Hard Times attorneys report to city property rights committee

by Abdel Shakur

At a meeting of the Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee on Wednesday night, supporters of the Hard Times Cafe discussed the controversial business’ yearlong court battle with the city.

The committee, which says it aims to make change in City Hall, invited mayoral candidate R.T. Rybak and City Council candidates Dean Zimmerman and Shane Price to be briefed on what the committee says was an example of local government misusing power.

The conflict between the cafe and the city began with an August 1999 police investigation into Hard Times amid an increase in crimes reported at the cafe and allegations of drug dealing in the area.

A January 2000 police raid of the cafe resulted in the arrest of two men for selling marijuana to undercover officers.

One of the men, Martin Johnson, was a co-owner of Hard Times at the time of his arrest. Johnson later resigned from his position, citing his violation of the cafe’s ban on illegal substances.

Administrative law Judge Steve Mihalchick later found the cafe did not engage in drug trafficking. However, he recommended the City Council take action against the cafe.

In June 2000, the City Council voted to revoke the cafe’s operating license.

Recently, however, the Hennepin County 4th District Court ruled in favor of a motion by Hard Times regarding the use of outside evidence by City Council members before the license was revoked. Following the ruling, Hard Times agreed to drop the motion if the city agreed not to revoke the cafe’s license.

Hard Times recently reopened after the City Council voted to grant it a business license again.

Rybak said he thinks the city just misjudged the situation.

“I think it’s a clear that there was a rush to judgment,” said Rybak, referring to the council’s decision to revoke Hard Times’ license.

Rybak said although he was not privy to the information obtained in the Hard Times investigation, he feels the cafe is a positive influence on the community.

“I love going to the Hard Times Cafe. It brings a diverse opportunity for people to come to meet,” he said.

Rybak pledged to create a new relationship between Hard Times and the city if elected.

“All I know is that I want to bend over backwards to keep places that reflect the full diversity of the city,” he said.

Although she now supports the move to grant Hard Times its license, City Council Member Joan Campbell, who represents the area in which the cafe is located, said certain concerns between city officials led to the cafe’s closing. Campbell originally voted to revoke the license.

“There was evidence found that there was drug dealing going on there,” said Campbell. “Prior to that I had a number of complaints about behavior and loitering from the immediate neighbors.”

Campbell said improved management at the cafe prompted the city to change its stance. She also denied claims Hard Times had been mistreated.

“It was not just a power play or anything,” she said. “It was an actual investigation and numerous complaints. I don’t have any personal animosity towards Hard Times.”

Sixth Ward City Council candidate Dean Zimmerman at the meeting called the City’s attempts to close the cafe “vindictive” and characterized the actions as an attempt to make the cafe a “scapegoat.”

“Clearly the problems that they had in the West Bank would be there whether they had Hard Times or not,” he said. “Hard Times has a very positive effect on the community.”