Musician seeks council seat

Scott Robinson

If you drive over the Franklin Avenue Bridge sometime this summer and turn right on East River Road, you might hear a Dixieland band, a gospel choir or even the Macalester College Pipe and Drum Corps.
These and other groups have performed on the front lawn of Daniel Copher, a candidate for the Second Ward seat on the Minneapolis City Council. The concerts are an outgrowth of Copher and his partner Robert Strusinsky’s interest in music and neighborliness.
“We have a lot of parties at our house,” Copher said, “not because we’re party animals, but because we are very open people. We open ourselves up to our friends and extend our circle of friends as wide as it will go.”
Copher’s property lies adjacent to a tiny public park called Minnich Triangle, named for a neighborhood family who bought the property to protect it from rezoning and donated it to the city. A sense of community among residents is exactly what Copher wants to see more of in the neighborhoods of southeast Minneapolis, an area which includes the University of Minnesota. His musical activities reflect that interest.
“We’re a very musical household,” he said. “We have friends over to do chamber music in our house here just for fun, and since we have this nice park right in front of our house, we decided to try some outdoor concerts. It was just a natural extension to share the musical part of our lives with our neighbors as well.”
Not only neighbors, but passersby — including Rollerbladers, bikers and motorists — see the crowds gathered and stop to enjoy the music. Copher and Strusinsky have also involved the University Health Care Center across the street. The Center now sponsors one concert each summer, and its residents join the gathering as well. The Shriners hospital, at the other end of the street, also contributes to the contingent of concertgoers.
“We get this whole army of kids in wheelchairs coming up to enjoy the concert,” Copher said. “It’s become quite a wonderful evening.”
Copher, who also owns the architectural firm Architron, even had his house designed with entertaining in mind. The kitchen is right in the middle, so everybody can jump in and help out, he said. His attitude is the heart of his challenge to incumbent council member Joan Campbell for the DFL 2nd Ward endorsement at the party’s ward convention on April 5. Copher says he would like to see his ward designed along the same lines, with responsibility for the quality of neighborhood life returned to the neighborhoods themselves.
Copher contends that Minneapolis has siphoned off resources from the neighborhoods into a concentrated effort to stem violence in the inner city. Meanwhile, other sorts of crime in outlying parts of town — including the University — have been neglected.
“I’m sure students at the University have experienced break-ins,” Copher says, “and their computer or their stereo or something has been stolen. They probably don’t get the attention they would if we weren’t focusing so much on the violent crime in other parts of the city.
“Graffiti is another issue, and breaking into cars, stealing purses, and assaults and things in the neighborhoods. In this neighborhood surrounding the University of Minnesota specifically, it just doesn’t seem to get the attention that it needs.”
Copher would like to see a decentralization of crime-fighting, and punishment as well. “One way that’s worked really well is to have what’s called beat attorneys,’ and those attorneys would be focused directly on lower-level crimes that happen in the neighborhoods. And punishment would be doled out in what’s called restorative justice,’ putting the criminals to do work right back in the neighborhoods. Let them clean up the graffiti; let them deal with the deeds that they’ve done right here in the neighborhoods; let them get involved with the community in a positive way.”
Changing approaches to crime-fighting are made necessary, Copher explains, by changing patterns of crime. “We need to take a tougher stand, so that it doesn’t become a major problem for us,” Copher said.
Copher also has the chance to put his architectural background to work in planning for the University’s future.
“The University has been developing a master plan for its growth in the future, and with my work in the Southeast Industrial Site, we’ve been very much attuned to the University master plan and their needs. Students are increasingly using neighborhood-based housing to fulfill their own needs, so we need a good watchdog to assure that they’re in safe housing — safe from an inspections point of view, and from a security standpoint, so that they have some protection as renters. Our students seem to be moving further and further away from the main campus, and that’s good; we have good neighborhoods all around the University.”
Neighborhoods need newcomers to pitch in, Copher says. But what interest do students, many of whom have traveled from outstate or out-of-state, have in taking an active role in community life?
“While they’re here,” Copher responds, “it’s their community, and things affect them directly. One major issue that they should be very concerned about is transportation. Our transportation in Minneapolis — the whole metro area — is pretty pathetic, and it’s getting worse. So students should take an active role in demanding better public transportation.
“More students are working now than ever before, and I’m sure that’s not going to be stopping any time soon. So the need for students to get to their jobs — and the need for there to be good jobs available — is very much a student interest, and very much something we as a greater government community can do with the students working on it.
“I would very strongly advocate that students get involved in helping to show that there’s a real workforce there, to encourage businesses to come and move in around campus.”
As an artist, Copher is an oddity in politics, as most other musicians seem to have made few inroads into government.
“I don’t know if it’s musicians specifically (who aren’t getting involved), but people that have a good, solid liberal arts education, see all facets of life, and are able to respond better in many ways to the overall needs of government,” Copher said. “I think we all need to be able to communicate on many different levels, and a good liberal arts education and background provides that.
“We need to be very much aware of all the things that make a culture — the arts, and just every part of life that there is, from music to drama to reading to gardening — the whole gamut of things really goes into the overall fabric of our community.”
Copher, who moved here in 1983, said, “One of the things that attracted me to Minneapolis was the cultural side of Minneapolis, with the preponderance of art and theater here, and certainly music. I had heard somewhere that there were more pianos per household in Minneapolis than there were in any other city in the country. I thought that was pretty interesting!”
Copher is Chapel Organist at the University of St. Thomas and Organist/Choirmaster at St. Paul’s-On-The-Hill Episcopal Church, and his partner Strusinsky is also an organist and choirmaster. Gay men make up a large proportion of church musicians in America, Copher says.
“I think the arts in general always attract a lot of people from the gay community,” Copher said.
“I look at being a church musician as something that I’ve been since the eighth grade. I’ve always loved church music — the first time I heard a pipe organ I was just in heaven. And just about the only place to be a pipe organist is in churches.
“I’ve often questioned issues about religion in general, and certainly organized or structured religion — that does not play a very big role in my life. But the sense of community, the sense of being around really good people — that’s kind of the level that it’s reached for me. I have a major problem with the overall rules and regulations that seem to be prevalent in organized religion. But as an artist, and as a church organist, that’s where I have to perform.”
Church work has also influenced the extra-musical aspects of Copher’s life, such as his concern for social justice. “I think it’s given me a good background in being able to communicate with people, and — to use a churchy word — to minister to people. And I think that’s going to be a real asset to me as I move into politics, because I really have a compassion for the well-being of other people, and I probably have learned that from being in church communities more than anywhere else. And those are good things. I think government is really about taking care of each other.”