Peter Bell - An Honest Broker, Former Regent
And The Only One Who Seems to Have Clean Hands on Light Rail
Lori Sturdevant: Working toward the train in vain
The guy whose job nobody at the Capitol coveted last week was Metropolitan Council chairman Peter Bell.
For months, Bell had been the face of the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line. He pushed hard to get $70 million for the line between Minneapolis and St. Paul into Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bonding recommendations and in the Legislature's bonding bill.
On Monday, Pawlenty -- Bell's boss -- vetoed his own Central Corridor recommendation. He left us scribblers to speculate about his intentions. Did he want to kill the project and please those in his party who still consider light rail a form of social engineering? Or did he want to reserve it as a bargaining chip for future dealmaking with DFLers?
Whatever his intentions, he evidently didn't share them in advance with Bell, who says he wasn't consulted before the governor whacked the legs out from under his credibility.
"The governor has concerns that go beyond Central Corridor," Bell said with a sigh. "I don't think it's his job to make my life easy."
True enough. But right now, time and money aren't the project's biggest impediments. Bell's boss is.
"I value my word and my honor above everything," Bell said later last week. "To the extent this calls into question my word and my honor, I am deeply frustrated."
Frustrated, but not bowed -- or bowing out. Bell sincerely believes that the Twin Cities needs the transit spine the Central Corridor will provide.
He is persistent, and his record shows he can be persuasive. He helped take the governor from mild hostility toward transit in 2002 to support for Northstar commuter rail and bus rapid transit on Interstate 35W today. He thinks he can bring Pawlenty around on the Central Corridor in time to file a final design application with the feds in September.
One of his predecessors, Curt Johnson, says that if anyone can do that, it's Bell.
"Peter has been just exemplary," said Johnson, who headed the Met Council for Gov. Arne Carlson from 1995 to 1998. "He had to build a bridge before he could stand on it," between "people who want the Council to go away and people who expect the Council to do something to shape the metro area as it grows."
Pawlenty's Central Corridor veto calls into question the strength of that bridge -- and more. Would a governor who really believes in transit's value turn this project into a political hostage and risk its standing with federal funders? Would one who really appreciates the work of his Met Council chairman undermine it?
It's notable that the transportation bill that was passed over Pawlenty's veto in February gives county commissioners, not the Met Council, control of the transit money raised by a new quarter-cent sales tax. After what Pawlenty did to the Central Corridor and Peter Bell last week, look for the Legislature to find other ways to vest regional governing authority in groups of elected county commissioners, rather than the gubernatorially controlled Met Council.
Peter Bell is a true public servant. Politically we are at opposite ends of the spectrum - I am a left wing wacko and he is a conservative Republican. Reasonable compromise is possible between two such people of good will. Every once in a while we see each other - at the same church! He has done what he believes is best for the state in the light rail negotiations. I do not believe that to be the case for the administration of the University of Minnesota. Now is time for politicians, Republican and DFL to work together to do what is best for our citizens. It is also time for university administrators to show some leadership and do what is in the best interests of a land grant university that is not likely ever to be "one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]."
The following statement from OurLeader must have been induced by eating too much lotus:
"I've heard some of the 'doubters' say things like, 'I'd settle for best in the Big Ten," he [Bruininks] said. "Students don't choose the University of Minnesota for (a) mediocre future."
So anyone who points out that we are near the bottom of the BigTen is a doubter? Anyone, who dares to suggest the more realistic goal of being one of the best schools in the BigTen, is aiming for mediocrity? Is the best school in the BigTen mediocre?
You seem to have done pretty well for graduating from Western Michigan and George Peabody College. OurProvost has done pretty well having graduated from Drake and Indiana. It seems to me that you folks are in no position to get all elitist on us.
Get real, Bob.
You've got an enormous pile of chips. Deal. The clock is ticking.
As the old saying goes: Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.