The city of St. Paul is poised to bring several big projects to fruition in the next several years, including the Central Corridor light-rail line; the new downtown home of the St. Paul Saints, and at least the early stages of the redevelopment of the Ford plant site overlooking the Mississippi River.
Two-term mayoral incumbent Chris Coleman, 52, has helped bring along those and many other city enhancements during nearly eight years as the city’s CEO. He merits a third term to see those projects through and provide steady leadership for the city.
A former City Council member, Coleman easily defeated incumbent Randy Kelly to win his first term as mayor in 2005. He won re-election in a landslide in 2009. In this race, he is endorsed by the DFL Party and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and has the support of all seven City Council members.
The St. Paul native has had an impressive record of accomplishments during seven-plus years in office, including shepherding the Central Corridor project; better positioning downtown for the economic recovery, and East Side redevelopment. Coleman successfully steered the city through difficult financial times by making tough cuts, along with strategic investments in public safety and other areas. Along with the City Council, he put away the credit card and brought the city budget into structural balance for the first time in years.
Though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, Coleman has good working relationships with council members. And his emphasis on thinking regionally and working with Minneapolis and other metro-area leaders has been a plus throughout his tenure.
Coleman also has nurtured a critical partnership with the school district. He recognizes that good schools and well-educated youths are major factors in the success of cities. To that end, he developed the St. Paul Sprockets program to provide after-school transportation and activities for kids. The mayor has said repeatedly that closing the achievement gap is key to job growth and public safety.
At least a couple of Coleman’s signature projects present continuing challenges. He says the Central Corridor has attracted more than $1 billion in current and future development. But the overall success of the line will still require city guidance.
St. Paul has hundreds of vacant lots and properties in a few areas. Because of the mortgage crisis, the city now owns a few hundred of them and needs to get the properties back on the tax rolls. Budget challenges will continue, and Coleman must make it a priority to keep property taxes at levels that maintain services but don’t drive middle- and upper-income families to the suburbs.
Job growth is a common refrain among politicians in the wake of the recession, and Coleman is no exception. We’d like to hear more detail from him on ways St. Paul can boost employment. How many jobs, and in what fields? And what are the strategies to attract or expand businesses that offer those types of positions?
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Challenging Coleman is Tim Holden, 44, a small-businessman and real-estate owner along University Avenue. Despite being new to politics, he has waged an aggressive citywide campaign, including appearing at many neighborhood festivals and the Minnesota State Fair. His small yellow-and-black signs are all over the city.
Holden did not accept our offer for an Editorial Board screening. But in a recent forum and on his website, he says he’s running because Coleman and his administration ignore citizen input. Holden believes light rail and the downtown ballpark are the mayor’s “pet projects’’ that have taken millions of taxpayer dollars that could be used to keep parks and recreation centers open.
Holden’s priorities include making the city more friendly to business, controlling taxes, improving snow plowing and street maintenance, and working on innovative education solutions.
“We need to take the city of St. Paul back, folks,’’ Holden said during a recent forum. “We need to live together, love one another and do the best we can do. … As mayor, I’ll work for you.’’
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Also appearing on the St. Paul mayoral ballot are Kurt (Dirty Kurty) Dornfeld, a St. Paul street maintenance worker, and perennial candidate Sharon Anderson. Neither are actively campaigning and are not serious candidates.
This will be the first mayoral election in St. Paul to use ranked-choice voting, which voters approved in 2009. On the Nov. 5 ballot, voters will be asked to choose their first, second, third and fourth choices. Citizens cannot choose the same candidate for more than one choice.