The city of St. Paul is growing and has experienced a healthy uptick in new development in recent years.
Now with more than 300,000 residents, the city will add several thousand more new housing units when the Highland Bridge development is completed on the former Ford plant site in Highland Park. And new housing has been added near the Green Line and the beautiful Allianz Field and CHS Field stadiums.
But as the city has grown, so have its challenges. More housing of all types is needed — especially deeply affordable housing. And the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020 led to major protests and violence that damaged or destroyed some businesses. That drove an even greater emphasis on policing, racial equity and social justice issues. And the city has experienced a troubling increase in gun-related and other violent crime — a key issue in this year's mayoral campaign.
Seven people will be on the ballot to challenge first-term incumbent Mayor Melvin Carter, who the Star Tribune Editorial Board strongly believes is the best candidate to guide the city through its many challenges. Although he has opponents on the ballot, Carter, 42, faced no opposition for the DFL endorsement and secured 89% of the votes cast.
During the past four years, he has started initiatives to meet his first-term campaign pledge to make St. Paul work for all citizens. His administration established an Office of Financial Empowerment and started a guaranteed income pilot program that provides monthly subsidies for lower-income families.
A fund was started to create college accounts for every child born in the city. And St. Paul granted $4.1 million in emergency relief for families and small businesses most vulnerable to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through the Saint Paul Bridge Fund. And a Downtown Improvement District, similar to the one in Minneapolis, was developed to help beautify downtown and make it safer.
Still, crime is a major concern across the city. St. Paul residents are still reeling from the recent murders of four people whose bodies were taken to Wisconsin and a mass shooting at a popular bar that left one person dead and 14 injured.
Carter says his "Community First" safety plan addresses both the short- and long-term crime issues with a heavy emphasis on prevention. But he's been reluctant to increase the number of officers or devote the kind of additional resources that the St. Paul Police Department needs and Chief Todd Axtell has requested. Carter needs to strengthen his relationship with Axtell and bolster the department.
We're also disappointed that Carter now says he will vote in favor of St. Paul's rent control ballot question. After months of not taking a position, last week he announced that he'd be voting "yes" on the proposed 3% cap to annual rent increases. He calls the ordinance an imperfect "start" and says city leaders can "make it better quickly" if it's approved, although there is some question about how quickly the ordinance could be amended.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board previously pointed out, the St. Paul measure, if passed, would be one of the most restrictive of its kind in the nation. The concern is that it would discourage housing development and drive rental costs even higher.
Carter understands those market forces and has been a supporter of important housing projects in the city. He also reacted admirably to the unrest that followed Floyd's murder and is well aware that the city's crime uptick is unacceptable.
We trust the mayor will stay focused on public safety and housing if, as expected, he wins a second term.
Also in the race are Miki Frost, 49, who runs the Truce Center in St. Paul where he mentors youth in an effort to prevent street violence; Dora Jones-Robinson, 56, who also mentors young people through her Guns Down program; and Paul Langenfeld, 58, who started a foundation to connect those with mental and physical disabilities to activities such as hunting and bowling.
Opinion editor's note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process. To read all of our endorsements, go to startribune.com/package-opinion-endorsements/.