Published October 31, 2002
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Democratic organizers of the public memorial for Sen. Paul Wellstone apologized Wednesday for its partisan tone, but insisted many of the remarks were not scripted.
"It probably would have been best not to get into politics and elections in the way it was done,'' said Wellstone's campaign manager, Jeff Blodgett.
But he said he "was as surprised as anyone'' when the memorial shifted from a series of tearful eulogies into an affair resembling a political rally.
More than 20,000 people attended Tuesday night's 3 1/2 -hour tribute to Wellstone, his wife, daughter and five others killed in a plane crash.
For the first two hours, speakers remembered the victims 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.
"I'm begging you to help us win this Senate election for Paul Wellstone,'' Kahn said as he tried to rally support for Walter Mondale as the late senator's replacement.
Gov. Jesse Ventura said the partisan display drove his wife to tears and he threatened to consider appointing a non-Democrat to temporarily fill Wellstone's seat.
The appointee would fill the seat until the election results are certified, no earlier than Nov. 19. Ventura said he is unlikely to announce his choice until the polls are closed Tuesday.
Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman said he thought the tone of the memorial was unfortunate, while state GOP Chairman Ron Eibensteiner said the party would ask TV stations to provide free airtime to respond.
Even Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roger Moe said Kahn's speech went too far. The Independent gubernatorial candidate, Tim Penny, said he wasn't surprised, given the feisty crowd and fiery speeches.
"That is Senator Wellstone,'' Penny said.