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Sept. 15, 1969: A tough-talking human rights commissioner

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • January 20, 2012 - 4:05 PM
 
Charles Stenvig, a cop with no political experience, won the Minneapolis mayoral race in 1969 on a law-and-order platform. The independent’s victory over endorsed DFL and Republican candidates stunned the political establishment. It also raised concerns among human rights advocates that Stenvig, who had fought against investigations into police brutality while he was president of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, would use his office to continue the fight.

 
  Charles Stenvig
One of Stenvig’s first appointees to the city’s Commission on Human Relations was Antonio “Tony” Felicetta, a former truck driver who had run Teamsters Local 792 for more than 30 years. The South High dropout helped organize Local 792 in a series of violent skirmishes among beverage-truck drivers in the 1940s. A 1998 obituary in the Star Tribune described him as “one of the city's most flamboyant labor leaders, a self-promoter who drove a purple Cadillac and outfitted his office bathroom with crystal-beaded lamps and a telephone with four lines.”

Shortly after joining the Commission on Human Relations, he sat for this front-page interview with the Tribune’s Jack Miller. Felicetta’s blunt way of speaking (“Don’t expect me to get raped by every guy that comes along”) and controversial views (he opposed any investigation of police) prompted calls for his resignation. But Stenvig stood by his man, saying his unvarnished speech merely reflected what many whites were feeling.

The interview earned a "laurel" from the Columbia Journalism Review that winter. According to a newsroom memo uncovered by my colleague Bruce Adomeit, CJR wrote:

"By printing verbatim the crudities and obscenities of a truck driver appointed to the Human Relations Commission, [the Tribune portrayed] his racism, pugnacity, and know-nothingism as no 'doctored' quotations could have done."
 

New Rights Official
Speaks His Mind

 
By JACK MILLER
Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer
 
Antonio G. (Tony) Felicetta doesn’t mince words. He mauls them.
 
But the truck-driver-turned-union-leader, Mayor Charles Stenvig’s most recent appointee to the Minneapolis Human Relations Commission, expresses himself with utter clarity.
 
In an interview in his flashy office in the Teamsters building, Felicetta said with point-blank plainness that he’s going to be a different kind of human-relations commissioner.
 
“I’m not going to take any bullshit,” he said, speaking of intimidation by some blacks and Indians he said has occurred at meetings of the Human Relations Commission and elsewhere.
 
“IF THERE are any grievances,” he said, “I sure as hell would want to see them taken care of. But I sure as hell wouldn’t want to give ’em half my goddamn paycheck when I’m workin’ and they’re sitting on their asses.”
 
Felicetta, a lifelong resident of Minneapolis until he moved his family to Burnsville 18 months ago, is secretary-treasurer of the Beverage Drivers Union Local 792 and vice-president of the Teamsters Joint Council for a region covering most of Minnesota.
 
“Don’t expect me to get raped by every guy that comes along,” he said in describing his approach with the commission. But he added: “Not that I’m a hard-nosed or I’m gonna kick the hell out of someone. I don’t want to give that impression.”
 
The tough talk aside, Felicetta, 58, is a small man with soft hands years removed from the harder days of driving truck for Donaldson’s, Dayton’s and Powers, and long carefully trimmed fingernails layered with clear polish.
 
His short, gray-grained hair is carefully combed straight down his forehead, Napoleon-style.
 
 
  The bathroom in Felicetta's union office featured crystal-beaded light fixtures, bronze hardware and a multi-line telephone. (Minneapolis Star photo by Roy Swan)
His telephone glitters gold.
 
He was wearing a green blazer with the pocket patch of the “A.S.C.,” the Amateur Sportsmen’s Club, whose annual banquet he was going to that night.
 
Felicetta, one of the best-known sports boosters in the Twin Cities, explained wistfully from behind a desk lined with give-away tickets that the sportsmen’s club has “sort of outlived its usefulness.”
 
“We used to raise money for Gopher (University of Minnesota) football players – help ‘em out and get jobs for ‘em,” he said. “You know, the kind of thing they (the universities) aren’t supposed to do.”
 
But now, he said, there’s plenty of money and jobs around to take care of the amateur athletes.
 
In addition to raising money for the Millers, the Twins, the Vikings and the North Stars, Felicetta has been active in all manner of civic causes such as the March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society.
 
It’s a new ball game, this human relations commission, he granted, and he said he was surprised when Stenvig asked him to take the job.
 
But after sitting through the first two-hour meeting of the commission’s executive board recently, Felicetta said, “I decided that I’m better qualified than most of them on the commission. Now I see why they haven’t been getting anything done.”
 
Grievances against the police are shaping up as the hottest issue the commission has to face, and Felicetta has some firm ideas about the police.
 
“I probably know more police than anyone else in the city,” he said with a laugh, going on to make it clear that the relationship is a friendly one.
 
He said flatly that he’s against any investigation of police behavior, explaining:
 
“A few years ago, okay, things were different then. But now, with all these people demanding it, I’m against it. It would hurt their (the policemen’s) morale. They’re entitled to some courtesies.”
 
Among the courtesies Felicetta told of personally providing the police was a load of pop for them during the hot days of the Minneapolis Aquatennial (of which Felicetta is the board member of longest tenure).
 
“I do that kind of thing,” he said, “but I don’t expect anything in return – I get a lot of parking tickets.”
 
At the commission meeting someone suggested that the commissioners take a look at television film of the most recent action in which police brutality has been charged: a confrontation with demonstrators on Plymouth Av. last month.
 
Felicetta was against looking at the films.
 
He said in the interview, “You don’t always see what happened by watching the film. The news media lets you see what they want you to see – and that goes for the newspapers too.”
 
But Felicetta emphasized that he’s not against minority people, he’s just against “the 30 or so who are causing the trouble … 98 percent of the colored people in this city are goddamned fine people.
 
“I talk with colored people a lot,” he said, “with the elevator operators, the shoeshiners and in the parking lots, and do you know what they say? They don’t buy all this (militant) crap.”

 

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