Though most St. Paul City Council seats won’t be up for election until 2015, voters in the city’s central district will select a new council member Nov. 5. The First Ward seat is open because council member Melvin Carter III stepped down in July to take a job with the state of Minnesota.
A generally strong group of seven candidates with a wealth of experience is vying to complete the last two years of Carter’s term. The winner will represent one of the city’s most racially and economically diverse wards.
With borders stretching from Rice Street and Como Avenue to Summit and Snelling Avenues, issues in the ward include business and housing development, creating jobs, and serving the needs of youths and seniors.
In addition, the new council member should work with the mayor’s office and council colleagues to maximize the potential of the Central Corridor light-rail line that will run through the heart of district beginning next year.
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From an impressive list of competitors, Noel Nix, 31, is our top choice. Nix served as Carter’s legislative aide and has continued in the position with appointed interim council member Nathaniel Khaliq. Nix would bring continuity and is well-versed in the city budget and key issues in the ward.
Nix moved from Michigan to Minnesota to attend college more than a decade ago. Before joining the city, he worked in Minneapolis and St. Paul with private, nonprofit groups on housing and community development issues. He is energetic and passionate about public service and has demonstrated an ability to bring groups together and build consensus. His priorities include job creation, neighborhood safety, and helping children and families succeed by working to ensure that they have access to employment, education and good housing.
Five of the seven candidates in the field are DFLers, but there was no party endorsement in the race. However, Nix is supported by several of the larger DFL groups, including AFSCME Council 5, the city Labor Federation and the Teamsters. He is also endorsed by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
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The First Ward council member will be selected by ranked-choice voting — the second time St. Paul has used that voting method. Voters can rank six candidates for the seat. Our second tier includes Debbie Montgomery and Kazoua Kong-Thao. Both are former elected officials. Montgomery was the Ward 1 representative from 2004 to 2008 and was defeated by Carter in 2007. Kong-Thao served on the St. Paul school board between 2003 and 2011 and chose not to run for re-election.
Montgomery, 67, is a retired St. Paul police commander, former state assistant public safety assistant commissioner and lifelong resident of the ward. She is president of the St. Paul YWCA and has received numerous awards for community contributions.
Kong-Thao, 44, is operations director for a St. Paul charter school. She’s lived in St. Paul for 30 years and has worked in areas of equity and diversity, affirmative action and equal employment in schools and with the state. She also has a strong record of community service and advocacy.
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Our third tier of candidates includes Johnny Howard, 58, a retired autoworker and founder of the Thomas Dale Block Club Inc.; and Dai Thao, 38, an information technology manager for a Minneapolis nonprofit and an organizer for the ISAIAH faith collaborative and TakeAction Minnesota
Howard is well-known for his community activism — especially working with youths and reducing crime in Frogtown. He’s endorsed by the Green Party and has run several times before for City Council. Thao has never run for office but has worked on other campaigns. He’s been deeply involved in community organizing and has the support of Stonewall DFL and the St. Paul firefighters. Both have been actively campaigning for the job.
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Also running are and Mark Voerding, 62, an aide to a Ramsey County Board member and former aide to other city elected officials, and Paul Holmgren, 38, a Republican Party-endorsed office supply company worker who has run for elective office several times before. Voerding is knowledgeable about city issues and has chaired and served on numerous city committees. Holmgren did not respond to an interview request from the Editorial Board and did not participate in a First Ward candidate forum earlier this month.
For more information about the candidates, go to their websites: noelnix.com, johnnyhoward.net, kazoua4ward1.org and daithao.org. Holmgren, Montgomery and Voerding did not list websites in information provided to the Editorial Board.