A forum for St. Paul mayoral candidates Thursday night featured sharp charges that the incumbent isn't listening to his constituents, as well as humorous moments from one candidate who has run for everything and another candidate who has never run before.
Along the way, Mayor Chris Coleman countered allegations by businessman Tim Holden by pointing to investment along the light-rail line and the elimination of budget crises while insisting that "St. Paul is at the strongest point it's been for years."
About 100 people attended the 90-minute League of Women Voters' forum, which also included candidates Sharon Anderson, a retiree and perennial candidate, and Kurt Dornfeld, a city street maintenance worker who is new to electoral politics.
While the Minneapolis mayoral race has captured headlines for months, the St. Paul race has created little stir. Coleman's challengers run well behind him in name recognition, endorsements and money. He is endorsed by the DFL Party and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and has the support of all seven City Council members.
The most active campaigner has been Holden, who said Thursday that the basic answer to the city's problems — which he listed as poverty, educational inequality, neglect of small business and a general lack of accountability — rests in listening to everyone.
He also berated Coleman for failing to give residents a voice on whether to build a ballpark for the Saints, claiming the mayor was siphoning money from closed parks and recreation centers to help pay for the $63 million Lowertown facility.
"We need to take the city of St. Paul back, folks … We need to live together, love one another and do the best we can do," Holden said.
Coleman listed several accomplishments during his 7½ years in office, including shepherding of the Central Corridor light-rail project, an emerging downtown boom, East Side redevelopment and clearing of the Ford plant site in Highland Park. He said that his administration had put the city on sound budgetary footing for the first time in years.
Anderson charged Coleman with reducing her to poverty by helping to take her Summit Avenue home in the 1980s and striking backroom deals to build the light-rail line. "I may be blind and deaf, but I'm not dumb, believe me," she said.
When she said she was going to run again for attorney general — she was the Republican candidate in 1994 — Coleman smiled and said, "Sharon, you're just a typical politician. You haven't been elected mayor yet, and you're already running for attorney general."
Dornfeld came across as perhaps the most candid candidate at the table, confessing that he wasn't "sure what it takes to be a mayor," but saying that he offered "a new approach and a fresh pair of eyes … that best represents the interests of all the people."
Coleman, a former City Council member, became mayor in 2005 after beating incumbent Randy Kelly and then defeating businesswoman Eva Ng for re-election in 2009, running up landslide margins both times.
Coleman reported raising $36,000 in the past month, giving him a campaign war chest of $156,215. Holden raised $7,740 in the same period, about $6,000 of it coming from a personal loan. He reported his cash balance as $1,755.