St. Paul City Council Member Rebecca Noecker sees her ward as a microcosm of the capital city.
Tugged by the banking and commercial interests of downtown, lobbied by affordable housing grassroots advocates of the West Side, home to historic and entertainment enclaves along W. 7th Street and bracketed by tony Summit Hill, candidates for Ward Two need to check a lot of voters' boxes to win the seat.
Tom Schroeder, owner of the historic Waldmann Brewery in the W. 7th corridor, said the ward as a whole has a wide variety of concerns. Along the corridor, filled with coffee shops, brewpubs and tattoo parlors, he said "balance is key" for the council's priorities.
Noecker acknowledges there's more work to do to address residents' worries and needs, from parking to housing to crime. And in a year in which all seven council seats are up for election but only three incumbents are seeking a return to office, the Harvard-educated West Sider will be the council's most experienced member if re-elected. She is 39.
"I think I am ready [to lead]," said Noecker, now in the midst of her third council campaign. "And I think there will be an opportunity."
Noecker said she relishes the chance to transform her years of experience into an expanded leadership role — whether council president or Housing and Redevelopment Authority committee chair — and continue guiding St. Paul toward goals of increasing affordable housing, adding green space and dampening crime.
She also continues to champion a years-long effort to subsidize child care for low-income families through a property tax increase that will appear on the ballot next fall, recently helping override a veto by Mayor Melvin Carter.
Opponents: Council should stick to basic services
First elected in 2015, Noecker said she's served long enough to point to a track record. Long enough, too, to attract challengers critical of that record.
Bill Hosko and Peter Butler are both aiming to attract voters who share their criticisms.
Butler, 57, who once worked in city and state government and is now in the financial sector, has been a persistent critic of the city's coordinated trash collection system and its contract with a consortium of haulers. In fact, he took the city to court over it.
He also opposes a 1% sales tax increase to pay for roads and parks that will be on the ballot this fall, and said he would repeal the Summit Avenue regional trail plan recently approved by the council, saying the city needs to respect its historic character.
And he intends to keep fighting against a proposed streetcar on W. 7th street, calling the idea a boondoggle.
The council's stated goals regarding climate change, childcare and income equality are better left to state and federal officials, Butler said. Council members should focus instead on delivering better city services.
"My priorities are going to be on direct services to the ward, to residents, to businesses and to visitors," Butler said.
Hosko, a downtown business owner who said crime is forcing him to move farther from the city's core, is more pointed in his criticism of Noecker. In an email, he said he's running because of "crime and the fact it has become normalized under the incumbent's 7 years in office."
Born in St. Paul, Hosko, 61, lived in Illinois through high school before returning to the Twin Cities to study art and architecture in Minneapolis. He's owned a downtown St. Paul gallery and frame shop for 30 years.
Like Butler, he opposes the Summit Avenue Regional Trail and the sales tax proposal, bemoaning another tax hike and saying city spending is already out of control.
Hosko said Noecker — who he also challenged in 2019 — needs to be replaced because "the quality of life here for individuals, families and children has not improved."
Noval Noir, an artist who filed to run for the Ward Two seat, did not respond to several interview requests.
While not addressing her opponents' criticisms specifically, calling them "the price of governing," Noecker said she is running to once again represent the ward's 44,000 residents and improve the areas where she's not yet done enough.
Calling herself an optimist, Noecker said the distrust of government "really bothers me."
It's something she aims to change, including by simply calling constituents back — "just making the change yourself, and being responsive yourself," she said.