He merits another term leading the capital city.
A lot of positive things have happened in Minnesota's capital city over the past four years. St. Paul hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention, continued the revitalization of downtown, made progress on the Central Corridor, opened a state-of-the-art branch library and renovated rec center, and increased the number of cops while reducing crime.
Yet despite that progress, challenges remain. The mortgage crisis pushed the number of vacant properties up to nearly 2,000, and the downtown commercial vacancy rate is at 20 percent. Some neighborhoods are concerned about deferred park and street maintenance. And budget cuts means the city will eliminate more positions, possibly leading to layoffs in the coming months.
To build on the city's strengths and work on its problems, Mayor Chris Coleman deserves another four years in office. And now that he has officially opted out of the governor's race, voters can reelect him with confidence that he'll stick with the job.
When Coleman ran for mayor in 2005, his vision included creating a long-term plan for University Avenue, strengthening schools, fully staffing the police, fire, parks and recreation departments and making more energy-saving, environmentally sound public-policy decisions.
He has delivered on many of those goals -- even in the face of some of the worst financial times the city has seen in years. State aid to St. Paul has been reduced $122 million, forcing the city to make multimillion-dollar budget cuts. But as a fiscal moderate, Coleman has balanced appealing for more state help with practical approaches to reallocating existing funds and improving service. And even with tight budgets, the mayor and City Council have made sound, practical investments in the city's future.
In the public safety arena, St. Paul has added police officers and firefighters with the help of federal stimulus funds. At the same time, the mayor commissioned audits and reorganized those departments to create savings in areas such as overtime pay and administration. To his credit, Coleman has practiced fiscal discipline by putting "the credit card in the drawer" and reducing debt.
The mayor has been actively involved with Central Corridor light-rail development, providing leadership to help reach compromises as the project progresses. On his watch, the city has recorded nearly $1 billion in business investment, including $800 million in hospital and utility expansions. Nearly 3,000 construction jobs were created by the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority projects.
Understanding that great schools help build great cities, Coleman has worked with the school district to expand preschool opportunities, transport kids to after-school programs and help families make informed choices about child care. And though he has recommended closing or restructuring several recreation centers, his staff has also made sure that children in all neighborhoods still have access to recreation and education options.
(Coleman is the brother of Nick Coleman, whose column appears in the Sunday Opinion Exchange section. Nick Coleman is a former Star Tribune employee; he is not an Editorial Board member and was not involved in any endorsements.)
Challenger Eva Ng, 50, immigrated from China at age 10, and her life story is the stuff of the American dream.
She rose from humble beginnings in Texas to earn an engineering degree and go on to executive positions with several Fortune 100 firms, including Texaco and May Co. At posts in several U.S. cities and Canada, she became an expert in troubleshooting and turning around struggling companies, and she says she would apply those skills to running the city. In the corporate world, she has a track record of managing budgets, financing projects and restructuring debt, and she stresses in her campaign that she would use that expertise to make the city operate more efficiently.
Ng has lived in St. Paul for five years and is the semiretired chief executive of a small manufacturing company in Eagan. Smart and energetic, the Republican-endorsed candidate has the potential to be a good public servant. But as a novice to governments and elected office, she needs more seasoning and experience with the city and its people to make the leap to mayor.