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Cam Gordon makes, regrets bad joke about Minneapolis' 'good-looking' mayor

Cam Gordon, seated, left, regrets making a joke about Jacob Frey, standing, center, at the expense of Alondra Cano, seated, right.

Cam Gordon, seated, left, regrets making a joke about Jacob Frey, standing, center, at the expense of Alondra Cano, seated, right. David Joles, Star Tribune

Linea Palmisano had already had just about enough by the end of Wednesday night.

She and other Minneapolis City Council members had endured a heated and emotional five-hour council meeting, to vote on a proposal to give the council more oversight over the Minneapolis Police Department; as currently constructed, the council's role is limited, with nearly all authority lying in the mayor's office. 

The meeting, held just two days after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced no charges against the officers who'd shot and killed Thurman Blevins, soon devolved into a raucous confrontation between citizens, activists, and elected officials.

Some audience members spoke out of turn throughout the meeting, loudly calling out council members and each other. 

"I think it's fair to say the person chairing the meeting had no control over it," Palmisano commented, a pointed criticism of fellow Council Member Andrew Johnson.

When she returned to her office, Palmisano saw she'd received an email from Chuck Turchick, a regular attendee and frequent speaker at council hearings. Palmisano recalled seeing Turchick approach the dais and strike up a conversation with Council Member Cam Gordon after Wednesday's meeting ended. 

Gordon was lead author on the plan to give more police oversight to the council, and less to the  mayor. An amendment passed that night would've left the mayor's office with "executive authority," but given the council the power to make police department rules. 

Gordon was the subject of Turchick's email, which he'd sent to Palmisano and Council Members Andrea Jenkins and Alondra Cano. Turchick wrote that he'd commented to Gordon that three female members of the public safety committee -- Palmisano, Cano, and  Jenkins -- had voted against his proposal to shift some police authority from Mayor Jacob Frey.

Three male members of that committee -- Jeremiah Ellison, Phillipe Cunningham, and Steve Fletcher -- had voted with Gordon. (The measure passed by one vote.) Turchick wrote that he asked Gordon about the gender breakdown.

Wrote Turchick: "[Gordon] replied, 'That's because Jacob Frey is so good-looking.'" 

Palmisano was stunned. And mad.

"After the kind of beating we took out there in the meeting... this was most injurious of all, right?" says Palmisano, who took the step of having Turchick's email entered into the council's official record. "The implication of what [Gordon] said is cause for alarm: that women aren't capable of reasoning or drawing conclusions without emotions. That's sexist, full stop."

Palmisano notes that Gordon's joke is doubly offensive, as it "erases" the sexuality of Jenkins, who last fall joined Cunningham as the first transgender council members in city history.

"I try to find the humor in it," Palmisano says, "and I think it's, Cam wants to paint a picture of serious lawmakers as nothing more than frivolous members."

Gordon says his response was intended to make fun of the premise of the question, and not his fellow members. Though he doesn't "remember saying it exactly like" Turchick quoted him, Gordon acknowledges he made a joke along those lines.

"The audience for that comment was Chuck," Gordon says, "and I had intended to point out the absolute absurdity of his comment." 

Though it had its desired effect -- "it certainly got [Turchick] to stop talking to me about the issue," Gordon says -- he regrets having said it, and plans to apologize in person to Palmisano, among others.

"I probably have more people to apologize than just her," Gordon says.

Gordon is "confident" he can get back to good working terms with the women included in his wisecrack, including Palmisano, with whom he's worked closely on public safety and police accountability in the past. (The two have neighboring offices in city hall.) 

"I suspect she and I will be working together again," he says. "I have absolutely no problem with Linea. I expect her to stand up for her positions, and what she believes in. She's becoming a very skilled council member."

That confidence is not yet mutual. Palmisano says personal relationships among council members are "really fraught" at the moment, as divisive issues like the policing plan and Minneapolis 2040 proposal strain connections.

Five members are new this year, and five others joined in 2013; only three, including Gordon, have been around prior to that. Palmisano says they are broadly in agreement politically. 

"This is kind of the worst of DFL in-fighting," Palmisano says, speaking broadly about her experience this year. "We've got this liberal, progressive thing in Minneapolis, which sometimes seems to work awfully hard to wrest itself apart."

On Friday, the full council voted, 7-5, to advance Gordon's proposal of giving the council greater input on policing. The measure would then have to be approvd by the city's charter commission, an appointed body that has communicated reluctance to rush the proposal onto this year's election ballot. That means it might still be in flux, and debated, for another two years. 

Says Gordon: "Everyone has their well-thought-out reasons. And they have nothing to do with how anybody looks."