Bell: TV interview took surprising turn

Mayoral candidate Charlie Bell wants Duluth voters to concentrate on substantive issues rather than his com-ments three weeks ago to a TV reporter that someone who is a full-time mayor would compromise time with his family.

Mayoral candidate Charlie Bell wants Duluth voters to concentrate on substantive issues rather than his com-ments three weeks ago to a TV reporter that someone who is a full-time mayor would compromise time with his family.

But twice in the last four days he brought the issue up again.

Bell posted a statement on his Web site Saturday that he also handed out to reporters at a news conference Wednesday. In it, he apologized for the comments and explained why he made them. He also blamed the media for taking them out of context. He declined to say anything further afterward.

"I'm going to let that speak for me right now," he said, adding that he released the statement because it was "something that people were asking about."

In his statement, Bell recounted the Sept. 12 interview with FOX 21 News anchor Nick LaFave and said things were "going pretty well" until he was asked how he felt about winning the primary and the possibility of being Duluth's mayor.


"I told him about the great place I am in my life, where my kids are now adults and I have the time to devote to dealing with the typical responsibilities of the mayor of Duluth," he wrote.

But then he said the interview took an abrupt change.

"I had done many interviews that day, and I was trying to be accommodating, but all of a sudden I was being criticized for my opponent's priorities," he wrote. "The interviewer was very adept at moving me to a position where suddenly my opponent's life was part of my interview."

According to a News Tribune review of Bell's taped interview with FOX 21 three weeks ago, Bell was asked what separates him from Don Ness as a candidate. Bell volunteered that he has more time to devote to being mayor now that his children are grown.

"I won't compromise the time with my family, or I won't compromise the time the city needs for us to be able to solve our problems and move forward," he told LaFave.

LaFave told Bell that his response sounded as if Bell was saying a person with young children isn't qualified to run the city.

"I wouldn't say unqualified," Bell responded. "I just said, I think you've got your priorities wrong here."

When LaFave asked Bell if any other mayors around the country with young children had their priorities wrong, Bell responded. "I think so, I think so."


Bell said in his statement that he made a mistake with his comments, but they were made in such a way that "if taken out of context, would and did sound critical of other people. They were not said intentionally to discredit anyone, much less the working people of Duluth.

"What happened to me is an example of why many people in the media who should run for public office don't," he wrote. "They don't want to be subjected to what the media can do to you."

Bell wrote that he called Ness and apologized that his "remarks were misunderstood," but said Ness never re-turned his call.

Ness, who has two children under age 3, said Wednesday that he knew the two would run into each other during a Monday morning radio show two days after the story appeared in the News Tribune. Ness said the two spoke about the issue briefly and that he accepted Bell's apology.

"I was glad to hear that he isn't questioning my commitment to my kids," he said. "To be honest, I would like nothing more than [for] this issue to go away. In my mind, Charlie's comments have only served to distract from real issues."


That's something the two candidates seem to agree on.

"Sure, the words that came out of my mouth can't be put back in," Bell said in his statement. "But I sure wish they could because what has happened has detracted from what people really should be looking at and considering - the issues and who is better qualified to run the city."


Bell released the statement during a press conference where he announced that, if elected mayor, during his first 90 days he would bring in a group of volunteers to "evaluate and justify the budget and existence of all the city's financial responsibilities and assets."

"We can no longer afford to spend money we don't have," he said. "You can't do it with your checkbook and you city can't do it, either."

But now that Bell brought up again the issue of his comments about mayors with young children, Mary Currin-Percival, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said it will become something voters key in on during the election. Some voters, she said, may actually ponder whether Ness will have the time to be an effective mayor and good father.

Currin-Percival said if she were on Bell's staff, she would advise him to no longer talk about the issue. By the time people hit the polls, she said, "the original comments would have been forgotten, but the negative feelings would not. The more people talk about it, the more negative feelings there will be."

Not everyone agrees. Roger Fischer, a retired UMD political history professor, said Bell needed to defend himself if he felt the comments were played out of context or if he wanted to clarify them.

"If he has some convincing things to say about this, he should have brought it up again," Fischer said. "Unex-plained, this would be a negative on the race."

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