Thirteen minutes after the interstate bridge collapsed during rush hour, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s chief spokesman shot out a message saying there “may be cars in the Mississippi River.”
“Both directions on 35W. Helicopter says it’s a devastating scene,” Brian McClung told other top staff in the brief e-mail he sent at 6:18 p.m. on Aug. 1. McClung’s note conveying a radio report was the first of a flurry of e-mails showing Pawlenty’s staff’s businesslike response.
The Associated Press obtained the messages through a request under Minnesota’s public records law. None of the e-mails were sent to or from Pawlenty himself, but were widely shared among top staff.
After McClung’s alert, the staff grasped for details and urgently requested updates from the state Department of Transportation in dozens of e-mails the night of the collapse and in the days following.
Less than an hour after the collapse, Pawlenty’s schedule had been cleared for the next day.
“The bridge will consume us (and appropriately so) for the next few days,” Chief of Staff Matt Kramer wrote the morning after the disaster, the death toll for which had reached at least seven Friday with several people still missing.
Staff filled Pawlenty’s schedule with network TV interviews and kept apprised of the response from his political rivals, taking note of a Democratic senator’s criticism of the Republican governor for vetoing a transportation bill. They closely tracked federal legislation for $250 million in emergency reconstruction aid, and discussed a gathering of national Republican leaders roughly a year before the Twin Cities hosts the Republican National Convention.
Two days after the collapse, Kramer was seeking answers on how to get the bridge replaced. He pressed for information on how a bridge advances through permits and authorization, asking if an executive order or other action by the governor might accelerate construction.
Later e-mails showed he wanted a point person to handle legislative proposals, briefings and all other duties on the the demolition and replacement of the I-35W bridge, a role Pawlenty said in a radio interview Friday that he had assigned to his deputy chief of staff, Bob Schroeder.