Vikings stadium lives up to ‘loser issue’ legacy

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free stadium.

It took 20 years to build a new stadium for the Vikings, and I’ve been saying for almost as long that it was a “loser” issue. By that, I meant, it is best to be on the losing side.

Oppose the stadium successfully, the Vikings would have left, and those opposed would have paid the price. A state

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

bribe of more than $1 billion would have been required to get another NFL team so we could restore our civic pride and again call ourselves “major league.”

Succumb to the extortion, spend a half billion in taxpayer dollars to build them a new playground, and whoever basks in the glory will be forever tarnished.

So it was that Thursday, Michele Kelm-Helgen and Ted Mondale, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority (MSFA) and CEO of the MSFA respectively, both fell on their swords.

The reason? The two appointees of Gov. Dayton didn’t see the danger in inviting their DFL pals, cronies and family members to attend games and other events in one of the swank stadium suites. When called out, they threw out the lame excuse that the suites were being used for marketing purposes, which somehow didn’t match up with the kind of folks they invited. When asked to provide the names of those being “marketed” they first tried to stonewall.

Meanwhile, their pals hastily wrote checks for a fraction of the value they had just received.

We’ve just come off an election in which the Democrats’ heir-apparent candidate, Hillary Clinton, was defeated by a political novice. Why? I’d suggest that the primary reason was that many Americans saw Hillary as being the insider candidate, the one who would keep the fingers greased for all the lobbyists and special interests in Washington.

I’ve been saying for almost as long as the Vikings have been looking for a new stadium that the Democrats lost their way when they changed the menu at their fundraisers from beer and beans to wine and brie. When a New York billionaire is seen to be the champion of the common man, you know you have a branding problem.

Kelm-Helgen and Mondale come from multi-generational political families who remember the bean feeds. Kelm-Helgen’s grandfather, Elmer Kelm, managed Hubert Humphrey’s first Minneapolis mayoral campaign in the 1940s and was state Democratic chair when the party merged with the Farmer Labor Party.

Her dad, Tom Kelm, was largely considered to be a political mastermind in the 1970s, the DFL statehouse version at that time of what Karl Rove was under President George W. Bush. Tom Kelm was chief of staff for Gov. Wendell Anderson and then went to Washington with him when Anderson became a U.S. senator.

Ted Mondale’s dad, of course, is former Vice President Walter Mondale.

In short, one would think they would have known better.

It should be noted, however, that the problem extends far beyond Minnesota’s borders. If it weren’t for all the congressmen and bureaucrats being enticed with Redskin tickets from lobbyists, the NFL would have left the nation’s capital years ago.

But back to the current political climate, if one message should have been delivered to government officials, both appointed and elected, by the voters in the last election, it should have been that if you are using your public position to give or garner special privileges to or from people who are already privileged, it will come back to bite you.

Had they given the seats to underprivileged kids from North Minneapolis, the Little Falls Boys and Girls Club, or kids at the Ronald McDonald House, nobody would have said a thing.

Republicans at the Legislature have been having a lot of fun with this issue. Many have wondered how the duties of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale differed. Why does the stadium need two CEOs?

A bill would expand the MSFA Board from five to seven members with the governor appointing one member, the mayor of Minneapolis appointing one member, legislative leaders appointing four members and the Legislative Auditor would appoint one in an ex-officio capacity. The Board could appoint only one CEO.

It also would require that the suites could be used only for marketing purposes arranged by the Authority’s marketing vendor, and that individual board members could only use the suites twice per year — and only if they pay the full price.

Personally, if they didn’t have a marketing effort, I’d rather see the MSFA CEO standing on a street corner scalping the tickets in order to help lower the taxpayers’ $495 million bill. The 2018 Super Bowl alone would be good for a million.

My suggestion to Republican legislators, however, is that they need to proceed with caution. After all, the stadium is a loser issue and always will be. It’s going to be the gift that keeps on giving for scandal mongers.

And the Republicans ought not forget as well, that they now have a political neophyte in the White House. The last couple of times they had a similar situation, under Ulysses S. Grant and Warren Harding, corruption was rampant.

The suggestion here to both DFLers and Republicans is to make sure you’re in government for all the right reasons — and none of them are personal.


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  • newpolitiq7

    Spot on — here’s one taxpayer singing “Amen”. The only small thing missing from above piece is the idea found here:

    “Even as the legislative auditor criticized handling of stadium suites owned by the public, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, introduced a bill concerning privately owned suites. Lesch proposed banning public officials from visiting privately owned suites at publicly funded stadiums, even if they pay for the ticket.

    He pitched it as a question of ethics, because ordinary Minnesotans seldom get invitations to exclusive suites. It also had a political overlay, since Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt visited a suite owned by Taylor Corporation at a Vikings game last year. Taylor is owned by Glen Taylor, a local billionaire who owns the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team and the Star Tribune, among other businesses. Daudt and aide Ben Golnik paid $176 each for their tickets.”

    When I worked for a senior executive at Pillsbury in the 90’s, I was invited, along with my spouse, to attend Viking’s games in the Pillsbury suite. It wasn’t unusual at all to host legislators then, either. Greasing the palms of those who could make the “business climate” more favorable for the Doughboy to rise.

  • J. SKI

    The only “losers” are the taxpayers that have to pay for a stadium that they will never be able to use…they can’t afford the tickets.

    Those who “abuse” their position of authority, as Michele Kelm-Helgen and Ted Mondale did in this case, should have been fired before they were allowed to resign. Those people, as well as the rest of the MSFA, command larger saleries and could have afforded to pay for the tickets and ammenities of their friends and family members who received them. These were Democrats, those who have a history of spending taxpayers’ money on “wants” instead of “needs”.

    “the problem extends far beyond Minnesota’s borders”…corruption doesn’t just apply to “big business”…it’s rampant at the local level, as well. When you have people in charge, at the local level, who spend taxpayer money on “ammenities” for their own neighborhood and not used for the benefit of the city as a whole, is corruption.

    “The suggestion here to both DFLers and Republicans is to make sure you’re in government for all the right reasons — and none of them are personal.” Apparently, Tom, who is in charge of the local newpaper, isn’t willing to report about the corruption at the local level…maybe it’s because he lives in the same neighborhood where the “ammenities” are being constructed.

    The city of Little Falls has been corrupt for more than a decade, including the current administration. It’s up to the voters to remove them from office, or allow the corruption to continue.