Ted Mondale’s Entitlement Tab

NEW SLAUGHTERMy favorite local news story in recent days was the one about Ted Mondale finally agreeing to a $50,000 clawback of a $150,000 loan he got from Ponzi king Tom Petters back in 2005. The original Strib story was a terse recitation of the known facts. Mondale and Petters shared several business ventures. Petters openly traded on the Mondale name in the process of expanding his nefarious empire. The loan in question was never repaid.

Then a couple of days ago Strib columnist, Jon Tevlin, weighed in, with a juicier telling of the tale, along with mating it to Mondale’s breezy assurance that e-pulltab revenue would help cover the “public share” of cash for the new Vikings stadium, generally believed to be about $348 million.

A couple of key lines from Tevlin’s column: Asked whether Mondale was cooperative, the receiver on the clawback, Doug Kelley said, “It was a long and tortured path for us to come to an agreement with Mr. Mondale.”

And this: “The business Petters helped fund and Mondale ran, Nazca, promoted itself as a software company that could track real estate transactions for clients. Mondale promised it would be working in six months, but three years later he hadn’t delivered. By 2008, the company has losses of $5.7 million.”

And finally this: “During testimony in his trial, Petters said that he used the Mondale name to solidify his company’s reputation. Mondale held several positions at Redtag, which did business in Asia. His father, former Vice President Walter Mondale, had served as ambassador to Japan, and Petters said in court that the affiliation ‘opened up incredible doors’.”

I bet it did.

Now, I’ve never met Ted Mondale. I was introduced to brother Bill once, if I remember. I ran into their late sister Eleanor a couple of times in Los Angeles and did a feature story on her here after her first bout with cancer, and I’ve interviewed Dad, The Veep, a couple of times. So no deep familiarity. But enough with Eleanor to detect a rather thick strain of entitlement. Not obnoxious. Not even off-putting. (She knew how to play the boys.) Just the vibe that, “I deserve this”, which in her case was the attention for being a fun, good-looking gal … with a famous name.

It’s a shame there isn’t a serious city magazine left in town, because this Mondale-Petters story is full of tantalizing facets. Obviously the two were far more than passing acquaintances. Each, I speculate, saw opportunity in the other. That neither fulfilled it for the other only adds to the drama.

But it is striking that Mondale, who may not have Tom Petters-in-his-prime kind of dough, doesn’t have the wherewithal to get a loan … to pay back the Petters loan. Or, even better, a well-heeled pal who’d bail him out, to spare him the public embarrassment of fighting Kelley and looking like a guy who saw no good reason to part with easy money pulled from a massive fraud. I ask you, how much better off would Mondale’s reputation be if he had cut a deal with rich buddy so as to be able to put out an “official story” that he had “fully cooperated” with Kelley, and “in the interests of being an example for others, quickly and completely repaid” the $150,000?

Anyhow … I was delighted … yeah, “delighted” … to see Tevlin take on the story. I like Jon. He’s a very good/sometimes terrific writer. But post-Nick Coleman, the Strib mandate was pretty clearly for a less polarizing choice of column topics. Assuming they know better than me what the reading public wants in a metro columnist, (not likely), all I can say is that I have far (far) less interest in feel-good homilies on community spirit than vanity and connivery among the entitled elite … whose famous names have them in positions to spend vast amounts of our money.

51 thoughts on “Ted Mondale’s Entitlement Tab

  1. Bud Jones says:

    There was a picture in the strib years ago of the then Democrat(s )wannabe governors. Freeman,Dayton,Humphrey, etc. Two of them have been governor since that time. Why should this Mondale kid’s story be a surprise? Nepotism is how we choose to do it here in Minnesota.

    1. Listen, I think it’s something very close to a disgrace that allegedly progressive Democrats concede to this feudal dynasty trap. In Dayton’s case he essentially bought himself the job, (again). But with Mondale we see the more traditional pattern of greased tracks and decision-makers doing The Old Man a courtesy. Obviously some heirs to famous names come with the full set of qualifications. I’m just not convinced Ted Mondale meets that criteria.

      1. PM says:

        Yes, what is it about Democrats and nepotism? I mean, i can almost understand the GOP and the bush fixation–at least it doesn’t really contradict their values. Further, it almost seems as if the Democrats do it more!

        Frankly, that is the thing that gives me the most concern about Hillary and 2016. I think that it is bad enough that we have recently had a father/son team of presidents, and I just do not like the idea of a husband/wife team. Despite all of the good things about Hillary.

