Who is Keith Ellison? (16)

Keith Ellison is the endorsed Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s solidly Democratic Fifth District (Minneapolis). Ellison’s local leadership of the Nation of Islam, his defense of the “truth” of an attack on Minneapolis Jews as “the most racist white people,” his affiliation with convicted murderer and Vice Lords gang leader Sharif Willis, his support of the Vice Lords gangbangers charged (and subsequently convicted) with the murder of Minneapolis police officer Jerry Haaf, his outrageous attacks on law enforcement authorities, his demand that Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist Sara Jane Olson be freed, his concern for the continuing freedom of convicted cop-killer Assata Shakur on the lam in Havana — not one of these elements of Ellison’s public record has seen the light of day in the local media.

Today, however, the local media have run with the story that Ellison has numerous unpaid traffic tickets resulting in suspensions of his driver’s license. Ellison’s defense? He’s a lawyer, he’s in a hurry, and he has had to help himself to parking at the courthouse. As is the case with any slightly difficult question he is asked, Ellison’s answer leaves a gaping hole or two. Is he in too much of a hurry to pay the tickets?

Minnesota Democrats Exposed has been all over this story. The story was broken in the local media by KSTP News. The Star Tribune covers the story this morning in a story by Dane Smith that summarily refers to issues raised regarding Ellison’s public record. As to the story at hand, Smith never does get around to asking Ellison why he didn’t pay the tickets. Smith seems to be working hard to equate other candidates’ vehicular infractions with Ellison’s highanded treatment of tickets:

Parking tickets and driving records suddenly have become an issue in the race for the open seat in the Fifth Congressional District.

State Rep. Keith Ellison, a leading DFL candidate in the Minneapolis-based district, acknowledged Thursday that he recently had a suspended driver’s license for nonpayment of parking tickets, an infraction that is drawing attention on political blog sites.

One of his DFL rivals, Mike Erlandson, also has kept traffic cops busy, with seven moving violations — including five speeding tickets — since 2000, and the Republican candidate, Alan Fine, has had four moving violations, three of them for speeding.

State records also show that Ellison has received nine traffic tickets for moving violations since January of 2000.

He got five for speeding, one for following too closely, one for failing to obey a sign, one for not having a driver’s license with him, and one for not having proof of insurance.

“I don’t have any DWIs [driving while intoxicated convictions], I don’t have any accidents. I just need to slow down a little bit, and I’m working on that,” he said, adding that all his parking tickets have been paid and his license was reinstated this week. He said he didn’t know how many outstanding tickets caused the suspension or how much was owed.

Ellison acknowledged previous suspensions but said, “I don’t know how many prior suspensions I’ve had. I don’t keep count. … At the end of the day, my thought is that this congressional district has a lot of problems, and we have to focus on those problems.”

Ellison has honored the suspension and “has not driven at all” during the last month, campaign manager Dave Colling said. Like most candidates for higher office, Ellison has a driver for transportation to campaign events.

Reports about the suspension appeared Thursday on two political websites, minnesota democratsexposed.com, authored by a former Republican Party operative, Michael Brodkorb, and checksandbalances.com, run by former DFL activist Shawn Towle.

Ellison chided the news media for its interest in his driving record. “I couldn’t get a hearing in the Legislature on why a boy died from lead poisoning, and the media didn’t write a thing about it,” Ellison said.

Challengers’ records

Ellison has the endorsement of the DFL Party, a crucial advantage in the DFL-dominated, heavily urban district. Endorsed candidates in safe districts usually win the primary and general elections.

But as a Muslim who has been an outspoken advocate for the black community on racial issues, Ellison has taken heavy fire from critics on several fronts since his endorsement.

Much of the criticism has centered on Ellison’s former association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He also has acknowledged that he ran into tax trouble several years ago when starting his law firm and had to pay $25,000 in back taxes and penalties.

Ellison’s DFL opponents, former party chair Erlandson and former state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, responded carefully to the latest disclosures.

Erlandson said he had no comment on the suspension and emphasized that he is running a positive campaign and is not “digging up this stuff” on opponents.

Erlandson has had seven moving violations since 2000, including five speeding tickets, records show. “What’s important is that if somebody is stopped for a moving violation that they handle the situation appropriately and pay their tickets on time,” Erlandson said.

Erlandson also acknowledged that he was stopped in 1984, when he was a college freshman, given a Breathalyzer test for alcohol, and was ordered not to drive any farther. But he says he was not cited for driving while intoxicated and has never had his license suspended.

Junge said the Ellison record underscores the contention of some DFLers that there was not enough time — about seven weeks this spring — to thoroughly examine the candidates between the announced retirement of veteran incumbent Rep. Martin Sabo and the endorsement.

“I said on the first day of this race that seven weeks for endorsement was not enough to vet the candidates,” said Junge, who has one speeding ticket on her record since 2000.

Ellison’s Republican-endorsed opponent, Fine, a business consultant, said that as minor as the infractions might be, Ellison should have set a better example. Fine has four moving violations since 2000, three for speeding, and one for failure to obey a sign.

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