Voters saw flight risk, so comeuppance was expedited

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2009 - 6:44 AM

Complaints about the squawking began early, making it an easy call for voters to bestow the trophy rather than more taxpayer bucks.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed Feb. 17 by President Obama. The chairman of the Turkey Committee immediately contacted his board of directors on a conference call to ask, "How can we get our hands on some of that $787 billion in order to continue to do our good works?''

A board member nicknamed "Fingers,'' and by coincidence a former employee of both Tom Petters and Denny Hecker, came up with the plan:

Apply under the initials MTPA, emboss the envelope with a turkey logo and include in the application a strong hint that we long have had a strong role in the promotion of turkeys in Minnesota.

Imagine the excitement when an official government envelope arrived at committee headquarters in August. Inside, the cover letter said our organization was receiving stimulus funds as part of the distribution for Minnesota's 23rd Congressional District, and there was a check made out to the MTPA for $38 million and change.

All that was left after that was to complete the paperwork as the Minnesota Turkey Provocateurs Association and, presto, we had on hand a potential bonus for the honorees at today's Turkey Banquet: stimulus money.

This gorgeous influx of cash also has allowed the Turkey Committee to stage the most elaborate celebration in the event's 32 years. On Wednesday night, this year's honorees attended a St. Paul bonfire fueled by the Wild's tickets "distributed'' to keep its sellout streak alive.

Today, we move west to Target Center for the Turkey Banquet. We're expecting 1,200 people and can only hope the staff that works Timberwolves games can handle a crowd that large.

Let's get rolling here, with the introduction of 2009 special Turkey guests:

Joe Christensen. Gentleman Joe is a Star Tribune baseball writer and also the Twin Cities' leading advocate for OPS, a make-believe number that Bill James acolytes have embraced. How often must we say this, Joe? Runs scored and RBI mean something; OPS doesn't.

Decision: $1 million in stimulus money, if Joe promises never to reference OPS in a Twins story again.

Kevin Whaley. Couldn't help but think, as the running back kept heading toward the pylon in a failed attempt to get the Gophers on the board late in the Penn State game, that he would have lowered a shoulder and scored, if only the end zone had been the entrance to a downtown Minneapolis dance club.

Decision: MTPA can pick up a cover charge for Kevin, now that he's turned 21.

Phil Davis. The president of Minneapolis Community and Technical College went along when the student government voted to drop basketball after this season. Davis knows the cost of basketball is minuscule compared to the positive publicity it has brought to MCTC, but playing the role of devoted academician was clearly irresistible.

Decision: We could fund the basketball programs with stimulus dollars, but the fear is Davis would confiscate the money for bike racks.

Jay Cutler. Fortunately for Minnesota football fans, the Bears -- not the Vikings -- paid the ransom for Cutler, the hard-partying interception machine, and now are doomed for years to come.

Decision: We'll buy Cutler a daiquiri (he's a Vanderbilt guy) next time we run into him at 3:30 a.m. on Rush Street.

Francisco Liriano. To paraphrase Dean Wormer, thick, disorganized and stubborn is no way to go through life, son.

Decision: MTPA will pay for the ticket to Rochester, N.Y., if Liriano isn't completely different as a Twins pitcher next spring in Florida.

Brook Dieter. The hitter on the Gophers volleyball team was recruited as a Junior Olympic phenom. Coach Mike Hebert benched the junior last month after some poor play. The young woman handled that with the maturity of a lifelong all-star. She quit.

Decision: Cab fare to the airport.

Jeff Schemmel. The former University of Minnesota employee was due to make $257,000 annually through 2013 as the San Diego State athletic director. Then, testimony surfaced from Carolyn Lineberger in an Alabama divorce proceeding in which she admitted to a three-day "nonbusiness'' meeting with Schemmel in Point Clear, Ala. Expense records showed Schemmel had charged $460 of his detour to the school, and he resigned last week.

Decision: Schemmel received a $116,000 settlement -- his personal stimulus payoff for being cheap, at best.

Alex Rodriguez. Were the members of the Turkey Committee the only ones screaming at the TV as the postseason announcers tried to get viewers to applaud the idea that A-Rod finally was going to win a World Series?

Decision: How about stimulus dollars to buy Selena Roberts' book ("The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez'') for select Yankee fans, so they could learn more about their hero's steroid use and other blights?

Keizo Konishi. He covers the Seattle Mariners (meaning, Ichiro) for the Japanese outlet Kyodo News and had one of two Seattle votes for American League MVP and put Detroit's Miguel Cabrera on top of the ballot. Was it Miggy's drunken, postdawn dustup with his wife late in the race with the Twins or his jogging to first on ground balls that impressed the voter?

Decision: Fifty bucks to Konishi, if he would say that he meant to vote for Derek Jeter -- for anyone but Cabrera -- as he cost Joe Mauer a clean sweep to the MVP award.

There are the honored guests, which leaves the Turkey Committee to present this year's Big Three for placement at the head table.

Second runner-up: Ballooning is a sport, right? That moved Richard Heene, mastermind of the "Balloon Boy'' hoax in Colorado, into strong consideration as the Grand Turkey. Any stimulus dollars would go to Richard's psychiatric care and not a new balloon.

First runner-up: You knew all along that Zygi Wilf, a real estate guy from New Jersey, would turn to extortion, even as every other sentence he uttered early on guaranteed the Vikings were in Minnesota forever.

Made you feel all warm and fuzzy when you saw Wednesday's Star Tribune, didn't it?

The Vikings owner was in Austin demanding his billion-dollar stadium or else, and Hennepin County was trying to figure out how to cover a $25 million shortfall at HCMC.

Let's see. The county hospital is a few hundred yards from Wilf's preferred site, so what about it, Zygi: Should we use stimulus dollars and solve HCMC's financial problem by tearing it down to make room for your vision of an opulent stadium?

That gets us to the Turkey of the Year. The committee tries to bring creativity to this award, but there are those times when we have to do what we have to do.

So, loyal followers of this Thanksgiving tradition, you were right all along:

The Turkey of the Year is Tim Brewster, the Gophers football coach who established himself as a world-class blowhard on the day he was hired and has made it clear after three seasons that he's a sideline disaster.

The Turkey Committee had no choice but to give this 2009 honor to Brewster, since we couldn't risk having him escape as Gophers basketball coach Dan Monson had done previously.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

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