Rebecca Noecker said her campaign for St. Paul City Council was "upbeat, positive and straightforward … [and] very open to courting second-choice votes."
That part of her strategy proved decisive Monday, as the nonprofit education official and city planning commissioner was declared winner of the Second Ward seat after a runoff showed she received more second-choice ballots than her closest opponent, Darren Tobolt.
According to Ramsey County election figures, Noecker finished with 2,782 votes, putting her 338 votes ahead of Tobolt, a Ramsey County Board aide.
She held a 3 percentage point lead over Tobolt when voting ended Tuesday, but the race went to a runoff because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote as required under the city's ranked-choice system.
The results, which the City Council will certify Thursday, make Noecker, 31, the first woman ever elected to the council from the Second Ward. She follows in that chair former Mayor Jim Scheibel, Mayor Chris Coleman and Dave Thune, who didn't seek re-election after serving 20 years in the job.
The ward includes downtown, the West Side and much of the West 7th Street area.
"It was really incredibly thrilling to win today," Noecker said after the results were in. "I felt good after Tuesday, but we did not quite have enough votes to be named the winner."
Coleman said Monday that he called to congratulate Noecker, who was critical during the campaign of what she called the mayor's "heavy-handed administration." He had endorsed Tobolt for the seat.
"We have a tremendous amount of work to do in the months and years ahead, and I look forward to working with the newly elected City Council to make progress and move our city forward," Coleman said in a statement.
Noecker, who lives on the West Side with her husband and two sons, is a former teacher who directs outreach and partnerships for AchieveMpls, a nonprofit that supports the Minneapolis Public Schools. She has served on the St. Paul Planning Commission for four years.
Noecker and Tobolt, both first-time candidates, battled last winter for DFL Party backing. But the convention adjourned without an endorsement after seven ballots.
The campaign featured six candidates, but because only Noecker and Tobolt had enough votes to win they were the only candidates that moved to Monday's reallocation round.
Election officials added to their totals the second choices of voters for the four other candidates, plus write-ins. Noecker picked up 391 votes, and Tobolt gained 236.
Noecker credited the hard work of her staff and volunteers for putting her over the top, along with positive campaigning that enabled her to court second-place votes. Ranked-choice voting proponents say that the balloting system discourages negative campaigns because candidates need to make a good impression on all voters, not just those who support them.
Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, which promotes ranked-choice voting, said the system not only promoted "a more civil tone," it helped the city avoid a primary election in August and drew 500 additional voters to the polls in the Second Ward because all six candidates were in the race through election day.
"They campaigned all the way through," she said.