The countdown clock on Melvin Carter III’s campaign website ticks off the days until the polls open in the 2017 general election: 330 as of Sunday.
Nearly a year before voters will choose St. Paul’s next mayor, candidates, including Carter, are already campaigning.
Mayor Chris Coleman’s announcement this month that he will not seek re-election was expected to open the floodgates for candidates to announce. But, at least so far, the response has been less of flood and more of a trickle — Pat Harris was the only person to act after Coleman’s decision.
Harris joined Carter and Tom Goldstein, who had already launched campaigns.
The winner of the race will be the city’s first new mayor in 12 years. He or she will inherit major opportunities, including the Major League Soccer stadium and redevelopment of the old Ford Site, as well as budget challenges. State aid to St. Paul has declined and the city may have to make costly changes to its assessment process, which has long been a key revenue source.
The candidates, all DFLers, are still sketching out their platforms and how they would deal with budget issues and achieve goals like more jobs, increased equity and improved parks facilities and services.
“As everything starts unfolding, you’re going to find a very specific set of things that I will do for St. Paul,” Harris said, but it’s too soon for those details.
While policy details are forthcoming, the fundraising season is already underway.
Carter has had three fundraisers in the past couple weeks, including one in Washington, D.C. He has a leg up on the competition, having initiated his campaign and fundraising in December 2015.
In his most recent finance report, filed in January, he tallied $31,010 in contributions. He was not sure how much money he had raised since then.
Harris started his fundraising Tuesday. He came away from the initial event at O’Gara’s Bar and Grill with a basket full of donations. Goldstein said he has not kicked off fundraising efforts yet but plans to have an event soon.
At Tuesday’s event, Harris, a former City Council member and senior vice president at BMO Harris Bank, said he wants to protect small businesses and make sure they can grow and add jobs.
If elected, he said he plans to enact a comprehensive racial equity plan that involves libraries, funding for businesses and housing, hiring practices and contracting processes. And with his background in finance and past council experience, he said he could find cost savings in the city’s budget.
Carter has also emphasized economic development and increasing job opportunities, as well as creating an educated workforce. He focused on education during his six years on the City Council, and it is part of his current work as the executive director of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Minnesota Children’s Cabinet.
Like Harris, he was hesitant to give specifics about his plans at this point. But he said he will be “building on the work Chris Coleman has done and the leadership he has provided for the city, as opposed to taking a U-turn.”
Goldstein, on the other hand, has been a vocal critic of many of the Coleman administration’s decisions, including the plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium in the Snelling-Midway neighborhood and the Saints ballpark in Lowertown.
“There’s an obsession with building things,” Goldstein said, and not enough investment in job growth and helping people out of poverty. He wants to expand high-speed internet access and hopes to attract employers like medical technology and software companies.
People who do not have political connections feel their opinions are ignored at City Hall, Goldstein said, and he would change that.
Carter also said he would try to better engage the community. He said his experience with community organizing would help him achieve that. He has been holding “imagine St. Paul” sessions around the city over the past year to hear residents’ ideas about the city’s future.
State Rep. Tim Mahoney is the only other person to register a 2017 mayoral campaign committee and file a finance report — which he marked as his first and final.
Mahoney recently announced on Facebook that he would not be seeking the mayor’s office. Other potential candidates who have said they do not plan to run include Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann, Coleman’s former chief of staff Erin Dady and state Rep. Erin Murphy, who plans to run for governor instead.
“Right now, it’s looking like we’re going to have three people running for mayor in 2017,” St. Paul DFL Chairwoman Libby Kantner said.
But there’s a lot of political attention on City Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who said an increasing number of people have been encouraging her to run.
There will not be a primary election to narrow the field, since the election is decided using ranked-choice voting. The DFL endorsement process — which is particularly important with no primary — starts in April. No GOP candidates have registered yet.
Coleman has not endorsed a candidate.
“The mayor believes strongly that it is not the role of the current mayor to choose the next one,” spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen said. “He is confident St. Paul residents will have some strong options.”