For Samuelson and Minnesota ACLU: best of times, worst of times

The announced retirement earlier this month of Charles Samuelson as executive director of the Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) couldn’t come, in Dickensian terms, at a worse — or better — time.

The timing, effective at the end of February, is bad because it’s always problematic when a successful leader leaves an organization, and Samuelson has been remarkably so. Operating out of a small office in the Midway area of St. Paul, he has immeasurably helped the ACLU put its house in order, financially, legally, and otherwise, during his 20 years at the helm of the nonprofit advocacy group.

But it’s a good time to depart as the ACLU is experiencing a surge in membership, more than doubling since the November election, coupled with, in Trumpian terminology, a huge  increase in fund-raising, emulating trends that are occurring with its counterparts around the country. These developments are in response to the alarming remarks, tweets, and actions of President Donald Trump and his acolytes that are threatening the nation’s constitutional fabric and civil liberties in so many different ways.

Samuelson and the organization he has headed since 1998 have been in the vanguard of promoting, preserving, and protecting these rights for all Americans. The ACLU undoubtedly will continue to be in the forefront of the struggle for civil liberties, even after Samuelson steps aside, due to the  high quality of the staff, board members and volunteers he has helped recruit and the formidable framework he has helped establish for an organization that was floundering when he took over and is now flourishing.

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