Just some guy in the neighborhood.
Keith Ellison’s political career began with controversy over his links to the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, connections that continues to dog him to the present day despite his repeated disavowals. But less commonly known is another radical association of Ellison’s: a decade-long relationship with Marxist University of Minnesota professor and 1974 Communist Party gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, Erwin Marquit. Marquit helped launch Ellison’s national political career in 2006 using Marquit’s political connections, anti-war associations, personal donations, and hosting at least four fundraisers over the years for Ellison in the Marquit home near Cedar Lake in the Bryn Mawr section of Minneapolis.
Marquit, the “state’s best-known Communist” according to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune profile published shortly before Marquit’s death from cancer in 2015, openly supported Ellison from the start. In his Memoirs of a Lifelong Communist, Marquit wrote that he and his wife Doris actively solicited backing for Ellison as early as May 2006, sought signatures for a letter of support for Ellison that was circulated among anti-Iraq war activists, and hosted the first fundraiser for Ellison in their home in July 2006. Marquit also went door-to-door for Ellison, also described in his memoirs:
When someone appeared at the door, I would begin by introducing myself by name. I was not surprised when one of the first responses I got was, “Oh, you’re the Communist at the University of Minnesota.” Two or three others recognized me in a similar manner. The fact that I was campaigning for Ellison did not seem to bother any of them.
Neighbors of the Marquits, Dave Holets and his wife Nancy Arneson, signed on as co-hosts for the fundraisers. Holets told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he himself was not that familiar with Ellison at the time, but agreed to co-host at Marquit’s request. He recalls helping Marquit post flyers on the doors of neighboring houses announcing the fundraisers and said about 40-50 people attended. Holets says Marquit told him that he attended marches for various social causes with Ellison during that time.
One of the attendees of a December 2013 Ellison fundraiser was an 18-year-old high school senior named Matthew Voges. Voges, now a law student in Boston, told TWS that although he became a conservative during his college years, he was himself then a member of the Communist party, an eager upcoming Marxist, and Erwin Marquit was his mentor. “Many Communist party members were in attendance [at the fundraiser,] although I don’t believe all of the attendees were Communists,” Voges said.
In contemporaneous notes Voges made of the 2013 fundraiser, which he shared with TWS, Voges wrote:
The private DFL [Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, a Democratic Party affiliate] fundraiser was held at a sprawling house in the wealthy part of Minneapolis proper … I had come to meet Keith Ellison, the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th district and the first Muslim congressman. My invite came through the host, prolific Communist Party member and professor emeritus Erwin Marquit.
Voges wrote that after Ellison made his entrance, various members of Minneapolis’s “left-wing intelligentsia arrived,” though he could not recall names of the attendees. He said that Ellison frequently referred to him (Voges) during his talk about campaign issues “as the tie-in to my generation.” After the fundraiser, Voges volunteered for the Ellison campaign for several months, manning phones and attending several other campaign events, but still being in high school, he said his participation was limited.