The new mayor of Minnesota’s Capital City will manage a growing municipality that has made significant strides in recent years.
During St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s 12-year tenure, the city’s population grew to over 300,000 and high-profile development took shape, including CHS Field, the Green Line light-rail transit corridor, the Palace Theatre and the revitalization of Lowertown. Also, several projects are underway or gaining momentum — among them a new pro soccer stadium in the Midway area and development of the Ford plant site. Coleman’s successor can build upon those accomplishments.
But the new city CEO whom citizens elect on Nov. 7 also will face significant challenges. As the population has grown, so have pockets of poverty in which people need jobs, government services, improved education and affordable housing. Property taxes are rising, and racial equity and social justice are critical issues. St. Paul also has seen an unsettling increase in gun violence, making public safety a major concern. The city has experienced the highest number of officer-involved fatal shootings among Minnesota cities over the past two decades. Policing and race relations are front-and-center topics, even more so after the mayoral campaign took a deeply disturbing, racially charged turn last week.
As the Editorial Board opined Oct. 28, a letter distributed by the St. Paul Police Federation and a flier distributed by the Building a Better St. Paul political action committee marred what has otherwise been an issues-based campaign. The letter questioned whether candidate Melvin Carter III properly secured two handguns stolen in a burglary of his home last summer, while the flier stepped up the dirty politicking by linking the missing guns to the city’s crime problems.
Both the police union and the PAC support one of Carter’s top opponents, Pat Harris. The Carter campaign labeled the incident a “racist attack,” and Harris quickly denounced both the letter and flier. Harris told the Editorial Board that neither he nor his staff had anything to do with either document. Meanwhile, Police Chief Todd Axtell said there were “no open questions” about the burglary.
Our endorsement deliberations, which were difficult even before this disgusting turn of events, became more complicated after the news broke. Following much debate, the Editorial Board decided to stick with its original choice, Pat Harris, but the endorsement comes with an admonition: If elected, Harris must work to heal the wounds created by the smear campaign, show his independence from the special interests that created the mess, and recommit to representing all citizens in an increasingly diverse city.
Harris, 51, is a bank vice president for government relations, former three-term City Council member and Cretin High School graduate. We’re impressed by his combination of community service and public and private finance skills — especially his deep understanding of government budgets and desire to keep property taxes in check.
Harris is not only a numbers guy. His public safety plan includes adding 50 police officers during a first term, but he acknowledges the need for community-based crime-prevention programs. Raising four fourth-generation St. Paulites, Harris is quick to share that his Armenian grandparents immigrated to the U.S. to escape genocide as he emphasizes that the city must support immigrants and refugees.
Melvin Carter, 38, is leader of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Children’s Cabinet, a former City Council member and a strong second choice. He traces his St. Paul roots through four generations. His father is a retired St. Paul police officer and his mother is longtime Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter. Melvin, a Central High School graduate, has three children.
The impressive Carter is an outstanding speaker who promises to be a “mayor for everyone.” He wisely touts the city’s growing diversity as an asset, not a “problem to be solved.’’ His priorities include improving safety by building trust with residents, supporting early education and family support systems to help young people thrive. If elected, he would become the city’s first African-American mayor.
Third on our list is Elizabeth Dickinson, a 57-year-old life coach, former actor, and manager or lobbyist for organizations including the Minnesota AIDS Project. She is supported by the Green Party and is grounded in principles of social, economic and environmental justice. She seems especially skilled at connecting the dots of government and community — matching people with programs and resources. If elected, she would be the first woman to hold the office.
Under the new ranked-choice system, voters can make six selections. The Editorial Board chose to rank its top three.
The other leading candidates are Tom Goldstein and Dai Thao. Goldstein, 60, is a lawyer, a former school board member and a critic of public subsidies for sports and entertainment. He has some worthwhile ideas about infrastructure investment, the digital divide and education.
Dai Thao, 41, is the First Ward City Council member, an IT manager and a former community organizer. As mayor, he would focus on affordable housing, all-day preschool, encouraging entrepreneurs and prioritizing city investments in ignored communities. If elected, he would become the city’s first Hmong, Asian-American mayor.
For additional information about the candidates, go to http://strib.mn/2yJxgmk.