        1. I’m not cool with Hillary, either. Obviously if the GOP continues its current death spiral and nominates Ted Cruz or Rand Paul I’ll vote for her. But the whole dynasty thing makes me queasy. Old Babs Bush talking about “the same four families or whatever” was not just casual number-grabbing. She knows the drill.

          That said about Hillary, I am absolutely certain the Democrats will nominate a woman in 2016. If the GOP had a brain they’d beat them to the punch. Maybe Kelly Ayotte will be a hollow point winner with the base after her vote on universal background checks … ?

            1. John: I am both ashamed and chastened … . I resolve to improve my illiterate, hedgy ways. Hell, it might even be time for a new picture. Thnx.

            2. Ellen Mrja says:

              Juan: This part was brilliant — “And don’t even get me started on your spawn, Thathavingbeensaid. It not only accomplishes the lexical bet hedgery that you do, Havingsaidthat, but with an agile transposition of words it separates the speaker from the very speech he just uttered, abandoning his words in a little crib on the cold doorstep of an oratorical nunnery, orphaned and alone.” I used to work with a guy who could string ’em together that way. We called him No. 4.

    2. PM says:


      I think it is not just how we in MN do it– it is clearly a national phenomena. What else can explain GWBush? How else do you explain Chelsea Clinton’s job at NBC? The Kennedy clan’s hold on the Massachussetts and Rhode Island?

      But, yes, we do it, too.

      BTW, I went to camp w/ teddy way, way back in the day…..

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Hey, Widjiwagan no doubt among the insects in the great Minnesota wilderness mastering the art of portaging and evidently the rudiments of power politics.

        1. PM says:

          Well, it wasn’t Widji, but very similar. It was fairly clear that he would have preferred to be on a dirt bike race track instead. He didn’t come back after that one year.

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    I hadn’t been following this. Thanks for looking under the floorboards. Intriguing stuff, shines a light on our civic leaders, their character and motivations–a necessary one I believe. Unlikely to be otherwise reported these days I’m afraid.

  3. LeftyMN says:

    Cronyism usually doesn’t have an exclusiveness to one political party as money and power flow together. I completely agree this is a story that needs more investigation and telling.

  4. I’m with you on Tevlin. Good story teller, whether topic is light or heavy. Too many “serious” stories have no lilt to them, no flow. There’s nothing wrong with serious journalism being entertaining, too. The best non-fiction writing (I’ve recently been looking again at Willie Morris, former editor of Harper’s, a great Southern writer) pulls you along like the tide, and you learn while you flow..

    1. I’m giving Jon credit where it is due. But what I’m saying is that stuff like the Mondale column has far more appeal to me than simply a nicely written piece about some character or issue unlikely to offend anyone.

      1. I agree, Brian.

        I can see good all around me. I don’t need news columnists for that.

        But I can’t see the seamy side all around me. It’s often hidden. Therefore, I need news columnists to expose the seamy side for me. Speak truth to power. Question the conventional wisdom.

        Puppies and bunnies stories don’t do much for me, even when exquisitely written..

        1. I don’t want to sound like I’m dogging Jon here, because I have a pretty good understanding of what the Strib’s current newsroom management wants out of its metro columnists — essentially the polar opposite of Nick Coleman/Katharine Kersten.

          But you and I are on the same beam. Inspiring, feel-good stories are staples of local TV and network morning shows, where the first order of business is to make people love you.

          Making people respect you — for w willingness to take on people with famous names and influential friends — requires a whole other set of talents.

        2. Dennis Lang says:

          Years and years ago when I thought journalism would be the coolest career choice and after an uncle had given me a subscription to the “IF Stone Weekly” as a birthday present I figured this is what it meant to be a journalist. I’m wondering if the IF Stone’s of the future will be bloggers, whose only indebtedness is not to corporate revenue streams or political sensitivities but to dig out the truth.

  5. Jake says:

    Tevlin is very good writer–probably the best columnist in the Twin Cities right now. He deserves the kudos he’s receiving here. His column after the Vikings legislative vote last year was a delight to read, capturing human nature and politics in Minnesota better than anything I’ve read in a long time.

