MANKATO, MN—The Mankato City Council voted 6-3 against the issuance of a $500,000 municipal bond Tuesday, marking the end of one man's tireless, 10-year-long crusade to ensure that a proposed community pool not be built.
"Victory!" said Irv Draper, founder of Taxpayers For Wise Choices, who announced the bond's defeat from the steps of City Hall. "Today, the city council stood up in favor of the long-term interests of tax-paying Mankatoans. After 10 long years of ceaseless toil, I can finally say that a swimming pool will not be built!"
Draper, who has led the fight against a municipal pool in Mankato since 1995, threw his hands up and shouted, "The pool issue is dead in the water!" He then waved a "No City Pool!" flyer in the air as a handful of municipal employees on a smoking break looked on impassively.
Draper, now 47, began his long battle against the public pool in May 1995, when the former director of public works, Bart Janklow, proposed it. Draper mobilized a coalition of six citizens who opposed the pool due to its expense and the traffic congestion and noise it might create.
Some believed Draper had lost the battle when a 1996 voters' referendum approved the pool. However, Draper exposed the referendum's irrelevance by citing an ordinance requiring the operating budgets of public works to be unanimously approved by a city-council vote.
During his 10-year journey, Draper faced down a great deal of support and enthusiasm for the pool. By 1998, he was the sole remaining member of his coalition, having lost the support of his own allies.
Former committee member Doris Heubel said supporters were pushed away by Draper's "control-freak behavior."
"We all thought the pool was a bad idea from the start, and we were willing to do the necessary legwork to persuade Mankatoans against the idea," Heubel said. "But when Irv called us for the third 2 a.m. 'brainstorming session' or chastised us for not knowing how to read blueprints, a lot of us started to feel that our time could be spent in other, more positive, ways."
After 328 council meetings, 5,863 letters, four lawsuits, and an estimated 41,000 man-hours, Draper has earned a reputation as a crazy jackass who will journey to hell and back to make sure Mankato's children do not swim in a city-owned pool.
"Oh yeah, the pool guy," local resident Curtis Einblad said. "I saw him bitching on cable access. What's his deal? Doesn't he have a job or a family to go home to?"
Draper has a family and works full time as an administrative file clerk at Minnesota State University. His all-consuming passion, however, is the continued non-existence of a city pool. In 1998, Draper even made an unsuccessful run for district alderman, basing his platform on open access to pool-related city documents.
"Some have criticized me as single-minded," Draper said. "But I think my efforts have shown that you can't be apathetic about civic affairs if you want to make something not happen. One citizen can, and did, prevent something from being created."
Draper has made sacrifices for his cause. His daughter Anne-Marie, now 19 and attending Oberlin College in Ohio, said she remembers her father as "a blur of photocopied documents and newspaper clippings." She can recall only one time he was not deeply engaged in pool-opposition work.
"It was when Grandma died," Anne-Marie said. "Dad was really sad at the funeral. But then, at the reception afterwards, he started talking about how the contractor the city wanted to use had been indicted for fraud in 1988."
Draper said his primary asset is his obstinance. One by one, his adversaries on the city council relented on the issue or turned their attention to other matters. Many of those who didn't relent eventually died or moved away.
"Democracy is often a tedious process," Draper said. "If you want something not accomplished, you have to hang in there. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. There will be no municipal pool. Not on my watch."