U students drive local campaigns

by Cati Vanden Breul

A EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a five-part series about Minneapolis and St. Paul city elections. The articles will lead toward the general election Nov. 8.

A road trip Max Page took as a first-year student led the him to where he is today.

He’s now the president of the University DFL.

In 2003, Page attended the Jefferson-Jackson dinner – held annually by Iowa Democrats – with the University DFL.

There he rubbed elbows with Democratic candidates vying for a chance to take on President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

During the same year, he campaigned for presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, until delegates at the Democratic National Convention nominated Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., in July 2004. He’s been involved in political campaigning ever since.

“I was part of a grassroots movement, and I knew a bunch of people were doing the same thing I was,” Page said. “For the first time, I had empirical evidence that made me realize that this is a democracy based around the basic human being.”

Not only does Page head the University DFL, but he is also leading efforts to support City Council candidate Cara Letofsky, who is running as the DFL candidate in Ward 2.

He works closely with Letofsky to help her in her effort to connect with, and campaign to students.

“I get a real participatory role in the whole process,” Page said. “Because it’s a smaller election, I get to help guide the policy that’s being created and the message that’s going to students.”

Letofsky and Page met last spring to discuss how she could best contact students and talked about the issues students found most important.

Students can be a difficult demographic to judge, Letofsky said, but one group that could have a large impact on the election results.

“I think students are kind of the big question mark in the race,” she said. “If all students voted, they would totally overwhelm the non-student population.”

Page is helping her relate to students, she said.

“I don’t have a natural connection to students,” Letofsky said. “I live in the same neighborhood, but didn’t go to the ‘U.’ Max has helped bring me in a little more.”

She also attends the student group’s weekly meetings.

“I connect in with students who are active in democratic politics, and they help me strategize my campaign,” Letofsky said.

Page said he thinks Letofsky would be a good ally in the City Council for students.

“If we as students came to her as a coalition with a problem, she would figure out a way to get the problem solved for us,” he said.

But other political leaders on campus think Cam Gordon, Letofsky’s Green Party opponent, is a better candidate.

Jesse Lickel, University senior and co-chairman of the College Greens, serves as assistant treasurer for Gordon. He also manages an online database for the campaign.

Lickel helps keep track of Gordon’s fundraising efforts, and goes with him when he knocks on doors. He takes notes during door-knocking about who’s been given voter registration cards, what areas in the ward seem to show the most support for Gordon and even names of residents who have requested a lawn sign.

“It’s very important for me as a person to feel good about what I’m doing with my time,” Lickel said.

He said candidates from the Green Party are especially in need of volunteers, because they do not accept money from political action committees.

“They really need volunteers because they’re almost always out fund-raised by their opponents,” Lickel said.

He contacted Gordon soon after he announced his candidacy and asked how he could help out the campaign.

Lickel said he was initially drawn to the Green Party because of its unwavering support of gay rights.

“That’s one of my bigger disappointments with the Democrats,” Lickel said.

As someone who’s been involved with Green Party events and advocacy since the start of his college career, he said he supports Gordon because of his ability and willingness to talk to typically underrepresented groups.

“I like the way Cam is willing to go talk to people,” Lickel said. “He is very good at listening to people who might not be listened to normally, like students, immigrants, or other groups.”