With the help of Facebook, DFL activists try to draft a new star

Politics is full of sports metaphors, so in that spirit, I want to tell you about the many young DFLers who are attempting to “draft” St. Paul City Attorney John Choi. He’s not a Brett Favre coming out of retirement; he’s a top prospect for a big career as an elected official.

They want to move him from the farm team of activists and operatives to elected official as the new Ramsey County attorney in 2010. The seat is currently held by Susan Gaertner, who is stepping down after four terms to run in the DFL race for governor.  

Choi is what some would call a solid utility player who has been highly involved in DFL politics for the past 15 years: first as a recent law school grad and, later, as the youngest partner ever at the law firm Kennedy and Graven, where he represented cities and companies as an attorney and lobbyist.

That made Choi a solid outsider’s choice for city attorney in Mayor Chris Coleman’s administration. 

Coleman persuaded Choi to take a salary cut to play for St. Paul’s team. It also says something about the two men and their relationship that Choi originally supported one of the other DFL mayoral contenders, Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega.  In the end, Coleman saw and appreciated Choi’s leadership and experience and set aside any political issues.

<strong>John Choi</strong>
John Choi

Now, via Facebook, supporters of Choi are promoting Run CHOI Run!, a group that has attracted hundreds of supporters in an effort to persuade him to enter the contest.

 The tactic offers an intriguing measure of how rapidly social media can change political dynamics even in less-visible races. Choi’s group already has surpassed the support level of that of one opponent who is officially in the race.

Choi says he’s thinking about a possible candidacy but is focused at this time on his job and his young family at home.

That may be because Choi continues to have a full plate as city attorney, in addition to the legal proceedings involving  the “protesters” at last year’s Republican National Convention. He also is leading a national coalition of city attorneys working to find solutions to the foreclosure crisis and the increasing number of abandoned properties that many cities like St. Paul have to deal with.

And I suspect that Choi, as a mild-mannered partisan, had fun negotiating with the bigwig RNC attorneys when the city cut a great deal to host the Republican convention. 

Some political opponents already may be salivating over the prospect of linking Choi to the negative fallout in some quarters over the handling of protesters at the convention, and some may see possibilities in exploring Choi’s past life as a lobbyist. But they ought to consider, too, that he also represented advocates of preventing domestic violence, as well as Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, a gun-control advocacy group. 

That’s the type of outside experience the DFL can use in promoting their candidate in what could be a high-profile race for the state’s second-largest counties prosecutor. 

Choi, however, isn’t likely to be alone in the race for county attorney.

In fact, another DFL activist, Dave Pinto, already is running, and others are surely thinking about it.

But it is Choi who has gained the attention of political watchers, partly because he has never been perceived as ambitious or power-hungry. He’s just a hard-working utility-man, a refreshing idea in politics today.

In sports terms, Choi seems like a lottery pick. If he opts for the draft, the odds of him becoming an All-Star look very good.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/08/2009 - 10:46 am.

    Choi? The same St. Paul city attorney who drafted that daft backdoor gun registration bill that Heather Martens of Citizens for a “Safer” Minnesota has been flogging ever since, and that Representative Paymar is trying to get in as a floor amendment today?

    I mean, well, like, wow.

  2. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 05/08/2009 - 11:40 am.

    St Paul attorney John Choi is tainted by the same stain as Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner, who he hopes to replace. They both demonstrate a remarkable lack of judgment is taking Ramsey County sheriff Bob Fletcher’s paranoid ravings as if they were actual legal evidence.

    Of the two, Gaertner deserves the greater scorn for her support of Fletcher’s lawlessness during the RNC. Not only has Gaertner continued prosecution of phony cases that clearly have no merit, she has failed to prosecute multiple felonies by anonymous black-clad police officers, many of which have come out in official videotapes that police has hoped to use in the prosecution of protesters. Yet not one charge has been brought against those officers who assaulted, falsely arrested, made false sworn statements or illegally searched the innocent.

    Choi, since he prosecutes only misdemeanors, has little to do with felonies committed by police officers. But, like Gaertner, Choi has given blanket, frequent and specific approval for police actions during the RNC, despite massive evidence of police wrongdoing and illegal repression. Neither John Choi nor Susan Gaertner deserve to prosecute crimes or misdemeanors, since both obviously believe that the police are above the law.

