In a city with a $17 million budget deficit, a $20,000 expense usually doesn’t inspire chatter. But St. Paul City Hall denizens are buzzing about Mayor Chris Coleman‘s hire of stemwinding radio talker and lawyer to the local demi-stars Ron Rosenbaum.
Coleman communications director Bob Hume confirms the deal, saying Rosenbaum was hired on a six-month contract (expiring at year’s end) to train mayoral staff in the media’s folkways. Coleman’s crew is staring down the barrel of next year’s GOP convention and Hume paints the expenditure as an investment in p.r. and governance. “The city is facing big issues right now, and next year we’ll be in the international spotlight, and the ability to articulate the city’s story will be very important,” he says. “The story of our city is what attracts people to us.”
Chatterers contend that top-notch services are a bigger lure. The caterwauling goes something like: “They’re hiring a freelance flack when they’re cutting (insert threatened city program here)” or “raising my property taxes.” What gives the knock some ballast is that since Coleman supplanted Randy Kelly, the city has also added communications people for libraries and Planning and Economic Development. Critics theorize that Coleman is bulking up on spin doctors to help him surgically remove the governorship from Republican hands. Hume counters that St. Paul has relatively few communications people (“Minneapolis has a whole department; St. Paul has me”) and this is just another Randy-and-Norm-Coleman underinvestment to be remedied.
Coleman and Rosenbaum have known each other for years, and briefly worked together in decades past. Hume says the mayor’s office “probably” approached Rosenbaum. “Ron brings a lot of institutional knowledge, and effective strategy and tactics, from everything getting messages out to creating new and beneficial relationships,” Hume says. “As an on-air personality, he has a lot of perspective.”
The voluble Rosenbaum — beloved in media circles for his bluntness, expertise and ability to get some of them more cash (he’s a legal advisor/agent to personalities like Dan Barreiro) — was uncharacteristically reticent, deferring to his paying client. While he has done media training for individuals and companies, he says he has never worked for a politician or government. It’s somewhat odd that his contract runs out nine months before the RNC circus hits town (though Hume says the expense could reoccur in ’08) and that Rosenbaum is a local guy when the media flood is overwhelmingly national. Those two facts make the deal look like it’s more about calming local waters, with any national effect a nice bonus.