Despite Trump's outcry, St. Louis Park locals not so fired up on pledge debate

St. Louis Park Cty Hall
St. Louis Park City Hall
Cody Nelson | MPR News

President Trump called out this Minneapolis suburb on national television during an announcement at the Rose Garden on Thursday. He has said the city's leaders were acting with "stupidity" and "disloyalty" to the country by voting last month to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance before City Council meetings.

The president wrote on Twitter that "Patriots are now having to fight for the right to say the Pledge of Allegiance" in St. Louis Park. The president's tweets and comments have spawned vitriol from conservatives across the country.

People called St. Louis Park city offices in droves, sometimes verbally abusing and harassing the workers answering phones, said Jacque Smith, the city's communications and marketing director. City Council members plan to gauge community members' opinions this month before voting again on the matter, possibly later this month.

Calls numbered in the hundreds last week, she said, but this week, "I really wouldn't even venture a guess" as to how many. No credible threats to city staff had been reported.

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Yet for all the national clamoring around the city council's decision to cut the pledge from its meetings, several St. Louis Park residents interviewed Friday weren't aware the council made the change in the first place — let alone the media circus playing out online.

"I didn't know they did it to begin with. To stop doing [the pledge] seems just fine," resident Wendy Cole said.

Cole, 57, didn't realize the president had weighed in on her hometown's politics, but she didn't care either.

"He's just a joke. I don't pay too much attention to what he said," she said.

Cole's political views seem in line with much of St. Louis Park. In the 2016 election, voters here overwhelmingly chose Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by about a 3-to-1 margin.

Brieana Straiton, 34, was at the city's public library with her child Friday morning. She also wasn't aware, or surprised, that the president inserted himself into the St. Louis Park controversy.

She supports the council's decision. Straiton said separation of church and state is crucial for government, referring to the pledge's use of the phrase "under God."

However, Dean Cufer was upset with the council's decision. The Army veteran, turning 75 this month, said the pledge is "part of America."

He said the person who suggested the policy should be publicly chastised, even punished, for what he considers disrespect for the country.

Anne Mavity, the council member who authored the resolution, told MPR News the public did not request the Council stop saying the pledge, but that the community expects the city to be inclusive when it does business.

"To me, saying the Pledge of Allegiance is not the barometer on patriotism," she told MPR News last month.

Those against the council's decision haven't only been vocal online. They held a protest on Monday during a meeting where council members discussed whether to reverse its decision and begin saying the pledge.

St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on this story, but has said he's "not a fan" of halting the pre-meeting pledge.

Correction (July 12, 2019): An earlier version of this story misstated the time of the protest held during a City Council meeting.