    I agree with Mr. Lambert’s lamenting the lack of a serious city magazine in town. I thought this was going to be the role MinnPost might fill when it started up a few years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t recall many in-depth articles appearing in the publication on subjects being ignored by the dailies and TV news. MinnPost seems to have morphed into a multi-writer blog that leans left and doesn’t take controversial stands (such as the Vikings stadium issue) that might upset the political power structure. Frankly, the most entertainment provided by MinnPost consists of the rants by some of the daily posters, many of which are frequently longer than the article.

    What publications have practiced in-depth journalism in the Cities other than the dailies? I can recall some solid pieces in the old TC Reader, but I defer to those more familiar with Twin Cities journalism to cite others.

    1. A Texas Monthly-style piece on Mondale/Petters (and others) like I’m thinking would cost at least $3000. If the social/business risk and blowback weren’t enough to deter the publications that are left — City Pages, if we’re being honest about it — that price tag would be the deal killer.

            1. I don’t know what “the ceiling” is. The standard piece rate seems to be $150. So if someone walked in and laid out a “Texas Monthly-like” story on Petters-Mondale et al — credibly sourced — I suppose they might be able to negotiate it up, but they’d never get close to $3000, which as I say would be a bare minimum for a story of the type I’m thinking. They just don’t have that kind of dough.

              What you’re angling for is their resistance to run such a piece, and they may share the same qualms as the Strib, PiPress or any of the TV stations … who have far greater resources. The two city magazines aren’t even in the business of such a story. Which leaves only City Pages, and I very much doubt a freelancer would get any more out of them than MinnPost.

              Someone could offer to do it for “the exposure”.

            2. Dennis Lang says:

              That’s depressing. Really! Why would anyone want to study journalism these days? Sounds impossible to make a living at it.No wonder so many ex-journalists seem to end up in PR. Sad. We’re the losers.

            3. Jim Leinfelder says:

              No, I’m not “angling.” It’s an honest question that I would imagine occurs to anyone reading your lament about the failures of everyone else in town. MinnPost is supposed to be an alternative publication of some sort with an unlimited digital space. It doesn’t seem to me it’s asking for cold fusion to pool some resources on occasion for something of this ambition. I’d live without some of the beard-stroking analysis in exchange for reading the sort of ambitious project that you describe. I’m sure you’d get plenty of qualified takers from within the MinnPost circle. And it could be another fund-raising opportunity: targeted sponsorship of, let’s say, four enterprise reporting projects a year, a $12,000 goal. If $150 is the limit, well, yes, we can shelve this discussion.

  6. PM says:

    I have really been enjoying tevlin these past few years. Some of his columns have infuriated me, and others have delighted me. I like the fact that he has an attitude, and that he is not bashful about showing it.

    Regarding Mondale, his actions/attitude suggest to me that he has given up on a career in elective politics. I think that he is into the cashing out phase of his career.

  7. bombo says:

    I had some classes w/Mondale as an undergrad at the U. He was good for the first and last class, but I guess a real bright student doesn’t have to mess with details like lectures.

  8. Ellen Mrja says:

    Brian: There are and have been non-profit organizations and foundations (such as the Knight Foundation, which also helps to fund MinnPost) that still encourage time-and-resource-intensive investigative journalism. And thank God for them.

    Sy Hersh, who won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, was only able to do his work through the funding of the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Mainstream media were not interested. The same is true today.

    Here’s a great reference on other sites that are funding and experimenting with the all-important developed reporting and writing our nation needs: http://www.media.illinois.edu/knight/future-of-investigative-reporting

    1. I had forgotten the Sy Hersh example. But as I say. i think it’s a good idea. Whether anyone thinks it applies to the vanities and connivery of the famous, who would know until someone asks?

    2. Dennis Lang says:

      Fascinating! Thanks for sharing the link. Intriguing about Hersh, who spoke before a packed house at the U of M following his story at that time. If that piece so vital, when presumably mainstream news organizatons were solvent wouldn’t touch it, grim future–that I guess we’re in fact experiencing–for long-form, probing journalism in the public interest. Collateral damage of the Internet?

      1. Hi, Dennis. Yes, collateral damage of the Internet. But let’s be honest. Too many newspapers started putting profits ahead of solid journalism, investigative or otherwise, in the 80s, 90s, 00s. Desired profits for newspaper companies were 25, 35, 38%.

        At the same time, only on-the-ball publishers were keeping up with the changes the internet would bring. The others went to conventions of the Minnesota Newspaper Association and clucked about local TV cutting in on their advertisers.

        And it’s not a good excuse to say newspapers could not have possibly known what the internet would bring. After all, newspapers were supposed to be in the NEWS business.

