Saturday, April 29, 2006


Interview with Gail Dorfman

Widely considered one of the front-runners to succeed Martin Sabo in Congress, Gail Dorfman currently serves as a Hennepin County Commissioner, having previously served as Mayor of St. Louis Park, SLP City Council, and on Capitol Hill in Washington for some politicians close to my ancestral heart. More on that later, I suppose. Ms. Dorfman's bio can be read here. We talked on Friday about the myriad issues facing Minnesota and America right now, and what she would do to solve them - and how.


MNCR: So - what does a Hennepin County Commissioner do?

G. Dorfman: The Hennepic County Commission has an annual budget of 1.7 billion, second only to the state. We're involved in a host of issues that make a difference to quality of life - hospital and health care systems, social services for the most vulnerable among us - immigrants, mental health sufferers - we take care of all of those issues. We run the suburban library system, do a fair amount with transportation, we're one of the primary funders and instigators of light rail, and continue to work on improving the transportation system in and around Minneapolis.

People generally don't know much about this level of government except for when we confront contentious issues, but we have a big impact on the communities we work for.

MNCR: What do you consider your greatest acheivement in your role as Commissioner?

G. Dorfman: I took on the issue of homelessness on my first day in the Hennepin County Commission. In the past we've done a pretty god job managing homelessness through shelters and other mechanisms, but I've been determined to change that paradigm from managing homelessness to ending homelessness. We've made significant progress toward that end - we've build three thousand units of affordable housing, reduced family homelessness by 65%, and we're now working to end homelessness for teens and single adults. We've been creative about it, and we've become a national model to the extent that three weeks ago, I was invited to testify before the Senate Banking Committee - they wanted to know more about our ideas and programs so they could be implemented across the country.

I love to think outside the box and work with the community to get things done. A great example of this was the start of Excelsior and Grand in St. Louis Park while I was Mayor.

[Instead of imposing a design and requirements from the top down, the City Council let the community determine what they wanted in the development, and the council stuck to it, even firing their first hired developer who concluded that the community's ideas weren't feasible. Really a fantastic story all around -- MNCR]

MNCR: If elected to Congress in such a safe Democratic seat, will you be more of a progressive crusader or will you reach across the aisle to get things accomplished?

G. Dorfman: I can do both - a majority of my board are Republicans, and I've learned how to cross the aisle and talk with my most conservative colleagues to get things done. To go back to the homelessness issue, I've worked with conservative board members and demonstrated that it costs less money in the long term to end homelessness than it does to manage it, they've agreed, and we've done great things together. This is a safe seat [CD5], there's no excuse to go to Washington and play it safe. The problem in Washington is that it's become very mean-spirited and polarized. I've found when I talk to people that tey have the same values I have - my community, my kids, their schools - we have different ideas how to get there, but once we realize that common bond, then we can work on how to get there. The only problem is how you talk about these things with people who may have a different political bent. But I'm tired of just studying problems, I want to figure out ways to fix those problems.

MNCR: What's your position on Iraq?

G. Dorfman: I support Congressman John Murtha's plan for getting our troops out of harm's way, but I want to stop investing in a military-only strategy. We need to shift money to economic aid and humanitarian aid with a civilian face, not just a military one. All we're doing with our current policies is breeding hatred for America around the world, creating breeding grounds for terrorists. If we start putting more money and effort into foreign and humanitarian aid, we'll restore our position in the world, make the world safer, and stop losing lives needlessly.

MNCR: What was your reaction when you first heard Martin Sabo was retiring?

G. Dorfman: I was surprised, because I had very recently talked with him about budget issues. None of us had an inkling that this was coming. Initially I worried that he might be ill, but I was relieved when it turned out he's fine. He's served us so well for so long - he's entitled to go out on his own terms.

MNCR: What's your position on the Twins Stadium issue?

G. Dorfman: At least since 2002, I've been strongly opposed to this public funding. I'm also the only member of the board with season tickets to the's not that I don't want baseball here, I do - but this this funding package is 80% public, 20% private, and there's no way to justify that when we have other priorities.

MNCR: Back to Washington DC - how does Gail Dorfman change the culture of contentiousness there?

G. Dorfman: When I worked on Capitol Hill, there was a different spirit of collegiality there, more of an effort to walk across the aisle and solve problems together. I'm not going to throw my hands up and say "that's impossible now!" I strongly believe that a lot of being successful is building relationships. It's the best way to get results to improve the community. I'll be clear about my progressive values, but I'll work across lines to get things done. You can be tenacious as a pitbull and still work that way.

MNCR: Who/What's your favorite:
Ice cream flavor: Mint chocolate chip
Baseball player: I love the Twins, but I grew up a huge Cincinatti Reds fan - Joe Morgan.
Local Political Figure: Paul Wellstone was a great progressive voice who has been missed. I kep hearing over and over again from delegates, "boy, we miss Paul."
National Political Figure: In Junior High, the first campaign I worked on was for Bobby Kennedy. I loved how his politics evolved over time into just a deep compassion for people who were struggling and to give them hope for the future.
Blogs: I don't read them so much, but my kids do and occasionally I look over their shoulders - they're using these codewords and I have to try to figure out exactly what they're saying. They finally told me that "MOS" means "Mother Over Shoulder".....

MNCR: You received the endorsement of Stonewall DFL recently - how do GLBT issues figure into your campaign?

G. Dorfman: They're personal issues to me, and they became more personal when my son came out. From day one I've been working on these issues on the HCC. I found out from GLBT kids in foster care that their foster parents weren't dealing with the fact that they were GLBT very well. We found we needed to do some training with foster parents on how to respond to GLBT kids when they entered the home, and we also provided information to GLBT teens beforehand so they understood their rights and the resources they could use. We've been trying to get full domestic partner benefits - we still have a ways to go, and I'm continuing to work on those issues. When our son came out, it became very clear on a personal level that he should have the same rights, including the right to marry, and I feel very strongly about that.

MNCR: It's a powerful issue all around. Any closing thoughts?

G. Dorfman: I think that the overall theme for me in this campaign is that we have to stop fighting this war in Iraq so we can start fighting for what matters here at home. That's the central message, and that's why I'm running for Congress.

MNCR: That's all I have for now - Thank you for your time, and best of luck!

G. Dorfman: Thanks so much!

Blogger said:
You are opposded to the war support a staium without a referendum and you are a tax happy liberial go figure you would fit right in. Washington does not have enough people that only care about what government can do for people.

Yes she will get out of the black whole of Governemnt and leave us for ever!
Blogger MN Campaign Report said:
I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean, but your grammar is atrocious.
Blogger ellenweber said:
Change and suggestions for change are rarely ever received well at first. And at times people attack a change agent. Yet, as you show good insights for change -- we can all learn from these, and that might make improvements over time. Thanks for your insights...
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