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Dziedzic daughter follows Dad’s political advice to victory: ‘Always run like you’re one vote behind’

Kari Dziedzic, following in father Walt’s famous footsteps, won handily Tuesday in her bid for a Senate seat in Minneapolis.

Kari Dziedzic celebrated her primary victory with her father, Walt, in December.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Kari Dziedzic celebrated her primary victory with her father, Walt, in December.

Walt Dziedzic said he had only one piece of advice for his daughter, Kari, when she decided to get into the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Larry Pogemiller.

“I told her, ‘Always run like you’re one vote behind,’ ” the longtime DFL pol told his daughter.

She did.

On Saturday, there was a massive event at the family home in northeast Minneapolis.

Dayton, Kloubuchar lend support
Upward of 150 people crammed into the house for doughnuts, chili cooked by Walt’s kid brother, John, and pep talks. Gov. Mark Dayton was on hand. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was also there.

“There were so many people,” Kari said, “that when Amy came, I was in the kitchen and I couldn’t get to her in the living room. I had to go out the back door and come around through the front.”

After being fed, the crowd started knocking on doors throughout the district. They quit late Saturday afternoon.

Kari, though, kept running as though she was one vote behind, knocking on doors until the polls closed last night.

The result? She won handily over Ben Schwanke, a little-known Republican, with about 79 percent of the vote. Impressive even by Dziedzic standards.

In another special election Tuesday in Minneapolis, Susan Allen became the first female American Indian to win a seat in the Minnesota House, garnering 55 percent of the vote against Nathan Blumenshine, an independent. That election was to fill the seat vacated by Jeffrey Hayden, who earlier had won a special election to fill the Senate seat long held by Linda Berglin.

The two DFL victories do nothing to change the current Republican majorities in the Legislature.

But it does give Minneapolis another Dziedzic in public office.

By Walt’s count, the Dziedzic record in elections, including primaries, now stands at 21-0. He accounted for the first 19 of those, winning election after election to the Minneapolis City Council and, later, to the Minneapolis Park Board.

Somali community unites in support
But none of his races, he said, were as nerve-wracking as his daughter’s races, especially last month’s highly competitive primary. In the end, she managed to defeat Somali immigrant Mohamud Noor (by 300 votes) and a large cast of other familiar candidates.

Noor attended Dziedzic’s victory celebration last night.

Laughing, he said “I’d underestimated Dziedzic [in the primary]. I guess I should have known what I was in for when I was driving one day in Minneapolis and passed Dziedzic Street.”

Noor accepted the loss to Dziedzic in the primary with a grace not commonly seen in politics these days.

He worked the Cedar-Riverside area, with its large Somali population, hard for Dziedzic in the days leading up to election.

DFL candidate Mohamud Noor spoke to supporters on the night of the primary. Afterward, he worked hard for Dziedzic's election.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
DFL candidate Mohamud Noor spoke to supporters on the night of the primary. Afterward, he worked hard for Dziedzic’s election.

Noor said Somalis were deeply disappointed when he was defeated. “We re-energized them” in support of Dziedzic.

A delegation of 10 or so Somalis — both younger folks and elders — showed up at Dziedzic’s celebration.

It was a diverse group at the party held at Elsie’s restaurant and bowling alley, which some residents refer to as the Northeast Minneapolis Health and Wellness Center.

There were the Somalis and a smattering of elected officials, some union people, old-time DFLers, such as former state Sen. Carl Kroening, and, of course, Dziedzics of all ages everywhere — from 5-month-old Liam to 79-year-old Walter.

Walt and Patty Dziedzic had six kids. At those precious times when all were gathered at the dinner table, talk was either of sports, especially hockey, or politics.

“Politics was in our blood,” said Joey, who played hockey for Edison High, the University of Minnesota and the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. “It always felt like we were in one campaign or another.”

For the moment at least, the next generation of Dziedzics seems to be perfectly content letting sister Kari survive the tumult of electoral politics.

“But one of the things you learn,” said Joey, “is that you never say ‘Never.’ “

Stepping into public spotlight
It seems somewhat surprising that of all the Dziedzic, it was Kari who decided to make the jump into the public spotlight of politics.

She has spent most of her adult life in behind-the-scenes political roles. She rode the green bus with Sen. Paul Wellstone and in recent years worked as an aide to County Commissioner Mark Stenglein.

Her one moment of time in the public spotlight was difficult. After accepting a job as an executive assistant to Norm Green, the owner of the Minnesota North Stars in the early 1990s, Dziedzic ending up filing a lawsuit against him. Other women in the North Stars organization support Dziedzic’s claims of inappropriate and demeaning behavior by Green.

At the time, Green said he behaved as he did “because I’m a Canadian.”

But to this day, there are puckheads who blame Dziedzic’s suit for causing Green to move the team.

“It still comes up,” said Dziedzic quietly.

She decided to take the leap into electoral politics when Pogemiller left office to join the Dayton administration as head of the Office of Higher Education.

“I was encouraged by friends to go for it,” she said. “I had some idea of what I’d be in for. You can’t do this halfway.”

Stylistically, she’s different from her father.

He’s big, boisterous and outspoken. Some thought him a political bully, though he’s the most soft-hearted bully you’ll likely ever come across. Talk to Dziedzic about a neglected child, or a child without a playground, and tears show.

She’s much more careful with her words.

Their politics may also differ in some relatively small ways. He was an old-style deal-making politician who pushed for big projects, such as construction of the Metrodome.

She opposes a public subsidy for a Vikings stadium and talks, for now at least, about working “across the aisle.” She seems more comfortable talking about more complex policy issues than big-picture stuff.

But in a couple of key ways, father and daughter are alike.

They know every street and alley and detour of their political territories. And they run as if they’re always one vote behind.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.