        We also have to include magazine publishing in this mix. Don’t you think?

          1. Dennis Lang says:

            Journalism professor and seasoned warrier of the profession. Pesonally, I think highly informative if you and Ellen both got “started”

        1. Dennis Lang says:

          Hmm…I’m still thinking about this for some odd reason. But, even provided the newspapers did know what they were in for in the wake of the incredible volume of free internet content, what were they to do about it and still maintain their integrity and authenticity as news organizatons? Some have taken the road “The Atlantic” took–for a moment anyway–on the Scientology piece–and run advertising that masquerades as news. I guess “Forbes” and the “Times” have transitioned. There are those that are donation funded. But what hope did small town America, the papers of the Minnesota Newpaper Association, ever have as their ad revenue dried up? Monetizing internet content is still pathetically feeble if not non-existent, isn’t it?

          1. Ellen Mrja says:

            Suppose local papers had become Car Soup first; they would have kept their auto sales ads. Suppose they had become local Craig’s Lists before Craig’s List established itself. They would have kept the advertising of everything else. Suppose local papers had said, “We can not cover the world nor the nation. But we can become the Google of all things Mankato or Duluth or whatever. Even these few suggestions might have made a difference, yes?

            1. Dennis Lang says:

              Ellen—Thanks for the reply. Of course those of you in the profession would have a clear notion of what options were perceived as viable at the time to the publishers—how prescient they might have been, or how deep their state of denial, the context and pressures under which they were operating. I presume if they were already whining over lost ad revenue to television, they had no idea of the cataclysm to come via the Internet. What were the publishers seeing–then? (Our view in retrospect being perfect.) Could they have in a tightly focused way successfully outflanked the Craig’s Lists and Car Soups of cyberspace? Would this have sustained them, or would the fix have been temporary at best?

              Anyway, thanks for staying with the subject a little longer. Over the years probably hammered into the ground.

            2. PM says:

              And, of course, it isn’t just the management that has made significant miscalculations about the value of newspapers…remember that McClatchy bought the Strib for a lot of $$ in 1998, then sold it for about 1/2 that amount to Avista Capital eight years later, and then 3 years later it was in chapter 11. Lots of people have lost lots of money over the past 2 decades in the newspaper business.

            3. Dennis Lang says:

              Thanks for the link Jim. Damn frightening I think: that newspapers have become obsolete. Not unlike the domestic apparel industry mentioned recently in Benidt’s post, and countless other industries replaced by something newer, more efficient, cheaper, its time has come. Except there’s something, unlike the others, that society irrevocably loses when it loses those described in the article:

              “Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world. Once upon a time you saw people like this in every newsroom in the country. They often had chaotic personal lives and they died early of cirrhosis or a heart attack. But they were tough, angry SOBs and they produced great stories.

              Do you want to know what kind of people get promoted and succeed in the modern news organization? Social climbers. Networkers. People who are gregarious, who “buy in” to the dominant consensus, who go along to get along and don’t ask too many really awkward questions. They are flexible, well-organized, and happy with life.”

            4. I personally can think of countless examples of exactly what the piece describes, especially as the industry began melting down and the private equity owners panicked at missing their lofty profit projections. At that point the concept of “team” began being seriously overworked and those who practiced basic reportorial skepticism on the ownership plan du jour — invariably producing even “greater journalism” with far less resources — faced real world blow back from a new class of mid-level managers. The new crew being a corps of transient management school hires with little or no first-hand journalism experience, but an unquestioning commitment to ownership’s “team think”.

  9. PM says:

    OK, time for some really creative thinking .here…so imagine that MinnPost were to try to crowdsource funding for an article like this. First, they make it clear just what the topic is, and then they set up a bidding war–you have two options–pay to have the article written, or pay to not have it written–and go with whichever option raises more (but, you have to pay in advance– payment is not contingent on the outcome–if your side loses, you will still be out the $$).

    Get your friends, family and enemies in on the bidding! Just think of the possibilities!

  10. Ellen Mrja says:

    Just wanted to add that I do respect Walter Mondale and his life of public service. My very favorite quote ever from a politician came from him as Vice President while he was preparing to take on Ronald Reagan in the televised debates. His PR media adviser told Mondale he’d have to find a new hair stylist because his standby barber gave Mondale haircuts that looked like shit.

    “But I like shitty haircuts,” Mondale replied.

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