St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who has led the city for more than a decade, will not run for re-election next year.
He announced his decision Thursday at a brewery just south of University Avenue, where he touted St. Paul’s growth and accomplishments during his nearly three terms in office. He stopped short of committing to future political plans.
Coleman has said he is considering a run for governor, but did not confirm whether he will enter that race. If he does, he is expected to be one of many people vying for the state’s top political office.
“Obviously it’s something I’ve been thinking about, but today my focus is just about the work that lies ahead for the next year in the city,” Coleman said in an interview, adding that his decision on the governor’s race “will come a little bit later.”
His announcement before family members and supporters at Lake Monster Brewing leaves the door open for others with mayoral aspirations. So far, only Melvin Carter III, a former City Council member who heads the state’s Office of Early Learning, and former school board member Tom Goldstein have filed to form campaign committees.
But former City Council member Pat Harris said he is considering it and will make an announcement soon, and Council Member Amy Brendmoen said a lot of people have been encouraging her to go after the job.
People have been waiting for Coleman to say whether he would run again before announcing their candidacy, Brendmoen said.
Looking back at his time in the mayor’s office, Coleman said he was proud of the renewed vitality in St. Paul, with the Green Line, the restaurants and CHS Field in Lowertown, and the Palace Theatre opening.
“It’s on every corner. People are investing in the community, people are moving into the city of St. Paul,” Coleman said.
Praise and criticism
Coleman did a good job helping St. Paul navigate the recession, said Don Mullin, executive secretary of the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council. He has spurred growth and shepherded projects like CHS Field and the Penfield apartment complex to fruition, Mullin said.
But Coleman is stepping away with a number of major projects still underway in St. Paul. Construction is expected to occur over the next year on the new Major League Soccer stadium in the Snelling-Midway neighborhood, and Ford may begin seeking a master developer for its former plant site in Highland Park in 2017.
In addition to those projects, Coleman said, the next mayor will have to deal with budget constraints and the nationwide challenges of investing in transportation infrastructure and combating climate change. He or she will also have continue work on equity issues in the city, Coleman said.
Tyrone Terrill, who used to head the city’s Human Rights Department and is now president of the African American Leadership Council, said there has been give-and-take between Coleman and civil rights organizations, but he has been good to work with.
“The mayor’s always stayed at the table, even during difficult times,” Terrill said.
Coleman is one of St. Paul’s longest-serving mayors, behind just George Latimer and Robert Smith. A lifelong resident of St. Paul, Coleman previously served on the City Council and was a public defender and prosecutor in Hennepin County before that.
He has critics, such as the group St. Paul STRONG, which has faulted his administration for a lack transparency and making decisions without enough public input. The mayor’s proposal to install parking meters in Grand Avenue last year was particularly contentious, and the city did not move forward with it after complaints about the lack of public input and potential impact on residents and businesses.
John Mannillo, spokesman for St. Paul STRONG, said he fears Coleman is “running out the clock” and leaving financial issues, including too much reliance on tax increment financing and problems with the right of way assessment process, to the next mayor.
Despite the criticism, Coleman has won past elections with ease, getting nearly 79 percent of the vote in 2013.
A crowded field
If Coleman runs for governor in 2017, he will have to garner support from outstate Minnesota. He would likely be up against candidates who hold statewide positions.
DFLers, including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson have acknowledged they are considering gubernatorial bids, as have GOP Chairman Keith Downey, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt and many others. Coleman would also be facing another St. Paul resident, DFL state Rep. Erin Murphy, who announced her candidacy in November.
Coleman has been attending events far outside St. Paul. He spoke at the Owatonna Rotary Club in August, and he was all over the state — from Hibbing to Northfield — campaigning for Democrats ahead of the 2016 election.
He declined to talk about how he would potentially balance the demands of running for governor with running St. Paul.
“I’m not going to talk about what I might do in the future,” Coleman said. “But what I will say is one of the things I’m proud of is the team I’ve put in place and the folks I have working on every level of the city.”
Much of that team was at the brewery Thursday, where Coleman went over his “greatest hits list” of triumphs and detailed future challenges. Then he lifted a glass to the packed room.
“To St. Paul, and to its people and to its future,” the mayor said.