If there's one thing Eva Ng enjoys, it's a challenge.
As a candidate for mayor in St. Paul, she has many to choose from.
The city faces plenty of challenges, many related to the economy, and Ng (pronounced "ing") says she's the best person to take them on. She also holds a Republican endorsement in a decidedly DFL city and is going up against an incumbent with a long political history. Mayor Chris Coleman sailed through the primary with 68 percent of the votes, while Ng pulled in 26 percent.
This is Ng's first run for political office.
"I look at something difficult and I go, 'Wow, how do I solve it?'" Ng said. "I love the feeling of wracking my brain and digging deep and finding everything I can find to throw at a problem."
Ng, 51, has spent 30 years as a chemical engineer, corporate troubleshooter and chief executive. That background, she says, gives her the right skills to lead the city through tough economic times.
Her top priorities would be to broaden the tax base and freeze any tax increases, streamline the workings of City Hall and be a "convenor" to bring together foundations, faith-based organizations and philanthropists to help the city.
Ng said she would spend the first part of her term studying the way different departments work to see where things could be made more efficient. She wants to bring more businesses to the city and get rid of city-owned buildings that aren't bringing in money. She would try to set up small-business incubators in vacant downtown buildings as a way to cut unused space and increase the potential for new jobs.
She wants to spend four hours in the evening, quarterly, in each ward to listen to people's ideas and concerns. She would also create an online forum to hear from residents.
So far, most of her plans don't have clearly defined steps for change. She figures it would take her 3 1/2 months to figure out what she needs to know so she can come up with detailed plans.
She has definite opinions on what isn't working.
Ng has hammered Coleman for increasing property taxes every year he has been in office.
While Coleman has hailed the progress of the planned Central Corridor light-rail line, Ng said the $1 billion project is flawed and that it's not a good time for it.
While she knocked him for a $450,000 forgivable loan to lure Cray Research to downtown, Ng said she isn't completely opposed to subsidies if the money used to help businesses can be recouped.
When she filed her candidacy papers, Ng urged Coleman to sign a pledge saying he would commit to serving the four-year term. She also challenged him to seven debates, one in each ward.
Coleman's campaign has dismissed the pledge and the request for seven debates as gimmicks.
"C'mon, why would that [debate request] be a gimmick?" she said. "This is something the citizens want to hear. They have a new choice and they need to hear about it."
Hesitant to enter race
Before deciding to run for mayor, Ng said "no" a few times when friends and acquaintances urged her to enter the race. "I actually never wanted to give up my private life, and I still don't," Ng said. But she said she has the financial means, the time and the right skills, so a run made sense.
Ng said she has stopped taking a salary and is using her savings to finance the bulk of her campaign. She loaned her campaign about half of the $31,000 it raised before the September primary.
Although she holds the GOP endorsement, Ng says she is running as a nonpartisan because it's a nonpartisan race.
Scott Walker, a St. Paul Republican activist, said he was among those who recruited Ng to run.
"I think she is one of the most well-prepared candidates we've had in decades," Walker said. "She's not the most politically savvy person but, politically, the climate in St. Paul is such that we need to start thinking [more] in terms of the city's needs than in political careers. She's interested in giving back."
Moved to U.S. at age 10
Ng's past is one of hard work and perseverance. She moved to Houston from Hong Kong at age 10. She earned a chemical engineering degree from Texas A&M University and went to work for large corporations, including Texaco. Later, she took a job as a turnaround consultant and worked with small to midsized companies.
About 10 years ago, she took over as CEO of Blanda Inc., a small manufacturing firm in Eagan that she had worked with as a consultant.
She married the company's founder, Robert Blanda, about six years ago, and they moved to St. Paul's Upper Landing in 2005.
Ng is quick to tell the story of her parents, who were orphaned at age 12 and fled Communist China to Hong Kong. They met at a textile factory. Ng is the oldest of seven siblings.
She is a self-described financial geek who enjoys keeping track of financial markets. She's an organic gardener and loves to cook.
Throughout her campaign, she has billed herself as an ordinary citizen out to serve the ordinary people of St. Paul.
"This is an altruistic thing for me," Ng said. "I love St. Paul, and I'd really like to see it turned around. This is something I sincerely want to do."
She'll find out Nov. 3 whether she will get the chance.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148