Reporter’s Notebook: The Perennials

Briana Bierschbach

Editor’s note: “Reporter’s Notebook” is an occasional blog that will feature worthwhile content left out of a news story.  It will also give reporters an opportunity to talk about challenges they faced while working on a story. 


 The question that really drove The Perennials was, why? Why do certain people feel compelled to run for office year after year, especially with a record of failure? What drives them to keep knocking on doors and spending money, most often times out of pocket, on these likely-to-fail campaigns?

 It was with that question in mind that I sought out perennials running for office in Minneapolis’ Tuesday election. I got what I was hoping for: a mix of responses ranging from championing ideas and mixing up the two party system, to an honest love (or maybe obsession) for the campaign.

 But a good way to start any in depth character study is to look back at people who have done the same thing. What I found is that elections all over the United States and world have drawn passionate perennial candidates that have run under some less-than-ordinary circumstances.  I included two historic perennials from Minnesota in my story, but here are some other interesting perennials I stumbled upon:

  •  Ben Kerr, a street musician, ran for Mayor of Toronto seven times between 1985 and 2005, the year he died. Kerr was best known for advocating the medicinal benefits of a drinking concoction with cayenne pepper as the primary ingredient.
  •  Bill Boaks contested general elections in Scotland for 30 years under various parties, including the "Public Safety Democratic Monarchist White Resident” party. He received five votes in the Glasgow Hillhead by-election in 1982, one of the lowest recorded in a British Parliamentary election.
  • Eugene Debs was a United States presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Party in 1900 and for the Socialist Party in four more elections between 1904 and 1920.  In the 1920 election, Debs was in prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 with a speech opposing the draft. While in prison he received 913,664 votes, the most ever for a Socialist Party presidential candidate.
  • Comedian Pat Paulsen, known for his appearances on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, ran for United States president in 1968 as a joke. He then ran in every election following until 1996, one year before his death.

 The focus of my story was mayoral candidate Dick Franson, who, in Minneapolis elections at least, is uncontested on how many races he has contested. His run for mayor this year was his 25th run for public office, and he’s not quitting anytime soon.

 The story itself got a quasi follow-up in MinnPost. Reporter Doug Grow called Franson the night after Election Day to find that Franson’s voice mail message had changed to include “former candidate for mayor of Minneapolis,” and announced a new candidacy for Secretary of State in 2010. I also got an unconventional nod in the story as the “vibrant redhead” from the Minnesota Daily. Thanks Franson.

 I had the opportunity to hear Franson’s announcement myself at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night. The former candidate for mayor left me a phone message saying he had a “newsflash,” after which he played his new voice mail message announcing his candidacy for Secretary of State. He asked me to give him a call back when I get the chance.