Al Franken is the former comedy writer now seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman in November. He wants the job so badly that he moved from New York to Minneapolis to run for it. In June 2005 I took a look at Franken’s introduction of himself to Minnesota Democrats in “Saturday Night Live with Al Franken.” As a comedy writer, Franken hasn’t been funny since the expiration of the Al Franken decade in 1990. I nevertheless thought, based on the June 2005 event, that Franken was a plausible if problematic senatorial candidate.
Today Minneapolis Star Tribune gossip columnist C.J. reports an incident involving Franken on the campaign trail. The incident reveals him frankly to be a jerk:
Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Al Franken didn’t exactly leave ’em laughing in Northfield.
Earlier this month Franken was at Carleton College, where the late Sen. Paul Wellstone was a professor, for a student rally related to a special election in the state Senate District 25. After the rally in the great space of Sayles-Hill some students crowded around to take photos with the “Saturday Night Live” alum, author, satirist and celebrity.
Franken’s spokesman Andy Barr said via e-mail Tuesday that Al “remembers having a spirited convo w/ College GOPer at the urging of some of the kid’s College Dem pals. Seemed like everyone was having a good time, or as good a time as you can have debating Reaganomics.”
Franken apparently had more fun than senior history major Peter Fritz.
According to Fritz, things started out fine with him taking photos of fellow Carls (that’s what students call themselves) with Franken. Then Franken’s curiosity was raised about why Fritz didn’t want to be in a pic.
He’s a conservative, another Carl yelled out by way of explanation.
At that point, Franken reportedly began peppering Fritz with questions about supporting President George W. Bush and former President Ronald Reagan’s tax hikes. Fritz told me he got tense and, as he does in those situations, started chewing the inside of his mouth, a gesture he said was mimicked by Franken; Fritz also thought his style of speech was mocked by Franken.
An aide eventually interrupted Franken’s act, Fritz said, by announcing to the candidate that it was time to go.
Fritz told me Monday that he then stuck out his hand to shake Franken’s. “Well, at least it’s nice to meet you,” the GOPer said he told Franken, who reportedly replied, I can’t say the same.
There was no handshake, said Fritz.
Barr, Franken’s handler, said, “Al doesn’t remember saying that, but if the kid does, then okay. … Al takes enough pictures with people that he doubts he would ‘take umbrage’ at someone not wanting one.”
Although Fritz did not disagree with my use of the phrase “take umbrage,” that was how I characterized the moment in my e-mail to Barr.
I asked Barr if Franken’s electrolytes were on the decline, or whether he was in a bad mood, wasting such truculence on somebody who hasn’t graduated college yet.
“So electrolytes-wise I don’t know what to tell you,” wrote Barr. “Certainly, it was a long, hard day of campaigning on behalf of [DFL senator-elect] Kevin Dahle. But Al told me he had a really good time meeting all the students — even the ones who thought he was wrong about everything.”
Fritz told me Wednesday he was stunned by Franken’s behavior: “I usually expect politicians to, at least, pretend as though, even in that kind of interaction, that they can convince me or have some kind of reasonable dialogue — the whole Minnesota Nice thing, at least.”
Fritz’s version of the encounter was backed up by Pablo Kenney, prez of the Carleton Dems.
Franken may have provided the answer to the question posed in his mock presidential campaign memoir Why Not Me?
JOHN adds: Franken has a personality that can charitably be described as volatile, and a mean streak a mile wide. He has a history of getting into physical altercations. One that I narrowly missed observing occurred at the 2004 Republican Convention when he got into a shouting-and-shoving match with a producer of Laura Ingraham’s radio show. This photo was taken near the beginning of what turned into an ugly scene that had Radio Row buzzing:
I doubt that Franken can survive the campaign without melting down.
UPDATE: Here is a television news report on the incident, starring gossip columnist C.J.: