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Thomas Friedman Revisits St. Louis Park for Election Lessons

The famed journalist made his hometown the theme of his Wednesday New York Times column.

Thomas Friedman Revisits St. Louis Park for Election Lessons

New York Times columnist and St. Louis Park native son Thomas Friedman apparently made a well-timed trip to Minnesota this week, and turned the visit into—what else?— a column in the New York Times.

Most of the local color is in the first part of the column:

I thought it might be useful to look at this election through the window of my hometown of St. Louis Park. I have not been disappointed. I found in this little suburb of 45,250 people outside of Minneapolis—which was memorialized in the movie, “A Serious Man,” directed by the Coen brothers, who also hail from here—all the key trends impacting America.

For starters, there is the changing face of the town. We had two African-Americans among the 2,500 students at St. Louis Park High when I graduated in 1971, and everyone there was either Christian or Jewish. When I walked through the high school cafeteria on Monday, there were six teenage girls covered in colorful Muslim hijabs and the principal, Robert Metz, explained to me that “today we have more Muslim students than Jewish students.” This is the byproduct of the huge influx of Somali refugees to Minnesota. Metz said my old high school, which now has open enrollment and competes for students from around Minneapolis, attracts young people both for its academic rigor and because they want to go to a richly diverse school that mirrors the world in which they’ll be working. There are more than 30 languages spoken in the elementary school near my old house—exactly 29 more than when I lived here.

Mayor Jeffrey Jacobs of St. Louis Park notes that 85 percent of residents here today don’t have kids in local public schools, yet they regularly vote to increase real estate taxes to improve these schools, because they understand that “you cannot cheapskate yourself to greatness” and “they see value for their money.”

But that attitude is no longer held statewide. When I was growing up, my congressmen were liberal Republicans (there was no other kind in Minnesota back then) in a Democratic district. No one thought anything of it. Today my congressman here would be Keith Ellison, an African-American Muslim and one of the most liberal Democrats in the House, while liberal Republicans in Minnesota today are as rare as a two-headed moose.

Friedman goes on to talk about developments in Minnesota politics—specifically, "a fight here for the soul of the Republican Party"— as leading indicators for national politics. Along the way he also quotes Minnesota's U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

Earlier this year, Friedman, Franken, Klobuchar, and Joel and Ethan Coen were five of the final eight in St. Louis Park Patch's Ultimate Bracket to determine the most famous Parkite. (Franken went on to win.)

Friedman, who has won three Pulitzer Prizes, got his start at The Echo while attending St. Louis Park High School. He graduated in 1971.

Read Friedman's complete Oct. 31, 2012 column, headlined Minnesota Mirror, at the New York Times website.

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