Alan Fine: Piano to politics

Switching from piano-loving lecturer to politician was just one of his challenges.

Courtney Blanchard

Alan Fine faces a daunting task: to move from the classroom to Congress. He changed his approach overnight.

The senior lecturer at Carlson School of Management is trying to break through the DFL stronghold in the 5th District and beat DFL-endorsed Keith Ellison for the House seat.

Until Tuesday’s primary, Fine, a Republican and avid musician, ran a campaign composed of piano concerts, a community forum and a news release announcing his son picked out a puppy at the Humane Society.

“I’m running because I care. I’m going to Washington in order to do the right thing,” he said.

The positive campaign hit a different note Wednesday at a news conference where Fine called Ellison an “extremist.”

“He is the follower of a known racist, Louis Farrakhan, who promoted division between the people of our nation,” Fine said. “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.”

Dave Colling, Ellison’s campaign manager, said Fine’s new strategy won’t change anything.

“Our campaign has always been about staying positive, bringing people together and bringing the community together,” he said.

Ellison, in a news release Wednesday, said Fine’s comments were “opposed to what our campaign has been about.”

“This campaign is about inclusion, not alienation Ö about reaching across the needless barriers that divide us, not erecting them,” he said.

A tough race

Democrats have held the seat for decades, and Rep. Martin Sabo left the seat representing much of the metro area after 28 years.

The 5th District seat is securely in the hands of the DFL, said Wendy Rahn, University professor of political science.

Rahn said a victory for Fine “would be difficult, given the current state of the Republican party,” adding that controversy over the economy and war in Iraq wouldn’t persuade a highly Democratic district to vote Republican.

Fine said he thinks voters will look beyond his party.

“Minnesota is a place where people look carefully at the people, not the parties,” Fine said. He referred to former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s victory, which he said shocked many Minnesotans.


Fine said his political viewpoints are not strictly Republican, and that a representative should listen to constituents rather than vote straight-ticket.

“One of the reasons I’m running for Congress is that I’m tired of the partisanship,” he said.

Fine, a single father, described himself as pro-environment and clarified other issues.

“I think taxes should be low and faith in God is OK,” he said.

On Iraq, he said he wants to pull troops out as soon as possible, and the United States needs to work with the United Nations. The solution, he said, may be to divide Iraq into three independent – but united – states.

At a Sept. 8 event at Coffman Union, Fine invited speakers from many sides of the environmental, civil rights and abortion debates.

Fine also covered other topics, including genocide, crime and immigration.

And, of course, Fine had his piano on the stage.

“I want to use this microphone that I have to create dialogues,” Fine said of his new public status as a candidate for Congress.


Fine grew up in the 5th District and attended the University along with his four older brothers.

“Tuition needs to be low like it was when my brothers went (to the University),” he said. “It was $60 a quarter.”

Fine has been teaching at the Carlson School for 11 years, and he said his experience at the University will help him at the nation’s Capitol. He said the variety of people and problems he’s faced on campus helped him recognize that everyone just wants a better life.

Jenny Sliwinski, Fine’s campaign director, is a first-year graduate student at the Carlson School. She said she took an entrepreneurship class from Fine as an undergraduate, and kept in touch with him until learning that he was going to run for Congress. That was when she decided to work on his campaign.

“He’s an excellent teacher Ö one of the favorites at Carlson, for sure,” Sliwinski said. “You truly vote on the candidate. People believe in him.”