Posted: 07/23/08 21:57
by Dave Mindeman
"But he brought hockey back!"
--Norm Coleman commercial
A couple of year's ago I visited Washington, DC and I stopped at Norm Coleman's office to get passes for the Capitol tour. Of course I didn't see our senior Senator in person but I got a quick look at the lobby area of his Washington workplace.
Prominently displayed in a huge shadowbox is a Wild jersey with Coleman's name on the back above a big #1. Coleman never hesitates to take full credit for bringing hockey back to Minnesota and it is true that he played a large role.
But the details about the way it happened get lost in translation. So, let's review.
I am quoting passages from the book, A "Wild" State of Hockey, by Thomas Tuttle:
(quoting Norm Coleman)...."The whole arena financing thing died at the state legislature on a Monday, and the next morning I called NHL Commissioner Bettman and said, 'Gary, you're going to read in the paper that this thing is dead, but don't believe it. Give us a week and I believe that we can stick to the original deadline and make it happen."
That deadline was mere days later and time was running out. The Mayor needed to take quick and decisive action if his NHL hockey dream was to stay alive.
"I reconvened my people the next day and came up with a plan for the city to back the state part of the deal. That put us on the hook-- not only for the city piece (of the financing), but for the state part as well! Not a small number, mind you; we're talking about $65 million. I then went to the Governor (Arne Carlson) with people from organized labor, the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce and asked for his support. The Governor said, 'I'll do everything I can next session to make sure the state comes through. I'll commit to that'. We had a special meeting with the city council on Friday and came back the next Monday and passed a resolution in which the city guaranteed the state's commitment. So we were on the limb for another 65 million bucks. I think we got all this to the league on the day of the deadline, and by doing so we were still in the hunt."
That's how hockey came to Minnesota. Norm Coleman took a $65 million gamble with St. Paul taxpayer money. Remember, this was not based on any referendum (later the taxpayers of St. Paul would defeat a measure to build a Twins stadium).... this wasn't even put out there for public comment. This was railroaded through the city council days before an NHL deadline for franchise applications...and it was Norm who rolled the dice.
Now, a short time later, with the new arena financing guaranteed by the city (the state would not even be discussing it until next year's legislative session), the NHL awarded Minnesota the expansion team (helped along by the fact that Houston had to take themselves out of the running because their financing fell through... must not have had a gambler for a mayor).
In the euphoria that followed the announcement of getting the new franchise, the scrutiny over Coleman's $65 million gamble was glossed over and never really examined. We had hockey back... that was all that mattered.
Norm's own assessment of his actions was this:
"I was going to get killed if I left the city on the hook for $65 million. I was running for Governor at this point and you don't want that kind of baggage. We were getting squeezed from several directions at this time. Randy Kelly stood tall for us at the legislature and said that the city should not be penalized on this, that the state needs to come through."
(Ironic (or maybe not) that Randy Kelly was the next mayor of St. Paul -- with full support from Norm Coleman)
Norm's description of his tenure as Mayor of St. Paul is always followed by -- "and we didn't raise taxes." But if the state had not put the Xcel Center funding into the bonding bill the next year, the citizens of St. Paul would still be paying for that arena -- and they would have had Norm Coleman to thank.
Decisions about the raising or lowering of taxes is an item for debate. Public input or outcry is expected and warranted. But is it OK for a person in position of authority to make "guarantees" of public money without public input? or public debate?
Norm Coleman did that in 1997 -- he gambled with public money.
But hey, it's OK,.... "he brought hockey back!"