St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao officially vacates his office Monday, so he wore a tuxedo for the group's meeting last week, his last before he moves to take a job in Florida.
Thao, the city's first Hmong American council member, was elected nearly nine years ago to represent St. Paul's First Ward, which includes the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods.
"From the beginning, I said our diversity was our strength," Thao said of his ward in a farewell speech. "All we needed was good-paying jobs, good housing and our fair share of the opportunity."
Council members donned Minnesota United scarves, a trademark of Thao's and a hat tip to his work in helping to bring Allianz Field to St. Paul. They praised him for pushing for progressive policies, such as the city's earned sick and safe time and paid parental leave laws, as well as his efforts to support small businesses, economic development and parks.
"Most of all, I think I will remember your respectful, clear communication with people in this chamber," Council President Amy Brendmoen said. "You had a way of elevating their contribution, to respecting their position in their community."
Council Member Chris Tolbert remembered a time when Thao translated for a Hmong-speaking woman who showed up to testify at a council meeting. Thao was born in Laos and spent time in refugee camps in Thailand before moving to Minnesota as a child.
"Your entire life story is something that is the most beautiful part of what America's promise can and should be for everybody," Tolbert said.
There were challenges in addition to the victories, Thao acknowledged, referencing allegations that he violated election laws while campaigning for mayor in 2017.
The Scott County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute claims that Thao and his campaign manager attempted to solicit a bribe during the race. The other case, in which Thao was accused of illegally helping a Hmong American woman cast her ballot, led the council member to successfully push for a change to state law restricting how voters can seek assistance.
Standing at the front of the council chambers on Wednesday with his wife and three of his young children, Thao beamed.
"I will miss this great city and its progressive values," he said. "But above all, I will miss the people."
The council will appoint someone to serve the remainder of Thao's term, which runs through 2023. That person must agree not to run for the office next year.
St. Paul received 20 applications from eligible candidates vying for the seat, said Brynn Hausz, the council's director of operations. Council members will select a handful of finalists to interview at 9 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall and likely will vote on an appointment Aug. 10.