Norm Coleman used to walk past my office when I worked at the Minnesota State Capitol for Senate Majority Research.
That was the first time I met him.
Well, that’s not true.
He would walk by me all the time with this kind of saunter. To be honest, the only real impression he made on me at the time was that he was skinny.
The first time I really met him was over lunch after a co-worker suggested we meet to talk about Norm’s campaign for St. Paul Mayor.
Sitting down I remember what struck me the most was he was awfully skinny — and had on a pinstripe suit, a striped shirt and his tie had stripes on it.
Anymore stripes and he and that skinny frame simply would have disappeared.
He talked. Oh Lord he talked.
And, talked and talked and talked.
He told me all about how he was going to turn the City around and run a campaign that was going to win.
There was no shortage of confidence. It wasn’t arrogance. Okay, well maybe a little bit.
But he was confident in himself – his vision – and most of all – confident he was going to win and do all the things he told me he was going to do.
Not long after that I agreed to run his campaign for Mayor. To be honest, I didn’t have a whole lot else going on at the moment so I thought it would be an adventure.
It was, indeed. The first adventure began in the living room of his house at the first campaign meeting I attended.
The same campaign meeting where he “forgot” to tell the campaign manager he already had that I was coming on board to manage the campaign.
In 1993 we soundly defeated the DFL endorsed candidate and Norm became Mayor. Over the next four years he set out to do many of the things he told me he was going to do. He brought people together.
He put aside his personal differences with people and tried to figure out the best way to make the City safer, cleaner and more affordable.
After the 1993 campaign I walked away from Norm for a couple of years but was pulled back into his orbit and my first day of work at City Hall was the same day that two St. Paul police officers were gunned down while protecting their City.
Politics got more divided in St. Paul during those 4 years. The DFL Party rather than embracing a popular young Mayor pushed him further away from the party. It became clear that Norm wasn’t part of their vision for the future and it was obvious that Norm’s common sense philosophy about the proper role of government wasn’t a good fit for the DFL Party.
So he became a Republican. And, because I wasn’t anymore welcome than he was, I became one, too.
Then we set out to get him re-elected as a Republican. That happened, too.
The campaigns Norm had didn’t end with his re-election as Mayor.
There was a Governor’s race, an election to the United States Senate, a campaign for re-election to the United States Senate and a protracted recount.
In one way, shape, form or another I was honored to play a role in each of them.
In between every single leg of this journey there’s a million stories and memories. Good, bad and ugly.
But, all of them never possible if I hadn’t sat down for lunch 22 years ago with a skinny guy who talked a lot who was convinced he could change the world.
Norm has changed the world. I think for the better. He made the lives of untold thousands of people better. Empowered others to have successful careers in their own lives.
From politics to government to corporations to social change, Norm Coleman’s inspired hundreds, if not thousands, to get involved and make the world a better place for others.
Norm has been one of the most consequential public servants in Minnesota history.
I understand that others don’t share my opinion of his service.
That’s the beauty of this country. I don’t have to agree with your wrong point of view. Or you agree with my correct point of view.
Besides, it’s my blog, I get to write what I believe not what someone else might think.
I’ve heard all of the Norm-isms through the years.
About roaring like a Lion, stuff going into God’s ears from our lips, that somebody sewed “Mayor” into his underwear (frankly, I thought that was simply creepy) and how he was a “Possibilitarian” (totally made up word), people who were just walking around if they didn’t have followers and the need to have guys with faces that said “Yes.”
Norm was never a guy willing to accept “No” or “We can’t do that” or “This is the way we have always done it” as a final answer to anything.
He put forward a vision, brought smart people around him to explain it and expected it would get done.
Present company excluded, Norm found people that were smarter than him and let them do the work that needed to be done to turn his vision into reality.
Norm has never held grudges. Sure, he’s human. There’s some folks he likes a lot more than others – but I’ve seen him reach out to those who he had bitter fights with over the years and offer them his hand at their most desperate hours.
