Pols Debate Wellstone Service Tone
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Tears gave way to foot-stomping and cheers at a memorial service for Sen. Paul Wellstone as friends and relatives urged Minnesotans to honor his memory by putting a Democrat in his seat.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale followed the service by announcing Wednesday that he would run for the Senate in Wellstone’s place, as the late senator’s family had asked.
During a 3 1/2-hour tribute at a University of Minnesota sports arena Tuesday night, more than 15,000 people cried and cheered for Wellstone, his wife, daughter and five other victims of a plane crash last Friday. Thousands more watched on big screens outside and in an adjoining arena.
For the first two hours, speakers remembered the eight with poignant anecdotes. But when Wellstone’s friend and longtime campaign treasurer Rick Kahn took the stage, he adopted the late senator’s fiery speaking style and turned the topic to politics.
``If Paul Wellstone’s legacy in the Senate comes to an end just days after this unspeakable tragedy, our spirits will be crushed, and we will drown in a river of tears,″ Kahn said. ``We are begging you, do not let this happen.″
Four large screens then showed Mondale in the crowd.
Mondale, 74, announced his intent to run in a letter Wednesday to state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Erlandson. He was expected to be ratified as the Democratic candidate in a vote by party representatives Wednesday evening.
Mondale, who represented Minnesota in the Senate before going to the White House with President Carter, quickly emerged as the consensus choice of Democratic elders concerned about holding Wellstone’s seat, one of a handful of races around the country that will determine which party controls the Senate.
Wellstone’s sons, David and Mark Wellstone, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of Wellstone’s closest friends in the Senate, also stoked the crowd to fight for Mondale, though none of them mentioned him by name.
Republicans were quick to criticize the partisan tone. ``I was frankly stunned. It was over the top,″ said Sarah Janecek, a Republican consultant.
Even some Wellstone supporters in the crowd said they were a bit uncomfortable. ``I think Kahn probably crossed that line,″ said Tom Moore, a University of Minnesota employee. ``He can be forgiven, though. He was basically preaching to the choir, and the choir needed to hear it.″
Added Sharon Rezac, attending with a Democratic women’s group from Park Rapids: ``With Paul, you can’t separate the personal from the political, and this was his night.″
Democratic officials defended the tone of the event. ``I think one would have expected such a rally cry, in such an important election,″ Erlandson said Wednesday. ``They spoke passionately for their friend, for their father.″
The event marked an end to the public mourning and a resumption of the campaign, which has just six days remaining before Tuesday’s election.
Coleman, who suspended his campaign after Wellstone’s death, planned a statewide flyaround starting early Wednesday.
It appears he faces a tough fight. A new Minnesota Poll by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis showed Mondale with a comfortable 47 percent to 39 percent lead over Coleman.
Tuesday night’s service was packed with national political figures. Former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton entered in the midst of an ebullient rhythm and blues performance, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd. They were followed by former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Gov. Jesse Ventura, among others.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson represented the Bush administration after initial reports had Vice President Dick Cheney attending. The Wellstone family asked Cheney to stay away, in part to spare mourners from security screenings, officials said.
An overflow crowd of thousands gathered outside the arena to watch on giant video screens, and many more watched and listened on statewide TV and radio to the ceremony for Wellstone; his wife Sheila, 58; his daughter Marcia Wellstone Markuson, 33; and campaign staffers Mary McEvoy, 49, Tom Lapic, 49, and Will McLaughlin, 23. The plane’s two pilots, Richard Conry, 55, and Michael Guess, 30, were also remembered.
Family and close friends attended a private funeral for Paul and Sheila Wellstone at a Minneapolis synagogue on Monday. Their bodies were buried in Lakewood Cemetery, where Hubert Humphrey also is buried.
Colleagues of Marcia Wellstone Markuson, who was a teacher in White Bear Lake, remembered her love of students and ability to connect with them.
``Marcia saw value and worth in all of her students and truly believed in the important concept that all students will learn,″ said Larry DeNucci, assistant superintendent of White Bear Lake schools. ``She helped students with their Spanish, with their problems and with their futures.″
Associated Press writers Frederic J. Frommer and David Espo contributed to this report.