Minneapolis-Saint Paul is the last place on earth I would have expected a “structurally deficient bridge” to collapse, but it happened. As sure as the levees broke in New Orleans, the bridge is no more. Now the state of Minnesota is living a nightmare where people I speak with are alternately devastated and furious: two parts tears, one part rage, with the ratio shifting by the hour.
I went to college in the Twin Cities, a refugee from the scowling confines of New Yawk. Minnesota was like another planet, a place I almost bolted after the first day when I was carded for trying to buy a lighter. But the people easily won me over.
How could you not love a place that gave us Prince, Hulk Hogan, and cheese curds? The combination of fried dairy products, pro wrestling, and funk was just too much to resist. It’s the kind of place where my buddy John would choose to relocate and raise a family despite having roots in La Jolla, California. La Jolla is breathtaking: an oil painting come to life. But Minneapolis-St. Paul has something far more precious than sand and surf. The people of the Twin Cities always seem to have one eye on the greater good. It’s a place where Democrats proudly call themselves the ‘Democratic Farmer Labor Party’, where Republicans go by the name ‘Independent Republicans’, and where a coffee shop calls itself ‘Dunne Brothers’, in tribute to the leaders of the 1934 strike that shut down the city.
It was also a place, with its social democratic traditions, that constantly frustrated the ambitions of a man named Carl Pohlad. Pohlad is the 92-year-old multi-billionaire owner of the Minnesota Twins. He has spent the last two decades of his life trying to get the taxpayers of his home state to give him 500 million dollars for a state of the art mega dome. The people in numerous referendums were polite and firm that the Pohlad way was not the Minnesota way. But Pohlad would not be deterred.
As Rudolph Giuliani once said, the problem with stadium referendums is that people won’t vote for them. Pohlad took the Giuliani gospel to heart. He slunk behind the scenes, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians in both parties – eventually making a mockery of the Labor label on the Democrats and the Independence of the Republicans.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has vetoed every effort to raise taxes to refurbish the state’s infrastructure, became a born-again stadium supporter. Others as well “got religion” and began to worship at the altar of “revenue streams,” “naming rights,” and “luxury boxes.”
As the Minnesota City Pages put it, “After a long string of public relations disasters that have entrenched his reputation as a miserly, something-for-nothing businessman, Carl Pohlad – the richest owner in major league baseball – has finally learned his political lesson. This time all the hardball haggling occurred behind closed doors.”
Groundbreaking for the Pohlad’s monument to corporate greed and political graft was supposed to be on Thursday, August 2nd, but the plans were hastily scuttled. The irony was simply too much for even these assorted scoundrels to bear. To celebrate the fleecing of the public to the tune of half a billion dollars – over 300 dollars out of the pockets of every man woman and child – while bodies have still yet to be recovered from the fallen bridge, would have been monstrous.
But this monster is already long loose and rampaging the countryside. It’s difficult to not recall Hurricane Katrina and the way the Superdome became the homeless shelter from hell for 30,000 of the city’s poorest residents. The Superdome, also funded by the public dime, became completely unfit for humanity in a few short hours. At the time, many – particularly in the Northern liberal media – cluck clucked at New Orleans and their “priorities.”
But even in Minnesota, the Pohlad Dome has been given more thought, planning, and consideration than the very bridges families assume will remain upright. Even in Minnesota, as Nick Coleman of the Star Tribune wrote, “Both political parties have tried to govern on the cheap, and both have dithered and dallied and spent public wealth on stadiums while scrimping on the basics.”
Even in Minnesota. That might be the most frightening epitaph of all. Even in Minnesota the Dome came first and the people last. Every community needs to take this to heart and tell politicians we will no longer worship false idols. It’s time to tear down the Domes.
DAVE ZIRIN is the author of the new book “Welcome to the Terrordome:” with an intro by Chuck D (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to http://zirin.com/edgeofsports/. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.