Dozens of St. Paul residents packed into a cozy East Side restaurant Sunday night for burgers and beer with a side of city politics.
It was an unusual — but fitting — setting for St. Paul’s first in-person mayoral forum. Workplace regulations, like minimum wage and paid sick leave, are key issues facing city leaders. Those policies could have major impacts for restaurants like Ward 6, which hosted Sunday’s event.
Five candidates have entered the 2017 mayoral race. While Sunday night’s event was the first chance for voters to see them all in action, the group initially squared off during a forum on KFAI radio’s HmongFM program on Friday night.
The first two forums were generally collegial. Candidates frequently agreed with one another’s priorities and visions for the city.
All candidates said they support an increase in the minimum wage. But Tom Goldstein said he wants an exemption for small businesses, and Pat Harris said there would have to be a “community conversation” about how an increase would affect small businesses.
Many people emphasized that city government needs to work for everyone — not just people with political ties and money. They noted the need for investment in community recreation centers, libraries and parks.
Candidates’ life experiences vary widely, but several share similar political backgrounds: Dai Thao serves on the City Council. Harris and Melvin Carter III are past council members.
Harris is a senior vice president at BMO Harris Bank and Carter is executive director of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Minnesota Children’s Cabinet. Goldstein is a former school board member and small business owner. Elizabeth Dickinson, the lone Green Party candidate among DFLers, is an environmental activist and life coach.
At both forums, candidates outlined their plans to grow jobs. Mayor Chris Coleman, who is leaving office after 12 years and is running for governor, also has focused on job creation this year.
The city needs to relax restrictions on businesses in some neighborhoods, Dickinson said. Harris said he has a plan to provide $100 million in small business loans without raising the tax levy. Thao noted that the city needs more light industrial jobs in the neighborhoods. And several of the candidates said they would work to connect students with internships and jobs.