The envelopes arrived in Whittier neighborhood mailboxes. They bore no return address. The sender's ID: "Save Our Eat Street." The message was intended to cause alarm:
"[Minneapolis City] Council Member [Lisa] Bender plans to abolish Eat Street!" read one, referring to the cluster of eclectic restaurants along roughly 10 blocks of Nicollet Avenue. "...Her plan is to 'On Eat Street build a network of protected bikeways' and eliminate parking all along Eat Street."
One version of the letter obtained by City Pages was attributed to Ricardo McCurley, executive director of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization. Others, as first reported by Dylan Thomas of the Southwest Journal, indicated it had been sent by restaurateur Tammy Wong, owner of Rainbow Chinese. Another version went unsigned.
The implication was that the new bike line would crowd out precious parking at the Eat Street eateries. But there are no such designs. The mailings were fabricated by some unknown saboteur, a campaign that appears to undermine Bender's re-election campaign. This just mere days before the DFL caucus.
Bender is also the founder of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, a group that promotes and pushes for the expansion of bicycling in the city.
The Whittier Association's McCurley says his organization received its first mailer two weeks ago. It had no return address, but contained a letter with the verbiage that said Bender was attempting to abolish parking on Eat Street.
"We were amused," he says. "Given there was no return address or any information, we just showed it around to everyone and left it at that."
They took it more seriously the next day. Whittier Board Chair Erica Christ, whose family owns the Black Forest Inn on East 26th St., called McCurley, telling him she'd received a mailer at home. Inside the envelope was a letter, saying all Eat Street restaurants would also be receiving the same. The letter's author was supposedly McCurley, which came as news to him. It also contained a page from the Minneapolis Comprehensive Bike Plan, which showed a style of a protected bike lane that eliminates parking.
"At this point, we started to take it a little more seriously," says McCurley. "Because A, now there were two letters, and B, because they were using our name, and we weren't responsible."
The group would reach out to Bender and notify the Minneapolis Police Department. According to McCurley, Bender said there was no merit to the ideas referred to in the mailings.
Last week, McCurley's organization would hear about a third letter. It was said to be from Rainbow Chinese owner Wong. That was news to her.
"There are no current plans or projects for Nicollet Avenue aside from the very hard work being done to reopen Lake Street where it's being blocked by [Kmart]," Bender tells City Pages. "...There is no secret plan for Nicollet Avenue."
McCurley and others have theories about the mailers.
"When we were discussing this as a board," he says, "many people who've been around for a while say that inevitably...something a little crazy happens. And it wasn't a surprise to them this was happening. This year in particular when there's an election for the city council and the city mayor.
"So, there's enough reason to believe amongst our board there's a political slant to this. Now what they're trying to get at with all of this, who knows."
This story has been updated since it was originally posted.
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