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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 Minnesotas 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
Minnesotas 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 states 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 religionmore specifically, the black churchthat 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 Statens 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. Randys 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 peoplesome new blood. Hodges then went one
step further. Randy and the Coalition have follow-up problems, particularly
on economic issues confronting our community. Its 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 Statens past and future constituents are job-holding, tax-paying,
drug-free, law-abiding citizens. Hodges is rightfor many of these folks,
the old wounds run very deep. They might be empathetic to Statens 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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