Ever since St. Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry announced months ago that she wouldn't seek re-election this year, one of the guessing games at City Hall has been what she will do next.
The answer came Tuesday, when Mayor Chris Coleman announced he was naming Lantry the city's new public works director.
Even Lantry professed to be surprised.
"The thought never crossed my mind," she said, before Coleman approached her about the job last week.
"But I said I was looking for a change, to really shake things up and put myself out there. This is a way to dive into the pool. Thank goodness I'm a strong swimmer."
Lantry, 53, will begin her new job on March 1. The City Council will have 30 days after she resigns to name a replacement, and chances are it won't be any of the five candidates who have said they're running for her Seventh Ward seat; the council typically looks for someone who pledges they won't seek election.
Her resignation also opens up the council president job, which she has held for 10 years. Chris Tolbert serves as the council's vice president.
She succeeds Rich Lallier, who retired last fall after five years as public works director and a total of 36 years working for the city. Mayoral adviser Nancy Homans has been interim public works director since Lallier stepped down.
Lantry makes $58,491 as a City Council member, which is considered a part-time job. Her salary as public works director, which is full-time, will be $136,000.
She does not have experience in Public Works, nor is she an engineer, although it has been years since the city made that a requirement for the job. Lallier, for instance, came to Public Works from the Parks and Recreation Department.
"It's more a management position as opposed to being out in the field," Council Member Dan Bostrom said. "Kathy having been around for a long time, you know who the actors are and who's in charge."
Lantry and Coleman typically have been allies since both arrived on the council in 1998. "Her strong leadership, astute understanding of the department and trusted, long-standing working relationships with city employees make her the ideal candidate to lead the Public Works Department," Coleman said in a prepared statement.
But they haven't always agreed. She parted company with him on budget issues and some projects, such as city financing for the Palace Theater, and last year pushed for more funding than he wanted to spend on the city's arterial streets. Over Coleman's objections, she led the council's successful fight for funding for more library hours.
Lantry, who grew up on St. Paul's East Side in a DFL household, was a rental property manager and former district council member when she first ran for the City Council in 1995. She lost that race, but won two years later with a large majority and hasn't been seriously challenged since.
The Public Works Department, with about 380 employees, often draws heat for crumbling streets in the summer and snowbound streets in the winter. Lantry said she knows the job "is fraught with peril," but said she's committed to ensuring that the city's infrastructure works well.
"I know the culture that's there, but I'm not steeped in it," she said. "They've seen my style and they know how I operate … with integrity and hard work."