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December 2005
Free the Jackson Five! Busted and Disgusted
Randy Staten has redeemed himself. Will he try to return to politics?

People are talking about whether Rev. Randolph (Randy) Staten will run for 
his old seat representing North Minneapolis in the Minnesota House of 
If he did, and won, he would become Minnesota’s version of former Washington 
mayor and convicted felon Marion Berry: a political player who went through a 
very public crash-and-burn, followed by a triumphant return to prominence. 
African-Americans are a forgiving group (just ask Bill Clinton), but would 
Minnesotans re-elect a man who so publicly betrayed his community? 

Staten was one of the first African-American recruits for the University of 
Minnesota’s football team in the early 1960s. After a cameo appearance in the 
National Football League, he returned to the Twin Cities and dabbled in 
Republican Party politics. 

Then he found a home in the DFL and in 1980 became the state’s lone 
legislator. Staten used his natural eloquence and visibility to push for 
programs to help his economically challenged district. Along the way, however, 
he made powerful enemies who were waiting to pounce on any misstep. Staten 
was soon tripping up all over the place. He faced criminal charges for 
writing eighty-two hundred dollars’ worth of bad checks to finance a drug 
habit. Then he was accused of filing late and incomplete campaign expense 
reports with the Minnesota Ethical Practices Board. After narrowly dodging 
expulsion, he became the first legislator in state history to be publicly 
censured. He eventually did jail time.

By the late 1980s, Staten found himself, in a phrase, “busted and disgusted.” 
He refused to fade off into oblivion, however, and instead took to heart advice 
from Broadway lyricist Dorothy Fields: “Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. 
And start all over again.” Like other disgraced politicians before him, it 
was religion—more specifically, the black church—that provided a road map 
to redemption for Staten. He eventually became an ordained Baptist minister. 

Since then, Rev. Staten has reconnected with many of the North Siders who 
once shunned him. He is now chairman of the Coalition of Black Churches 
and spokesman for the African American Leadership Summit. He led the successful 
fight to block David Jennings’ permanent appointment as superintendent of 
Minneapolis Public Schools. (Incidentally, Jennings, a former Republican 
speaker of the House, was one of Staten’s chief tormentors during his 
1980s fall from grace.) The major local dailies regularly look to Staten 
for quotes, and even his detractors concede that he is extremely articulate 
and knows how to play a political crowd.

Booker Hodges believes that a run by the sixty-one-year-old Staten for his 
old House seat would be a huge mistake. “Randy’s time has passed,” said Hodges, 
who is a columnist for the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder and a member of the 
rising generation of North Minneapolis political leaders (he recently made an 
unsuccessful run for a seat on the Park Board). “It would open up a lot of 
old wounds. Many of us have not forgotten the shame he brought on our 
We need to bring up some young people—some new blood.” Hodges then went one 
step further. “Randy and the Coalition have follow-up problems, particularly 
on economic issues confronting our community. It’s easy to put up your hands, 
whoop and holler, and sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ What has he done to help the 
brother in the street?”

There is no question that Staten has pulled off a Lazarus-like resurrection. 
Both Don Samuels and Natalie Johnson Lee courted his support in their battle 
for the Fifth Ward City Council seat. Certainly, one could understand why a 
Staten candidacy might appeal to some North Siders, especially those struggling 
to move past criminal convictions and/or overcome their own personal demons. 
However, while the number of those folks may be greater in House District 58B 
than other parts of the Twin Cities, they are still not the norm in that part 
of town. And, more important, they historically do not turn out in great 
numbers to vote. 

Most of Staten’s past and future constituents are job-holding, tax-paying, 
drug-free, law-abiding citizens. Hodges is right—for many of these folks, 
the old wounds run very deep. They might be empathetic to Staten’s midlife 
religious conversion and be impressed with his political savvy, but still 
find it difficult to completely forgive him, or to trust him with one of 
the few reliably African-American seats in the Minnesota Legislature. 
Getting the solid core of 58B to give him another chance is probably a 
political miracle that even the resilient and charismatic Rev. Staten 
would be hard-pressed to pull off.

Posted by Shawn Lewis, Minnetonka

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