Mayor Randy Kelly’s Major Snafu

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly called a press conference yesterday for what was billed as a "major" announcement about the state of the mayoral race. Turns out, it was just a way to get footage for a campaign television commercial, with the press corps as unwitting props.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t go over too well with the media and it shows in their coverage of the announcement.

Ostensibly, the "news" to come out of the announcement was that Kelly feels your pain over his endorsement of President George Bush. But that only works if you are not the person who caused the pain the first place or if you apologize for inflicting the pain. Kelly did not.

The press corps absolutely nailed Kelly for dragging them out under false pretenses. The Star Tribune teased their coverage at the top of the front page with "St. Paul Mayor Asks Voters To Consider Record, Not Bush Endorsement." That’s mild enough. But on the front page of the Metro section, an above-the-fold sidebar story is entitled "His Party? Kelly says it remains Democrat." The opening paragraph tells readers that Kelly’s "major address on the mayor’s race" was not that at all. The story quotes Chris Coleman spokesman Bob Hume calling the Kelly campaign "desperate." Reporter Jackie Crosby pointed out that freelance videographers recorded the event and quoted Kelly saying that they were not filming a campaign commercial.

Doug Grow weighed in with a scathing column, calling it "the most remarkable/ironic/desperate speech of his political career." Grow honed in on the stagecraft of the event–a handler finding a Hmong person to put onstage, Kelly’s makeup.

The Pioneer Press teased at the top of the front page: "Kelly asks voters to set aside controversy over Bush endorsement." The headline at the top of the Local section read "Kelly: ‘Don’t vote angry.’" Reporter Tim Nelson waits till the third graph to point out that Kelly’s so-called major announcement "didn’t include any new initiatives or any expression of contrition for the endorsement last August." Nelson, too, points out the presence of videographers and notes that Kelly said they were not filming a campaign commercial.

Nelson’s story jumps inside to 3B and above it is a story entitled "Coleman offers University Ave. plan." What contrast! Kelly stages a campaign commercial while Coleman is offering plans for St. Paul.

The PiPress‘ website features the text of Kelly’s speech [PDF] and video from the event.

Most damning, though, is KSTP TV’s coverage. They frame the story at the outset with anchor Joe Schmit saying "St. Paul’s Mayor said he had a major announcement to make about his reelection campaign but there’s some question about the term ‘major’" and tossed it to political reporter Tom Hauser.

The visuals were overpowering. Hauser’s report included a clip of Kelly and George Bush embracing during a campaign event. The KSTP team filmed the videographers recording the event and Hauser pointed this out in his report. And finally, they filmed Kelly denying his campaign was filming a television commercial. Kelly just looked scared in the clip.

Kelly’s press conference puts the lie to his dismissal of the primary showing as the result of hard-core, die-hard partisan DFLers pissed off at his endorsement of Bush. Clearly, Kelly knows that resentment is more widespread.

I know plenty of moderate, pro-business St. Paul Democrats who are singularly pissed off at Kelly for his endorsement of the president. These are people who voted for him the first time and would’ve been perfectly happy voting for him again. But for the Bush thing is enough for them to either vote against Kelly or just stay home. Unfortunately for Kelly, they have a great alternative to vote for in Chris Coleman, a moderate, pro-business Democrat like themselves.

I even know of moderate Republicans in St. Paul who are supporting Coleman because of Kelly’s endorsement of Bush.

That’s why this "press conference" was truly a desperate act and Kelly’s real problem is that he cannot renounce Bush without looking even more desperate.