Al Franken returns to St. Louis Park – no joke

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, front and center, poses for photos with St. Louis Park School District Supt. Rob Metz, left, and members of the St. Louis Park School Board Sept. 1 at St. Louis Park High School. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe)
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, front and center, poses for photos with St. Louis Park School District Supt. Rob Metz, left, and members of the St. Louis Park School Board Sept. 1 at St. Louis Park High School. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe)

Although he lives all the way over in downtown Minneapolis currently, U.S. Sen. Al Franken doesn’t stay away from his native St. Louis Park for long.

He spoke to St. Louis Park School District staff at St. Louis Park High School Sept. 1, about two weeks after CBS News aired an interview of him in front of his boyhood home in St. Louis Park filmed earlier in 2015.

While speaking to St. Louis Park educators at the high school auditorium, Franken mentioned his own involvement in the school district. While he attended The Blake School for high school, he attended St. Louis Park Public Schools earlier.

“I wasn’t at the high school, but I know the Park system is a great system that’s all about the teachers,” Franken said after his speech.

During his talk, Franken spoke in support of “21st century learning centers” and social sciences as well as extending post-secondary educational opportunities in more places in the country.

He noted he took science and technology classes but ended up on a stage.

“I think that’s very important, too,” he said.

He gained sustained applause from St. Louis Park staff members when he said that students who can’t afford to take Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests should have the opportunity to do so.

On a lighter note, he joked, “You’re here, you’re back – this is probably the best you’ll feel all year.”

More seriously, he told teachers that what they do does make a difference in the lives of students.

“What you do is a beautiful, beautiful thing,” he said.

Keith Page, the proprietor of Nelson’s Meats, prepares food for St. Louis Park School District staff members at a Sept. 1 professional development day. U.S. Sen. Al Franken spoke at the event. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe)
Keith Page, the proprietor of Nelson’s Meats, prepares food for St. Louis Park School District staff members at a Sept. 1 professional development day. U.S. Sen. Al Franken spoke at the event. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Seth Rowe)

He advised staff members to “paint a picture of whatever it is that makes those kids feel welcome.”

Director of Communications and Community Relations Sara Thompson said the district invited Franken to speak at the staff professional development day because of his ties to the district, including having attended the former Cedar Manor Elementary School. During his speech, he talked about his own educational experiences as well as his bill related to the No Child Left Behind law.

Franken credited his education in general and experiences with teachers in particular for his success.

“I grew up in a great time,” Franken said, noting he had lived in a modest rambler in the “second alphabet” of St. Louis Park street names.

“You get your values from where you grow up,” he said.

Growing up in the Park, he said he gained the optimism to believe he could do anything.

“I think of lot of kids don’t feel that way anymore, and I want to make sure each kid feels that way,” Franken said.

Some politicians use teachers as a political club, he maintained. If teachers are not effective, they should be retrained, he said, and a truly bad teacher should not be in the schools.

“But to slur all teachers is wrong,” Franken said.

He spoke more about his childhood in an interview in front of his old St. Louis Park house that aired on CBS Sunday Morning Aug. 16. He noted he moved to the house on a middle-class street when he was 6 years old.

“We had no quality time in my house,” Franken joked. “We didn’t go skiing or anything like that. But we had a lot of quantity time, and a lot of it was watching comedy. And my dad loved to laugh.”

His father worked as a printing salesman while his mother was a homemaker and real estate agent. Franken said he became interested in politics at an early age during the Civil Rights Movement. He recalled reports of police dogs attacking protesters.

“My dad said, ‘No Jew could be for that. No Jew could be for that,’” Franken said, emphasizing the point. “That was probably when it crystallized how important public affairs are.”

The reporter also followed Franken around his current Minneapolis residence, including his “Nixon bathroom” that features a lengthy, handwritten letter from Elvis to the Republican president.

“My favorite sentence is, ‘I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing technique, and I am right in the middle of the whole thing,’” Franken read with a laugh.

He also discussed his move back to Minnesota in 2006 and his run for the U.S. Senate. He credited his close win in 2008 to an advertisement featuring his wife, Franni. In the commercial, she disclosed her struggle with alcoholism.

“The Al Franken I know stood by me through thick and thin, so I know he’ll always come through for Minnesotans,” she said.

“It was an amazing thing for her to do,” Franken said. “Not only would I not have won had she not done that and all the myriad of other things she did, but I would have lost by a lot. I would have been humiliated.”

Franken also warmed to a question by the reporter if he had ever thought of writing a satire about Congressional committees.

“No, but that’s such a good idea,” he said slowly. “Huh. That’s what I’m going to do when I retire.”

Contact Seth Rowe at [email protected]