Monday, October 12, 2009

Dave Bicking and the The Enduring Legacy of Dean Zimmermann

Over at the Mpls Issues, supporters of Ward 9 candidate Dave Bicking are posting stuff like this about his opponent:

I have never seen a smoking gun like Schiff-gate in Minneapolis politics. A developer basically describing how a council member shakes him down for campaign contributions.

If this were chess, it would be a clearly won endgame for the Bicking campaign right now. But alas, it is not a chess game. Lit must be dropped, and the word must be spread.

...and this...

Dean Zimmermann was convicted and sent to prison for "accepting a gratuity." He accepted a campaign contribution from someone who had a development issue in his ward. He went to prison even though he voted against the developer's issue when it came before the Council.

I certainly don't want Gary Schiff or Steve Minn to go to prison. But the way the FBI reads the law: any politician who accepts anything from someone having business before the City, no matter how they vote on a given issue, is accepting a "gratuity." As the Zimmermann case proves, there doesn't have to be a quid pro quo. The fact that someone gives you something and has business pending before the City is all it took to put Dean behind bars for over a year....

Dean Zimmermann was busted for asking for under-the-table contributions and accepting a large amount of it in cash and that is NOT the same as elected officials asking for and accepting legal political contributions. Here is an audio file from Zimmermann's appeal hearing that explains exactly what Zimmermann did and why it was illegal:

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously against Zimmermann, That ruling was not contested by Zimmermann who served his sentence. In April I videotaped Zimmermann protesting LRT and promoting Personal Rapid Transit at a transportation forum. Zimmermann gave me a tortured explanation for accepting cash from FBI witness Gary Carlson and refused to sign a waiver for the FBI tapes shown at this trial:

Members of the LRT-hating/pod-promoting Citizens for Personal Rapid Transit (CPRT) also spread the nonsensical conspiracy theory that Zimmermann was framed:

According to the website, the CPRT meets at Dean Zimmermann's home every month.

Dave Bicking, like Zimmermann is a fierce opponent of reality-based transit and big supporter of the pods. This is from his son, Ian Bicking's website:

... Dave has followed PRT for some time and he knows quite a few of the people involved in CPRT. Dean Zimmerman, who is a Green City Council member in Minneapolis (neighboring ward) has been a strong proponent of PRT during his time in office (and like all the councilmembers, he's also up for reelection).

I get the impression there's conflict in the Green Party over this, as some see PRT as a dig on traditional mass transit like Light Rail. I'm personally very excited about PRT, as mass transit just doesn't work well. It's not even very good for the environment....

"mass transit just doesn't work well. It's not even very good for the environment".... WTF?

Has Bicking's positions on LRT and PRT have changed since 2005?

Does Bicking still believe what he wrote in this petition for Zimmermann?:

***In Support of Dean Zimmermann***

We, the undersigned, protest the investigation, conviction, and imprisonment of Dean Zimmermann. As he begins his 30 month sentence in federal prison, we stand in support of an honest man who has dedicated his life to helping others, both personally and politically.

We are convinced that Dean is innocent of the crime of bribery - a crime that requires intent. Dean has shown no signs of personal ambition; it is unthinkable that he would participate in corruption for personal gain. Indeed, his imprisonment is the result, not of corruption, but of his activism and his integrity. The FBI set-up is the culmination of over 40 years of FBI surveillance of Dean's political activities.

This was a set-up, in the most literal sense: The cash, the witness and his script, the cameras, and the locations were all provided by the FBI. Unlike someone truly soliciting a bribe, Dean never asked for nor expected the contributions in cash, nor did he ask that they be given to him directly. The FBI never showed that Dean did anything for Gary Carlson that he would not do for anyone else. The prosecution could not find one other business person nor developer who would testify that Dean had asked for money in exchange for a favorable vote for their business or project.

This is not the first time that the FBI has taken an interest in Dean.

