It was a laid-back, wine-and-cheese setting - gentle sunshine, a quiet lake, clumps of birch trees sprinkled along the shore - plus a becalmed Tony Bouza chatting with some of Bemidji's literati.
"Who are your political heroes, the individuals you admire most in politics?" asked a writer.
"Cincinnatus," he said. "Lincoln, of course, and Beethoven, Shakespeare, Socrates."
"Cincinnatus was a Roman general in the 5th century B.C.," Bouza hurried to explain. "He was living quietly in the country when he was twice asked to lead the Roman legions in times of crisis. He won great battles and, though Rome was at his feet, he turned his back on all the adulation and each time returned to his farm."
Bouza identifies with Cincinnatus. He's the cop who feels he has served the republic - actually, New York City and Minneapolis - well. And now, at age 65, he's come out of retirement to perform one last, great service - be Minnesota's governor.
The audience quickly made the connection, despite his protestation that he doesn't equate himself with any of his heroes. But the listeners were puzzled about Beethoven. Why was he on a list of political heroes?
Bouza got excited: "Liberty, justice and equality! The French Revolution! That's what Beethoven was writing about in the Third Symphony. He dedicated it to Napoleon, but was bitterly disillusioned when Napoleon invaded Russia. So Beethoven scratched the dedication and named the symphony the Eroica."
And Socrates? "Life unexamined isn't worth living. He tells us it is a constant search."
Shakespeare, an astute observer of the human condition, made the point that evil men don't always look the part. "Richard III was a brave man with a pretty face, just like today's Dirty Harrys and Michael Sauros, but they're all evil."
As for Lincoln, having to send young men off to die in combat "tortured his soul," but his war to end slavery was a "calculated risk to make us a better people."
It was a bravura performance by Bouza. There were skeptics in his audience who questioned his support for legalized abortion and cringed when he defended the death penalty. But after more than two hours of unabridged Bouza on a Saturday, they were reluctant to leave.
Therein lies Tony Bouza's political strength. He has a way of connecting with people even when they don't agree with everything he says. He speaks in a bombs-away style that sometimes entertains, sometimes intrigues and sometimes irritates, but always commands attention.
He once ended a commencement speech at Breck School in Golden Valley with poetic wisdom to live by:
Beauty is truth
And truth is beauty,
And a rooty-toot-tooty.
"The kids loved it. But the principal - he was appalled. Thought it was terrible," Bouza said.
He dislikes having to poke his hand at strangers and tell them he is running for governor. So he frequently introduces himself as Rudy Perpich and then waits for a reaction.
Almost everything about Bouza is unorthodox, and no one, not even Bouza himself, is quite sure how the voters will react to that in the DFL primary. So far, so good. He's still standing while other candidates have fallen by the wayside. And he has been consistently ahead in the polls, although polls taken early in the political season aren't worth much, and he knows it.
Many observers consider state Sen. John Marty of Roseville the favorite simply because he has the DFL endorsement, which gives him access to the party's campaign apparatus. The other serious DFL candidate, former Commerce Commissioner Mike Hatch, can count on support and money from some DFLers who remember when he was the state party chairman.
Bouza has no base within the party. He stayed out of DFL activities when he was police chief. Indeed, he was hired in 1980 to eliminate the partisan politics that dominated the upper echelons of the Police Department.
So this is his first foray into politics, and he's rather enjoying his role as the Don Quixote of the 1994 election. After making public appearances, he frequently turns to his campaign handler, Barbara Lawrence, and asks, "What's the next windmill?"
The windmills Bouza faces today are in some ways less imposing than the challenges that confronted him as a boy.
He grew up in a tiny village in northern Spain. His father never spent more than a day or two at home at any one time. He was a poorly educated seaman who shoveled coal into ship's boilers for a living. The young boy thought of his father as a "lonely, distant" man. He wasn't around when the boy almost died from diphtheria, and that pattern didn't change even after the family immigrated to the United States when Bouza was 9.
Life in Brooklyn was a lot more difficult and confusing than in Spain. For one thing, there were mafiosi living nearby, and life in the streets wasn't all that enticing to a none-too-robust child.
"We were poor. No question about it. My sister [and only sibling] will deny it, but many times we were hungry," Bouza said. That was especially true after his father died when Bouza was 15.
In school, he was an indifferent student. Despite one teacher's encouragement, he barely managed a 72 average to get out of high school, which he considered a "terrifying blackboard jungle."
There was, however, another defining experience in his life. Actually, it was a series of little events that combined to tell him how "stupid and dumb" he was.
One day, some neighborhood friends mentioned the opera, and he didn't have a clue what they were talking about. On another occasion, Bouza went to a movie and a friend told him it was a political commentary on individualism vs. collectivism.
"To me, it was just an enjoyable movie, nothing more," he said, and that was embarrassing because he was aware of the debate swirling in the mid-1940s about communism, fascism and capitalism.
