A new face for St. Paul's Third Ward

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2011 - 11:03 PM

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Chris Tolbert said he will cut his hours as he steps into the job held by outgoing member Pat Harris.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Chris Tolbert will be the first St. Paul City Council member from the Third Ward in years who doesn't have the last name Harris.

He will be sworn in Jan. 4 representing his native Macalester-Groveland neighborhood as well as Highland Park, succeeding Council Member Pat Harris, who succeeded his brother. Tolbert grew up in Mac-Groveland and now owns a home in Highland Park. By topic, he discussed his background and his plans for his first foray into political office.

School: St. Paul Central High School, St. John's University and Hamline University School of Law.

Why run: Because Harris wasn't seeking re-election and it was an important time for the ward with the upcoming Ford Plant closing and redevelopment as well as city budget issues.

Not true: He said he decided to run on his own despite rumors he was recruited by Mayor Chris Coleman. The mayor did endorse him.

Inaugural ball: Tolbert is 28 and "technically" single, but yes, he does have a date for the Jan. 6 ball.

Courthouse ties: He clerked for Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin.

Biggest political influence: His late grandfather Jerry Christenson, a teacher, who went on to work for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and to serve as state planning director under Gov. Wendell Anderson. He also was the chancellor of the state's community colleges and was legislative auditor.

What Grandpa taught: Politics is about trying to make people's lives better; government can't solve everything but can help people who are "downtrodden, poor and the elderly."

How will he juggle two jobs: He will decrease his hours to half time with the county attorney's office, where he works in the civil division advising the county assessor, auditor and treasurer. He's often in court on property valuation disputes.

Biggest issue facing St. Paul: Figuring out how to pay for essential services because continually "increasing property taxes is not sustainable."

Playtime: Spends time with his family, plays adult-league hockey and reads history books.

On his nightstand now: "What It Takes: The Way to the White House," by Richard Ben Cramer. Tolbert describes it as "an old political classic."

Dreams for the Ford site: "Until the environmental [reports] come back, it's going to be hard to determine what's possible ... If you put the wrong thing in it could greatly change the neighborhood."

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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