Ellison’s U past used against him by some

by Charley Bruce

Seventeen years ago, Keith Ellison was a husband, a father and a University law student. Now he’s running for Congress.

His time at the University and controversial columns Ellison wrote while here have become contentious issues in the race to take retiring Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo’s 5th Congressional District seat.

Ellison, a Democrat, most recently has been criticized by his Republican opponent, Alan Fine.

Fine, in a Sept. 13 news conference, called Ellison “a person that believes that the white man is the anti-Christ, a person who called for the destruction of our nation, a person who believes the Jews are the scourge of the earth.”

But professors who remember him don’t paint the same Ellison.

Stephen Simon, a University law professor who taught Ellison as a law student said he never heard any anti-Semitic views from Ellison in class.

Simon said he taught Ellison in a misdemeanor criminal defense course, a second- or third-year law school class.

Ellison regularly contributed to class discussions, Simon said.

Simon said he was not surprised Ellison went into politics.

“He’s a passionate person, and that passion carries over into how he is as a lawyer,” Simon said.

Ellison’s commitment and caring attitude distinguished him as a law student, Simon said.

Professor David Weissbrodt, a 30-year University Law School veteran, said he definitely remembered Ellison as one of his students.

“(Ellison) wasn’t afraid to express his views,” Weissbrodt said.

Ellison in the Daily

Ellison’s views in his Minnesota Daily pieces fueled the accusations.

“The single most distinguishing characteristic of the Nation of Islam, from a black perspective, is the Nation’s message of economic self-determination,” Ellison wrote in a 1989 Daily column as Keith E. Hakim.

That piece ran with an editor’s note, which said in part, “I see Hakim’s piece as a genuine threat to the long-term safety and well-being of the Jewish people.”

In a 1990 piece, he argued affirmative action didn’t make up for all past injustices against blacks.

He said he wanted to empower blacks to “employ themselves, teach themselves, teach their own children and control their own neighborhoods.”

Republicans have associated Ellison with the Nation of Islam, the leader of which, Louis Farrakhan, has made anti-Semitic remarks. Ellison had raised money for the group’s Million Man March.

Ellison attributes this criticism to campaign smear tactics, he said.

In a statement issued Thursday, Ira Forman, the National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive director, called on Fine to apologize for his “hate-filled attacks” on Ellison.

“Like many of us, Keith Ellison is not perfect, but he is a good man,” Forman said. “Keith has recognized his past mistakes and renounced his brief association with the Nation of Islam and has condemned the anti-Semitic statements and beliefs of (Nation of Islam leader) Louis Farrakhan.”

Ellison at the University

While a law student, Ellison had his first child in his first year and his second in his third year, he said.

“I remember (my eldest son) running through the stacks in the library when I was in law school,” Ellison said.

He said that despite his studies and parenting duties, he still had time to be involved with Black Law Students Association and the Africana Student Cultural Center, now known as the Black Student Union.

The cultural center brought many speakers to campus, Ellison said, including the former leader of the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, also known as Kwame Ture.

Carmichael’s visit was not about the negative or positive message he brought, Ellison said.

“It was about people who had comments to make on American political, cultural or social life,” he said.

Ellison said he fears only “positive” speakers will be brought to the University because of the possibility that hosting controversial speakers could be used against a student in a future run for elected office.

“If there’s one time in your life when you should go to an edgy lecture, when you should listen to a speaker you have never been exposed to before, it is in college,” Ellison said.

He said some ideas are good and some are not, but a broad spectrum of ideas should be represented to understand all sides of an issue.

“A college is a laboratory of ideas,” Ellison said