Dean Zimmermann has had a long history of political activism. He opposed atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the 50s. He participated in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, working on voter registration drives in Mississippi. He was an early opponent of the Vietnam War. He helped create the natural food coops in Minneapolis. As an elected member of the Minneapolis Park Board he promoted sustainable ecological practices. In his four years on the City Council, he worked on homelessness issues, for immigrant rights, for greater accountability to end police brutality, and continued his work for a better environment. As he puts it, his focus on the Council was "to make life easier for poor people, and to leave behind a planet that is fit for our great grandchildren to live on."

The FBI also has a long history, and it is a history of dirty deeds inopposition to all the causes that Dean has promoted. An FBI agent even remarked what a low FBI number Dean had, indicating that his file goes way back. The infamous COINTELPRO program was created to, in the FBI's own words, "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" dissident movements. In addition to keeping extensive files on activists including Dean, the FBI encouraged the selective prosecution of movement leaders, and worked covertly to incite violence and to split groups apart and pit one group against another. After Congressional investigations in the mid-70s, COINTELPRO was formally disbanded, but many of the activities continued, and the files were kept.

Recently, new tools such as the PATRIOT Act give the federal government even more power. Surely the FBI, overseen by torture defender Alberto Gonzales, is as determined as ever to repress dissent. The persecution of Dean Zimmermann can be seen as nothing less than a warning to any elected official who would dare repudiate the Bush administration's repressive agenda. Even as Republican leaders have engaged in demonstrated acts of corruption and violation of the public trust, the US Justice Department under Gonzales has gone after more non-Republican elected officials than any other in modern American history.

We will probably never fully know the motivations and circumstances thatled the FBI to set up a sting operation to try to entrap Dean. But if we think that Dean's case has anything to do with a sincere concern about ethics or municipal corruption, we have fallen into the trap set for us by the FBI. Ideally, investigation and prosecution should be a search for the truth. By their record of deception and distortion, the FBI has shown, its true intent.

A centerpiece of the FBI's case is the famous "money, money, money" quote. To obtain a search warrant, the FBI deliberately deceived the judge by depicting this as Dean's response to Gary Carlson at a "meeting in a restaurant". They did not reveal that this was a perfectly innocent quote, given the context that this "meeting" was one of Dean's many conversations during a large public fundraiser for his campaign. When they raided Dean's house, the FBI confiscated not just evidence, but nearly all of his campaign materials. His re-election campaign was crippled by this loss of mailing lists, phone numbers, address labels, etc., perhaps revealing their true intent.

Any credible news source would readily expose these injustices, but the corporate media has been complicit in deception that influences the public's view of this case. Even after the trial was over and the true facts were known, the Star Tribune printed the transcript of the conversation with the "money, money, money" quote without revealing that it occurred during a fundraiser.

Dean's unjust conviction and imprisonment will not negate the legacy of his decades of service. Like many true freedom fighters, Dean is paying a high price for his activism. Our hearts go out to him and his family., This hurts not only Dean, but all of us. It hurts the causes Dean works for, and it unfairly tarnishes the reputations of the groups he works with. The timing of the FBI investigation and raid also tampered with the democratic process. We miss Dean's leadership on the Minneapolis City Council.

We stand in support of all political prisoners including Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the Cuban Five. Dean Zimmermann is a political prisoner and we appeal to other groups, national and international, to recognize him as such.

Dean has not asked for personal support; he asks only that we "continue the struggle". We will do that, while keeping in mind that part of that struggle is to defend our allies from persecution, and to support the right of activists to work without fear of retribution.

Dean says it best: "Speaking on behalf of the poor and oppressed and generations to come is not always popular, but it is necessary. It is my life's work. It is my work as a public official and it's work I intend to continue." Thank you, our friend, for your inspiration and for your life's work. We look forward to your continuation of that work, both in prison, and when you are able to rejoin us afterward.

If Bicking still believes that Zimmermann is innocent, I hope he would urge Zimmermann to sign the waiver to release the tapes shown at his trial to the media so voters can decide for themselves.

And when it comes to casting stones at candidates who have accepted donations from developers... (click to make bigger):