duplex and has had a series of run-ins with Minneapolis housing authorities.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Andrew Moore had just attended an event in celebration of Wendell Phillips, a 19th-century firebrand whose legacy remains in the south Minneapolis neighborhood named for him. The event was held by the Alley, a Phillips neighborhood newspaper that had previously compared Moore to Phillips because they share an outspoken, often cantankerous opposition to "oppression and greed."

Moore's outrage is expressed in a lawn sculpture that has overtaken his yard at the corner of 33rd Street and Bloomington Avenue S. The work is either a bold social statement or a collection of spooky junk, depending on your viewpoint, but it and the general condition of Moore's house have put him at odds with the city for years.

After the event, Moore was pulled over by police. After checking his license, the officers searched and cuffed Moore, and took him to jail for the night. There was a warrant out for his arrest, they said.

Moore, who is unemployed, said he was arrested for the crime of being unable to afford to paint his house. In one day he had gone from feted good neighbor to jailbird.

Moore's version of the story goes like this: He was cited for failing to finish painting the trim of the duplex he has owned for 17 years. When he missed a court appointment, a warrant was issued. He visited with a city attorney, who said he would schedule another hearing to resolve the matter. Moore said he never got notice of the hearing, nor the warrant, until he was arrested Nov. 11. His rental license was also revoked.

"They put me in jail, then they put me in the hole," said Moore. "I guess they didn't like my attitude."

As it turns out, that wasn't a first.

Moore, 53, readily admits to a criminal record years ago in Nebraska for burglary and other crimes, and he did time. He was a member of the Black Panthers, he said, and still wears the emblematic beret. "I was not a good guy. But prison changed me."

As we stood in Moore's yard, the local pastor drove by and waved. Several neighbors honked and waved. "Everybody knows me," Moore said. Some thank him for his lawn protest, others won't speak to him. The young toughs call him "Old School," he said.

"He does tell it like it is, and very often that isn't pretty," said Harvey Winje, senior editor of the Alley. "Andrew knows the pulse of many communities and has the respect and support of many communities and neighbors. Andrew is an incredible human being."

The house needed a makeover for problems long before Moore bought it, Winje said, but the loss of the rental license creates a "Catch-22" between Moore and the inspections department.

Lee Wolf, assistant city attorney, said criminal cases for property issues are rare, and come only after several civil citations and attempts to get the homeowner help. Wolf said the actions have nothing to do with Moore's politics.

"No one likes to see criminal charges for not painting your siding, but it does get their attention," said Wolf.

Earlier this year, a local church helped Moore fix part of his house, but they didn't finish. So, he's being cited for the part that is not yet painted, as well as interior work. He has another inspection this week and another hearing.

As we walked around Moore's house, he stood under metal tubes linking an anti-City Council tableau to another sculpture featuring skulls, severed arms and painted baby dolls. "This here is the web of deception," he said. Moore then went on a philosophical rant about Wall Street, racism, politicians and what he called "poverty pimps" who run social programs that help no one. His sculpture and criticism of the government are "what this is all about," he said.

I asked Moore if his lawn piece is art.

"No. It's a statement, a mad statement," he said. "I'm not an artist, I'm a realist."

A realist who can't hold his tongue is not a great job candidate, he's found. "I'm red-tagged," he said. "No one will hire me."

I asked Moore how he's kept the home from foreclosure, and he pointed to the sky: "God's grace," he said. "If it happens, I'm not going to cry, but I'll fight my way out of here. I'm vocal and I'll stay vocal until they put me in the ground."

I wondered what Moore's dream would be. He said it would be a fairer, better world for his kids and a job that paid him enough to buy a building to house the homeless.

After all, Moore said, "I don't want to be a person known for being angry."

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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