Other similar incidents eventually propelled Bouza to start reading. At age 18 he got his first library card and began devouring books about anything and everything. Knowledge intoxicated him. It gave him the self-confidence, along with the unending supply of big words, that lies behind his glib tongue.
But that didn't come overnight. Bouza's brother-in-law, who was a cop, pushed him into a 13-month training program designed to produce police recruits, but the Army got Bouza first. It made him a cook, although a somewhat puzzled officer confided that Bouza's test scores showed he had an IQ of 144.
After the Army, Bouza was hustling clothes in the garment district when he went to see the play "Death of a Salesman."
"I realized I was on my way to becoming Willie Loman. I decided to take the civil service exam to get a safe, secure job in the public works department," he said. But he was overruled by his mother, who said he should become a cop.
"I had no ambition other than a full stomach - economic security," he said, but that soon changed. He began moving up in the department, and ambition bit. He needed academic credentials, so he got into a program for cops. It took him about 12 years of mostly night classes, but he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in administration from Baruch College in New York.
While all that was going on, he married a secretary from Great Britain. Erica Bouza, who quickly became an American citizen, is one of her husband's main political assets. When they campaign together, she is often recognized, thanks to the publicity she received for opposing the U.S. military establishment. She was repeatedly arrested in the 1980s by her husband's officers for demonstrating against Honeywell's production of bombs. She went to jail twice.
She traveled the state for years, speaking to groups about her experiences. It isn't unusual for women who are complete strangers to give her a hug in recognition of her activities.
She was also involved in her husband's job when he was, in effect, the police chief of the Bronx. Bouza described the Bronx as a "cesspool of poverty" awash in "pimps, prostitutes, drugs, rape, murder, violence and every form of bestiality know to man." Amid all that, he had cops and community volunteers out planting trees, cleaning up the Bronx River and organizing youth activities. Erica was part of that, too, although they lived in the safety of suburbia with their two sons.
Bouza was told by one of his superiors to cut out the social work. He ignored the suggestion, but, ironically, some of those street toughs played a role in his demise in New York's Police Department.
In 1976, about 2,000 police officers protesting departmental layoffs and a deferred pay increase rallied outside Yankee Stadium in the Bronx as fans were arriving for a boxing match. The resulting confusion unintentionally provided some cover for street gangs who tried to crash the gates, producing chaos and fisticuffs. Nearly 30 people were arrested.
Television filmed the whole thing, and there was hell to pay - mostly by Bouza, although he wasn't the ranking officer on the scene. Two weeks later, he lashed back with a comment that will follow him forever:
"If I failed, it's because I didn't continue to make these feral children invisible to middle- and upper-class Americans who aren't used to seeing them. . . . I think America better look at this permanent underclass of uncontrolled children we have in the ghetto."
After pouring that oil on the fire, Bouza quit before he could be fired. He took the No. 2 job in the city's Transit Police Department, but lost that when a new mayor came in. He was lecturing college students when Minneapolis came calling.
He doesn't mention the time he was suspended for three days for expressing his displeasure with Dennis Schulstad, a nemesis on the City Council. "Schulstad represents Charlie Stenvig in drag," said Bouza, referring to the former mayor and police lieutenant who, like Schulstad, is a political conservative.
Bouza had an unusual relationship with the council. He usually got what he wanted because he argued his case persuasively, but he refused to court the council members.
He maintains that, at best, schmoozing is a waste of time. He intends to take that same approach to the Capitol if he is elected. He is convinced that the state needs a manager, not a politician, as its elected leader.
"People want government to be run efficiently, effectively and fairly," he says. "They're tired of politicians playing games and screwing things up."
Some of Bouza's critics say he's the one who played games when he was chief.
Al Berryman, the head of the Minneapolis Police Federation, accuses Bouza of cooking the books to make himself look good: "When someone came in on a warrant, he had officers fill out an arrest form just to make it look like we were making more arrests.
"And the reason he had budget surpluses was because he wasn't replacing officers when they quit or retired. Reducing the size of the department - and remember, those officers eventually had to be replaced - made him look good, but it also meant we didn't serve the citizens as good as we could have."
Bouza is still such a lightning rod at City Hall that he is blamed for creating an atmosphere that allowed such disasters as the napping downtown patrol officers and the $700,000 verdict against Lt. Mike Sauro to happen.
Bouza responds to such criticism with a tinge of sarcasm. "I left the department 5 1/2 years ago. Don't you think it is about time they quit whining and accepted some responsibility?"
He admits that he goofed in the mid-1980s when he made his now-infamous comment about Minneapolis not having a gang problem. "It was a mistake," he says, "one of the worst I ever made." Then he softens the self-criticism by noting that he also said the city had a "youth problem," a generic comment akin to his "feral youth" statement about the Bronx.
There wasn't a lot of weeping and wailing at City Hall when he voluntarily stepped down in 1989.
Since then he has stayed busy making speeches and writing books - his latest is on the causes of crime - in his home near Lake Calhoun and his cottage on Cape Cod, Mass. He also spent 17 months as the state's gaming commissioner - a job that he said should be abolished - and about 17 minutes as head of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, a private group in Washington, D.C., dedicated to gun control.
