The incumbent and the challenger agreed on the need to begin preparing now for light-rail construction.
The candidates for St. Paul's First Ward City Council seat squared off Thursday night on the topics of racial justice, community development and economic opportunity.
Debbie Montgomery, the incumbent, reiterated her accomplishments, while challenger Melvin Carter III spoke about working with others to create change.
About 50 people attended the forum at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in St. Paul. It was sponsored by ISAIAH and the Community Stakeholders Coalition, which includes faith, business and community leaders.
Montgomery, a former police sergeant and city planner, has said that more than 1,300 jobs and 400 housing units have come to the ward since she took office.
Carter has been a policy aide for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and a community organizer for groups such as Wellstone Action and Got Voice? Got Power! He won the local DFL endorsement in April.
Both candidates have deep ties to the ethnically and economically diverse community, which is about to undergo a major transformation as the planned Central Corridor light-rail line project picks up steam. It's supposed to open in 2014.
Both candidates have voiced concern about gentrification along the line, but they've also promoted potential benefits such as new development and economic revitalization.
On Thursday, they said the residents and businesses of the First Ward need to start preparing now for the construction.
"Any development has to be inclusive of who lives in the area," she said.
Said Carter: "We need to make sure it raises the quality of life."
Montgomery said she wants to build partnerships with the building trades and school district to identify and train people to work on the line.
Carter said he has been working with the trade groups to begin mapping out the types of jobs and skills that will be needed.
Both said they'd fight to keep public transit at current levels when the trains start.
They also agreed that there must be better transparency when small-business owners or minority, female or disabled business people seek city contracts.
Currently there's an audit of the city's vendor outreach program and a disparity study in progress, both of which are expected to wrap up by the end of the year.
Chris Havens 651-298-1542