  3. Submitted by Andy Pieper on 05/08/2009 - 12:10 pm.

    It should also be noted that Dave Pinto is more than just “another DFL activist.” He’s a domestic violence prosecutor in the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office with significant past legal experience representing large businesses and nonprofits, in addition to his volunteer service with local and statewide organizations.

  4. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/08/2009 - 12:36 pm.

    Sheesh. When Charley and I both think the guy is excess ballast, you might want to think about using him as a boat anchor, rather than a balloon.

    On a very, very serious note: when there is credible evidence (you know, like the videos?) of men in disguises committing violence upon persons without a darned good and lawful reason, it’s the job of the County Attorney to try real, real hard to see if there’s a way to put those masked men in jail for felonies, and the City Attorney to handle the misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.

    And not with the cry of, to be gentle, Jimmy Durante when caught trying to steal the elephant: “What elephant?”

  5. Submitted by Tom Weyandt on 05/08/2009 - 01:07 pm.

    Well if John Choi can get blasted from both the far left and the far right some must begin to think that the guy is doing something right.

    The continued rap about not dealing with claims of rogue cops is way misplaced. The City Attorney has no real authority to deal with any claimed felonies. The folks who are beating this weak drum need to whine to someone higher up – but oh, that won’t work either because all of the government is part of the great conspiracy to stifle the protestors. John Choi’s office handled all of the cases with professionlism, efficiency, and met their responsiblity to uphold the law. Cases without merit were disposed of with minimal impact on those involved and as quickly as possible given staffing levels.

    As for the far right’s jabs, off the mark and as ineffective as as a couple of third graders in the schoolyard – and about as intelligent as you’d find from a third grader.

    Anyone with a mind that was at least semi-open would see that John Choi makes a great candidate and would be a benefit to the entire population of Ramsey County if he were to assume the post of County Attorney.

  6. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/08/2009 - 01:58 pm.

    Nice try. Nope; the City Attorney has no authority to prosecute felonies — just misdemeanor and gross misdemeanors. Look it up.

    It won’t take very long to look up the misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors that Choi has prosecuted committed by at least several guys in the Imperial Stormtrooper suits (I don’t make this stuff up, you know) during the RNC; he didn’t charge one.

    Heckuva job, Choi.

    (And Tom? Do try to pay attention; I’m not on the far right. I’m on the far center. Pinky swear.)

  7. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/08/2009 - 03:26 pm.

    “Thirty-four charges, 10 people, one conviction.

    The first trial to yield a guilty verdict in connection with Republican National Convention-related activities ended Friday when a six-member jury in Ramsey County District Court convicted Sean P. McCoy of public assembly without a permit. The charge is a misdemeanor.

    District Judge Edward Wilson fined him $50.

    * * *

    McCoy said he was working as a street medic on Sept. 1, the first day of the convention, when he was arrested. He said he handed out water and sunscreen and helped move a protester in the wheelchair away from police after the protester had been sprayed with a chemical irritant.”


    “After hearing the evidence, Ramsey County Judge Michael Fetsch ruled that no reasonable jury would convict the defendants even if they believed the prosecution’s evidence.

    He issued a directed verdict, which means the jury seated for the case did not get to rule on the evidence and prosecutors cannot re-file the charges.

    Defense attorney Jordan Kushner of the National Lawyers Guild said in a prepared statement that the case “showcased how police had no basis for the vast majority of arrests made during the RNC.”

    * * *

    Still, Choi said he wished a jury would have been allowed to hear the case. “I believe we could have gotten a conviction in this case,” he said.


  8. Submitted by Tom Weyandt on 05/08/2009 - 03:59 pm.

    Gee, I went to the page and I read John’s quote as indicating that the directed verdict appeared to be based on an inability to ID the defendants, which seems to be a bit different than infering that the charges were invalid, baseless or brought in bad faith.

    But why do I try to inject truth or reality into this debate on the RNC when it really has so little to do with whether John would make a good Ramsey County Attorney. More to the point of this piece – that the use of Facebook is a unique and creative way for a political campaign to get started.

  9. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/08/2009 - 10:00 pm.

    Well Tom, I just quoted a couple of articles. The only “inference” that the charges were invalid, baseless or brought in bad faith was made by the judge.

  10. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/09/2009 - 10:36 am.

    My top reason for hating politics, “career as an elected official”

Leave a Reply