Gromacki addresses the Sanger controversy

Sam Black

Michelle Kibiger

By co-authoring the Minnesota Student Association resolution to take Margaret Sanger’s portrait out of Wilson Library, College of Liberal Arts junior Tom Gromacki has placed himself in the center of a debate that is gaining national attention. As a result of the controversy and Gromacki’s status as a candidate for the state legislature, people are questioning his motives, his beliefs and his character.
But Gromacki says he never intended to throw himself into the fray. He insists the debate is not about him. His primary interest in bringing up the topic was to discuss what Sanger represents and challenge the notion that her work was a benefit to society, he said.
“I don’t want it to be about me personally,” Gromacki said. “I want to throw the issue out there and let people discuss it.”
MSA Forum members will vote Tuesday for or against Gromacki’s resolution to take down the portrait of Sanger, which hangs in a Wilson Library stairwell. Also on Tuesday, voters in Minnesota House District 59B will be deciding whether Gromacki will represent them in the Legislature.
Gromacki, a Republican who favors tax cuts and staunchly opposes abortion, is challenging longtime incumbent Phyllis Kahn for her seat.
With the election being on the same day that the MSA Forum will decide the fate of the Sanger resolution, some students involved in the Sanger controversy have suggested that Gromacki is using the issue for purely political reasons.
Cherie Espinosa, a CLA junior who has publicly criticized Gromacki for what she calls deliberate insensitivity to minority issues, said she definitely questions his motives.
“(The resolution) has a lot to do with him running for the legislature,” said Espinosa, a former MSA representative from the La Raza Student Cultural Center. “It’s very good for himself.”
MSA Academic Affairs Committee Chair Corey Donovan, a CLA sophomore, said, “Some think that it’s a campaign ploy to get his name out — that it’s a thing to put down Planned Parenthood and family planning in general.”
Acknowledging the criticism, Gromacki said the resolution has done more harm than good to his campaign. He said he is greeted each day by angry voice mail messages from members of the community who are outraged at his position.
“I’m bringing out information in a district like this,” Gromacki said, commenting on the political orientation of District 59B. “Any good political scientist will tell you that I basically might be sacrificing my race because of the issue.
“It doesn’t do me any good whatsoever for my campaign.”
Gromacki said he began thinking about the issue one day while walking through Wilson Library with a friend. After further research, he wrote a letter, which appeared in the Oct. 15 issue of The Minnesota Daily.
In the letter, he wrote that Sanger’s writings show her to be racist. He also wrote that she championed family planning as part of a broader scheme to purify the races.
Gromacki said that for him, there is no difference between Sanger’s involvement in eugenics and her work as the founder of Planned Parenthood. Gromacki said he felt compelled to bring the issue to the forefront, despite the fact that controversies about him were sure to follow.
“If I walked in the library, researched this stuff about Margaret Sanger and kept it quiet to save my election, I don’t deserve to be in public office anyway,” Gromacki said. “That’s not leadership.”
Gromacki has received increased attention as a result of the issue. Both local and national media outlets, including the Star Tribune, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Minnesota Public Radio have contacted him on the Sanger controversy.
Even though Gromacki contends that not all publicity is necessarily good publicity, his supporters suggest that debating this issue in conjunction with his campaign is the most effective way to do it.
“Since the campaign put him in a public position, it’s admirable for him to bring this up,” said Bill Gilles, an Institute of Technology sophomore, at-large MSA Forum member, College Republican and co-author of the resolution. “It’s unfortunate for the campaign if the voters don’t agree, but he’s educating the public.”
MSA President Helen Phin, a CLA junior, said she would like to thank Gromacki for bringing up the issue. She said the questions people are asking are important for encouraging debate. She also agreed with Gromacki that his involvement in the debate is far less important than the debate itself.
“The resolution should be the issue, not who presents it,” said Donovan. “People should vote on the resolution, not on the motives of its author.”
Even though Espinosa questions his motives, she said the resolution’s content is more important than Gromacki’s involvement in it. “For the students who are voting on this, it is going to be difficult,” she said. “Even though they don’t like Gromacki, they need to look at the resolution and the facts behind the resolution.”
The Sanger dispute is not the first time that Gromacki has been at the center of student government controversy. Gromacki’s credibility within MSA was bruised in January, when the Forum was debating whether or not the University should support a boycott of fresh California table grapes. Espinosa argued that pesticides used to cultivate the crops were harming migrant workers.
Several Forum members, including Gromacki, stood in front of the Forum and ate grapes, upsetting Espinosa and several other Forum members.
Gromacki defended his actions, saying eating the grapes with the pesticides on them was the best way to illustrate that they were not harmful.
In the current Sanger debate, Gromacki and the resolution’s other authors are standing alone, without soliciting the support of any campus cultural centers.
Espinosa suggested that Gromacki’s tactics are ineffective without that support. “If they are serious about this being a racist action, this is against the entire community not just minorities,” she said. “All four authors are white males. I have yet to hear of them going to minority communities.”
However, Gromacki was concerned that minority groups could deflect attention away from the root issue. “If I bring a certain group on board,” he said, “it helps to politicize the issue.”
Matt Curry, CLA junior, College Republican and former chairman of the MSA Academic Affairs Committee, agreed with Gromacki’s concerns.
“I think if one of the cultural center reps would have brought this up, it would have flown right through the MSA Forum,” he said. “There would have been no argument with it. If people would have just listened to the argument that was being made and not cared who it was from, it would have passed unanimously.”
Gromacki said his image has to take a back seat to silencing the University’s promotion of Sanger and her racism.
“A lot of people will take race and try to exploit it for political purposes,” he said. “There are really racist problems in America and it does a disservice to frank racial reconciliation in this nation when people exploit race for their own political purposes.”
Espinosa said that Gromacki is using the race to further his own agenda whether he realizes it or not. “My biggest concern is if this is such a racist action, why aren’t the minority students behind him?” she said.
Gilles said that Gromacki has been true to his word and his values ever since the two have known each other. “He’s very principled,” Gilles said. “I would say he’s always been concerned with the pro-life issue, and Sanger is certainly pro-choice.”