Who Doesn’t Love Sam & Sylvia Kaplan?

Sylvia one-on-one is warmer,
more open, and funnier than in her bustling hostess mode. One late
summer morning, weeks after that recent Ellison event, the big house
quiet, we sat out on the screened porch. Any seeming wariness quickly
evaporated and she became a torrent of humorous stories, anecdotes, and
opinions.

It isn’t difficult to see how the Kaplan yin/yang
works. The mention of hard-driving Rahm Emanuel prompts the story of
Emanuel coming to Minneapolis and having the very bad manners (and
judgment) to deliver ultimatums to Sam up in Sam’s office.

From
there Sylvia jumps to how much she and her husband enjoy Entourage, the
HBO show featuring a character, the reptilian Hollywood agent Ari Gold,
who is based on Rahm’s brother, Ari.

Talking about how they
bonded with Paul and Sheila Wellstone, and how they interacted with
Wellstone once he was in office, she says, "I’ve told you that Sam and
I are both busybodies and news junkies. We want to know what’s going
on. And just because you want to have influence, it isn’t that you want
to have perks and everything. I mean, it was pointless with Paul
anyway. You never got any perks from him." She jokes, "He didn’t even
get us decent seats at the inaugural.

"But because we live in a
different world, we feel we can tell [candidates and office holders]
stuff that would be useful. The idea of having access of that
kind"-she’s referring to, say, picking up the phone and chatting with a
U.S. senator you were instrumental in getting to D.C.-"is very
seductive for us." It’s like she’s offering something of a concession
when she says this, as though the buzz of proximity to power is still
there so many years down the line.

"But Sam and I
were talking about that just this morning; that candidates are like
children. They’ll ultimately break your heart. Not because they don’t
listen to you but because they end up making decisions that aren’t good
for themselves."

The Kaplans attend comparatively modest Shir Tikvah synagogue
in south Minneapolis, which, as Rabbi Stacy Offner there proudly
describes it, "is not a status synagogue, which I think is a reflection
of them. What is important to them is the idea that belief and
conviction come before status and influence-that and their belief that
justice is dependent on equal access for everyone."

Of course,
it’s clear that the kind of "access" the Kaplans have is exceedingly
rare. Most of us don’t get our senator on the line when we call his
office. If invited, political top dogs probably wouldn’t jump at the
chance to grace our homes with their presence. And we most likely don’t
view our candidates as childlike in any way. That said, it’s doubtful
that many have as much conviction about politics as the Kaplans do.

Asked
to comment on the Kaplans’ overwhelmingly positive reception, Secretary
of State Mark Ritchie leaves me with this: "I think the lesson you draw
from the Kaplans is that the old-fashioned values of etiquette and
patient relationship-building-actually taking the time to have lunch or
dinner with people you might not perfectly agree with, or have them
over to your home-still work. Not only does it work, but the fact they
continue to do it totally refutes those voices on the radio and other
places saying it isn’t possible.

"It takes a certain amount of
social grace and understanding. But the Kaplans are proof it is
possible. And ask yourself, how much do we need those qualities now?"

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