Questions about Ellison allegations dog Democrats

martin on ellison
Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin answers questions about Keith Ellison during a news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Two days after Keith Ellison won the DFL primary for Minnesota attorney general, it remained unclear whether his party will endorse him as the nominee and whether his place on the ballot is secure.

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin added to the uncertainty of Ellison’s status during an interview on WCCO Radio Thursday, when he described Ellison's situation as “very fluid.”

Last weekend, Ellison was accused of forcibly removing his then-girlfriend from a bed in his home while shouting at her. The woman, Karen Monahan, says it happened the day after they had a verbal confrontation. Her son was the first to air the allegations on Facebook, saying he had seen a video of the alleged incident.

Ellison insists there is no such video because he never acted in that way. Monahan says she won't release the footage for a variety of reasons but has put out text messages that she says were intimidating.

Ellison says he still cares for the woman despite the end to their relationship and has taken steps to help her even as recently as this spring.

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Martin said the DFL takes the allegations “very seriously” and is looking into them. He said there are questions Ellison needs to answer.

“My hope is that if Keith Ellison continues to be our nominee, that this is put behind him and that these are addressed head on, so we can focus our attention on keeping this office,” Martin said.

An Ellison campaign spokesman declined comment.

Later in the day, Martin appeared at a news conference with the party’s gubernatorial nominee Tim Walz. He said the party currently “supports” Ellison as the nominee, but he added that it is a “developing story.”

“We don’t know where it’s going,” he said.

Minnesota DFL delegates are scheduled to meet Saturday in Cambridge to decide whether to endorse Ellison and Walz, who both won their contests in Tuesday’s primary without prior party backing.

Walz said he hasn’t spoken to Ellison since the allegations surfaced. He would not say whether he would campaign with Ellison.

“We’re not campaigning with anyone else right now, other than ourselves,” Walz said.

Retiring Gov. Mark Dayton, who was also at the news conference, said he continues to support Ellison. Dayton said he has greater concerns about the Republican candidate for attorney general, Doug Wardlow.

“I have no reservations about saying that Keith Ellison would be the vastly superior candidate,” Dayton said.

State law provides limited options for removing a nominee from the ballot, unless the candidate dies, becomes incapacitated or is deemed ineligible.

But that hasn't stopped some from calling on Ellison to step aside.

Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), issued a statement saying Ellison should drop out of the race.

“Keith Ellison must withdraw from the race and not put Minnesotans through another cycle of political scandal,” Van Pelt said. “They’ve been through enough.”

But two union groups backed Ellison. The AFSCME Council 5 Executive Board endorsed him as did the Minnesota AFL-CIO General Board.

“Throughout his entire career, Keith Ellison has fiercely defended workers’ freedom to organize and join together in union to negotiate a fair return on their work,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy in a statement. “Working Minnesotans can count on Keith to carry that commitment to the attorney general’s office where he will fight for workers to be treated with dignity and respect.”