Where others would turn away from pariahs Norm has reached out to them. Offered them his hand, kind words and a gentle heart. In a world in which we see politicians through a one-dimensional lens Norm is a reminder to me of a time when politicians didn’t view their opponents as enemies and evil – but as people who used to be kids, grew up and are just trying to do the best they can.
Sometimes succeeding. Sometimes failing. But never, in their essence, bad people.
I’ve seen Norm happy, angry, sad, frustrated and bored.
But, I’ve never seen him hopeless.
I was out for a run when I got the call from Norm telling me he had been diagnosed with cancer. The image of me literally stopping in my tracks should be in your mind.
As I struggled to hold it together on my end of the phone I could tell he was struggling even harder on his end of the call.
A few days later, equipped with a plan and knowledge about the fight ahead of him, you would have thought Norm had a plan for how to achieve world peace.
Classic Norm. With a plan, and the heart of an optimist, anything is possible.
A few days later at his home talking about his treatment plan I could see and hear in him the attitude of a guy who is in it to win it.
There was no hand wringing. No woe is me. No sack cloth and ashes (yup, other Norm thing – I don’t know I have ever seen a sack cloth and ashes, but he’s older than me, so maybe they had that kind of stuff laying around at his house.)
This Thanksgiving as Norm has shared with the public he will be at the rear end of his treatment plan to defeat the cancer that has taken a temporary residence in his body. From what he’s explained to me and to others the final phase of his treatment is brutal. I pray that the discomfort that goes with it passes quickly.
Norm’s a hard guy not to like. You actually have to work at it because he’s not going to make it easy for you not to like him. It’s part of his charm. There are certainly those whose Norm’s charm has not worked. For those who don’t like him they will at least offer him their grudging respect.
Norm will beat cancer and live a long life. He has years of getting things done, making a difference, improving the lives of those he knows and those he doesn’t know.
To paraphrase one of the oldest Norm quotes from my first days in getting to know him, “Norm’s best days are yet to come.”
Of this I have no doubt.
He has a plan, he has the attitude and he’s been in tough and difficult fights his entire life.
Throughout my life and career I have been blessed with adventures I never imagined – met people I could have only dreamed about – and done and accomplished things that as a kid in Fairmount, North Dakota I wouldn’t have believed to be possible.
It’s been a journey of profound gratitude every single day. I wake up knowing that my good fortune is not an accident. I’ve been blessed beyond measure.
I don’t need to express my gratitude for 30 days – I do it every single day.
On the very top of that list of gratitude is for my relationship with Norm these past 22 years.
He has given me the great privilege of serving with him and for him for much of the past 22 years. It has been my great honor to have been with him in the thrill of his victory, and even more so in the humbling cavern of defeat.
Through the years he’s been my boss, my irritation, my mentor, my Mayor, my United States Senator, my leader and my friend.
The book of my journey of life has many chapters but some of the most compelling, impactful and memorable have been spent in public service. Each of the chapters over the past 22 years revolve around something involving Norm Coleman. It’s not been half of my life but it’s been enough of my life to be thankful for the man whose own personal courage is being tested by his battle with cancer.
Courage and bravery that has been at the core of his commitment to public service on behalf of the people of Minnesota – and core to who he is as a human being.
The response from friends and foe to Norm’s battle with cancer has been astonishing. It says something about the life he has lived that even his fiercest opponents reached out to him to wish him well, offer their prayers and their thoughts.
Norm was fond of saying that the people he served had the heart of a lion and that he was honored to give their roar.
Today, in this battle in which he will win the war against his cancer, it is Norm who has the heart of the lion.
From my lips to Gods ear I can never give thanks enough for the good fortune I’ve had to have met Norm Coleman.
That moment gave me the opportunity to learn how to be a Possibilitarian – to not just take a walk – to try to be the face that said “Yes.”
(Sorry, I’m not sewing “Mayor” into my underwear!)
This Thanksgiving, it is for all those things and so many others that it is my honor to roar my thanks for Norm Coleman.