The reason for his brief stay in Washington was vintage Bouza. He was invited to "The Today Show" to talk with Bryant Gumbel about guns and violence. Bouza opined that much of the violence involving minorities is the product of racism because white society remains closed to minorities.
Gumbel countered by pointing out that Colin Powell, a black and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at that time, was America's top military officer.
Bouza responded by saying that Powell was the handmaiden of the white power structure, but didn't know it. "I was gone the next day," said Bouza. "So, on to the next windmill."
Supports licensing and registering handguns, banning assault weapons, but believes there should be no restrictions on use of rifles and shotguns. Proposes focusing resources and jail space on career criminals. "Getting tough isn't enough ... 80 percent of Minnesota's juvenile offenders were abused as children, reminding us to also attack root causes such as dysfunctional families, teenage pregnancy, racism and joblessness." Supports capital punishment.
Jobs: What steps would you take to create more and better jobs? What would you do to address the growing disparity between the affluent and the working poor?
"For too long Minnesota job creation strategy has looked like a bad version of `Let's Make A Deal.' We have to stop giving bailouts and buyouts to a few lucky millionaires, and focus our resources on leveling the economic playing field so all businesses have and equal chance to thrive. My approach will be structural. That means taking a serious look at lowering the uncompetitive commercial/industrial tax rates, and fixing a worker's compensation system that strangles injured workers and businesses in red tape while driving good jobs to other states."
Gambling: In your view, does Minnesota have enough forms of gambling, or would you support off-track betting and video gaming in bars?
Opposed to expansion of gambling and video gambling in bars. Would allow a limited number of off-track betting parlors to keep horse racing at Canterbury Downs. In return for continuing Indian casino monopoly, wants tribes to give 25 percent of proceeds to the state.
Families: What ideas do you have for making day care more accessible and affordable, and for strengthening families?
Proposes streamlining licensing for day care centers. Advocates subsidies for day care and matching senior citizens with day care centers that need workers.
Taxes: State and local governments in Minnesota spend about 21 percent of personal income. What will happen to that figure under your administration? Should Minnesota's tax structure be more progressive, placing higher taxes on the rich than the poor?
"I support legislation that forces the state to limit its spending to a percentage of projected income of the citizens. This forces government to do what we all do in our lives: Spend no more than we earn. I support keeping the percentage at its current level and, eventually, reducing taxes. I am the only candidate who has proven he can cut fat from government. I returned a budget surplus in eight of my nine years as [Minneapolis] police chief and eliminated the only state job I ever held."
Education: Would you move forward on the initiative to establish an outcome based education system in the state? Would you reduce schools' reliance on property taxes? If so, what revenue source would you propose? How would you make tuition at Minnesota public colleges and universities more affordable?
Favors the goal of outcome-based education, "which is to measure the performance of students instead of simply letting them pass through our educational system, whether they are learning or not." Proposes state take over funding of K-12 education because existing system, based on property tax revenue, is unfair.
Agriculture: Would you favor stricter controls on runoff of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides?
Supports stricter controls on runoff. "This may create some short-term problems that the state should monitor, and, if necessary, provide some assistance to overcome."
Abortion: Should the state's existing laws on abortion be changed? Do you favor requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion?
Supports abortion rights; did not say whether he favors a 24-hour waiting period.
Corporate aid: Should the state provide financial assistance to companies such as Northwest Airlines and the Minnesota Timberwolves to guarantee employment or to keep them from moving?
Supports the Northwest Airlines and Timberwolves deals, but believes the state should have required "a cut of the action" if both deals were successful. exact more in exchange for the state. "The state's primary role in the economic arena should be to create a level playing field on which all businesses can thrive."
Health care: If Minnesota keeps moving forward with its own universal health care program, rather than waiting for the federal government, how would you fund it?
"Ideally, Minnesota would wait for the federal government. If we must go it alone we may have to phase the introduction. However that is done it is essential that all Minnesotans have access to health care at the same time. I would rather wait a few months until we could provide for all, then create a situation where there was not universal coverage."
Welfare: How would you change the state's welfare system, if at all?
Proposes "more carrots and sticks that bring the male into the equation. Some of these changes will be complicated; some as simple as the South Dakota plan that denies a driver's license to anyone who owes alimony. I oppose limits on the number of years a person can receive welfare, but we should consider changes that limit the number of children the state will support, in an attempt to remove an incentive to have more children."
Leadership: What special qualities of leadership do you bring to the office you are seeking?
"More than anything, the governor is a manager, and I have 33 years of management experience. I am the only candidate who has proven he can cut fat from government. I also am willing to make bold moves to restore trust in government, including refusing to live in the governor's mansion, eliminating one house of the Legislature, moving the lieutenant governor's office to Greater Minnesota and passing term limits. Most of all, I have a history of telling it straight. Whether people agree with me on every issue, I hope they are finally ready for a leader who says what needs to be said, instead of what people want to hear.