With the March for Science and sunny Earth Day weather competing for attendees, hundreds of St. Paul DFLers nonetheless turned out to caucus for mayoral candidates — and gave Melvin Carter a firm head start on the road to the party endorsement.
Carter came out of the caucuses in the First and Fifth wards with 42 delegates supporting him, twice as many as the other candidates. Saturday’s events kicked off a succession of caucuses that will occur across the city’s seven wards this weekend and next.
Attendance was down from the record-setting turnout at caucuses in 2015, St. Paul DFL Chair Libby Kantner said.
About 200 participants attended in the First Ward and roughly 150 in the Fifth. The turnout was diverse. Hmong and Somali translators helped share the candidates’ messages as they gave their stump speeches to residents sitting at desks and perched on small chairs at Wellstone Elementary and Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet middle school.
Kantner said the ranked-choice voting system may contribute to the lower turnout, along with candidate Pat Harris’ decision to continue campaigning even if he doesn’t get the party endorsement.
Brionna Harder was one of the committed DFLers who said she wanted to attend the science march and Earth Day celebrations but opted to caucus. The teacher and labor activist said it is “not my first dog and pony show” and views caucusing as a personal and civic responsibility — though she’s not yet sure whom she will support.
“Dai Thao and Melvin Carter are who’s pulling on my heartstrings,” Harder said. “I like both of them for some of the same reasons. I’m torn, don’t know what I’m going to do.”
She attended the caucus in the First Ward, which includes the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods and is home to both Carter and Thao. Undecided voters could have a significant impact at the citywide DFL convention in June.
Tezikiah Gabriel, on the other hand, came to the caucus a committed Carter voter.
“He’s the person who can help us muddle through these times,” Gabriel said, noting that she knows Carter’s family and has seen how responsive he is to the community.
Carter frequently says he spent a year meeting with people to build his vision for the city, and Saturday he said many of those residents turned out.
Twenty-one delegates came out of the two caucuses planning to back Thao, 17 are supporting Harris and three are opting for Tom Goldstein. Caucuses will continue Sunday in the Second Ward and next weekend.