Nathaniel (Nick) Khaliq, who fought his share of battles at City Hall in former roles as firefighter and head of the St. Paul NAACP, will be getting a chance to see what things look like from the other side of the table.
The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday appointed Khaliq, a longtime Summit-University community leader, to occupy the Ward 1 council seat until voters this November elect a representative to fill out the remainder of the term for Melvin Carter III. Carter is stepping down next week to become director of the state Office of Early Learning.
For Khaliq, 69, a product of the storied Rondo neighborhood, the job is something of a capstone for a long career of service that saw him evolve from a brooding delinquent into one of the city’s most respected leaders.
“I just see it as an extension of my many years of community service,” he said Wednesday.
Council members chose Khaliq by consensus after interviewing him and 11 other St. Paul residents who had submitted resumes seeking the post, Council President Kathy Lantry said. It was a strong field, she said, but Khaliq was an obvious choice who can hit the ground running.
“I find him to be somebody who knows the process, who knows a lot of the people who are involved in the city,” she said. “I’m sure there are others who could claim that as well, but Nick has a strong sense of integrity and I find that admirable.”
The City Council had only two strict requirements: candidates had to live in St. Paul and pledge not to run for the seat in the November special election. Lantry said the council didn’t want to be in the position of playing kingmaker.
That wasn’t a problem for Khaliq, whose lone electoral bid for the City Council in 1989 ended with him placing third in the primary. He’s sworn off politics ever since.
“I’m coming down here with the best interests of the people in mind,” he said. “I won’t be seeking favors because I’m not seeking election.”
Carter, who participated in his final council meeting Wednesday and abstained from the vote, called Khaliq “a bold choice by the council” because of all the years he spent agitating city leaders over issues such as racial profiling and minority hiring.
“Nick has been an active part of city building in St. Paul for a really long time, and I think that will create a foundation for him to do incredibly well in the next few months,” said Carter, who has known Khaliq since he was a child.
Mayor Chris Coleman hailed the appointment, welcoming Khaliq back to City Hall and saying he looked forward “to working with him in the next several months to continue to make St. Paul the best city in the country.”
Khaliq was raised mostly by his maternal grandparents on Rondo Avenue, the traditional center of St. Paul’s African-American community. Often in trouble with the law while growing up, he graduated from Mechanic Arts High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
When he returned to St. Paul, he was a self-declared Black Muslim and worked as a carpenter. In time, he became a contractor-landlord and adopted the orthodox teachings of a Sunni Muslim, eventually changing his surname from Davis to Khaliq.
In 1984 he joined the St. Paul Fire Department, where he later led a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination on behalf of black firefighters that the city eventually settled for $690,000.