Opinion editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Star Tribune Editorial Board offered endorsements for St. Paul school board. All seven City Council seats are also on the Nov. 5 ballot, and our picks appear below. The endorsements are based on responses to a questionnaire as well as additional reporting, including attending or viewing video of candidate forums. To read the written responses, click on the links with each name. The Editorial Board operates separately from the Star Tribune newsroom.
Since the 2015 election, St. Paul has experienced population growth and new housing and commercial development across the city, while also opening a new privately owned pro soccer stadium. Much is going well, but many St. Paul residents are focused on the current rash of deadly shootings, the general uptick in gun violence and whether to add police resources.
And, in addition to selecting council members Nov. 5, voters will decide the fate of the city’s controversial trash hauling system — a concern that’s become a major campaign issue.
Six of our recommended candidates want to keep and improve the city’s trash hauling system. Prince, who voted against the current contract, is not taking a position on the referendum.
Incumbents Dai Thao, Noecker, Tolbert, Nelson, Brendmoen and Prince won St. Paul DFL endorsement, but the party chose not to endorse in the Sixth Ward. The political action committee of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed Noecker, Tolbert, Brendmoen and Terri Thao but did not offer picks in the First and Fourth wards.
Dai Thao, 44, was first elected in a 2013 special election to fill out the term of now-Mayor Melvin Carter. He was re-elected in 2015 and deserves another term to build on the work he’s done for his diverse, central city district. The former nonprofit IT manager and community organizer has focused on social justice, including championing legislation on fair, nondiscriminatory housing, employment and banking practices.
Thao believes the city should take multiple approaches to reduce gun violence and crime, including addressing the root causes of trauma, poverty and structural racism through more mentoring and jobs for youth and creating more affordable housing. Thao has faced two ethics investigations and was cleared in both cases. With the additional experience he’s gained, the incumbent should understand the rules and steer clear of any similar situations.
He is being challenged by Liz De La Torre, who works in legal and sexual assault services for Ramsey County and is a former staffer to U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum. De La Torre, 33, is knowledgeable, understands government and has the potential to be a good council member. However, she did not make a strong enough case to unseat the incumbent.
Incumbent Rebecca Noecker, 35, didn’t win our endorsement in her first bid for a council seat in 2015, but the Editorial Board was impressed with her knowledge of city issues, thoughtfulness and energy. Noecker has worked diligently for the ward, which includes downtown and the west side, since winning that race in a ranked-choice runoff, and she’s clearly the best candidate in the 2019 field.
Noecker vows to address complaints about trash collection pricing and rules for multiunit buildings if she wins re-election. She believes in providing the Police Department with the resources it needs but also recognizes many factors lead to crime.
Noecker favors using a local sales tax to generate more money for street maintenance and repair. Refreshingly, she also recognizes the importance of attracting more commercial development to St. Paul to lessen the property tax burden on homeowners.
Challenger Lindsay Ferris Martin, 37, is a social media consultant who decided to run because she wasn’t happy with the city’s response to a problem property in her neighborhood. Bill Hosko, 57, is a downtown art gallery and cafe owner who has sought the seat several times before. He believes property taxes are too high and that more police are needed.
Incumbent Chris Tolbert is seeking a third term to represent the southwestern neighborhoods of St. Paul and should return to the council. The 36-year-old attorney for Hennepin County has demonstrated leadership on the Ford site development in his ward as well as on affordable housing and job development.
As chair of the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, he led efforts to develop the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will invest $71 million over the next three years. He also helped set up the Right Track program to connect city youth to jobs as well as the Full Stack Initiative, a public-private partnership that attracts and supports innovative jobs and businesses in St Paul. His priorities during the coming term would be public safety, housing, transit and jobs.
Tolbert ran four years ago with no opposition, but this time he has one challenger — attorney and small-business owner Patricia Hartmann, 65. She was part of the group that filed a suit challenging the trash plan.
St. Paul’s northwestern neighborhoods have been represented by Mitra Jalali Nelson, 33, for the past year, and she should return to the job. She won a special election last November after Russ Stark stepped down to take a position in Mayor Melvin Carter’s cabinet.
Nelson is the only renter on the council and brings that important perspective to leadership in a city where the median age is 32 and more than 50% of the population rents. A former teacher, union organizer and staffer for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison when he served in the U.S. House, Nelson is the daughter of Korean and Iranian immigrants who can help the council connect with the city’s growing immigrant population.
Among her priorities are attainable, affordable housing and homeownership, transportation, community-first public safety and building community wealth. The board hasn’t always agreed with Nelson’s positions, but she’s a hardworking council member who represents the views of a significant part of the city’s population. Nelson still has some things to learn about the difference between being an activist advocate and a governing, policy-setting council member.
Challenging Nelson are Chris Holbrook, 48, who runs a small business, and Tarrence Robertson-Bayless, 36, a project director for the state university system and officer in the military who recently returned from a deployment in the Middle East.
For the past two terms, council member Amy Brendmoen has ably represented citizens in St. Paul’s north-central area. The 49-year-old former communications director and mediator should be elected to a third term to continue work on tenant protections and housing production and preservation, as well as investment in public safety. To her credit, Brendmoen recently entered and graduated from the Civilian Police Academy to better understand how the city’s police force works.
Brendmoen was instrumental in creating the partnership between St. Paul, Maplewood and Roseville to improve the Rice/Larpenteur intersection that touches all three jurisdictions.
Challenging Brendmoen are candidates Jamie Hendricks, 53, a lab care technician and community activist, and Suyapa Miranda, 39, a legislative policy consultant. Also running is Bob Blake, 45, who owns a solar power business. Blake did not respond to the Editorial Board’s request for information.
This northern East Side district was represented for more than 20 years by retired police officer Dan Bostrom. He resigned last December, creating the only council seat in this race without an incumbent, inspiring six candidates for the job.
Out of the field of mostly newcomers, Terri Thao, 41, stands out. She has more than 15 years of experience in community economic development and engagement, leadership development and philanthropy. She has served for nearly a decade on the St. Paul Planning Commission and is a program director for a nonprofit where she trains leaders of color to serve on public boards and commissions.
Another strong candidate in this race is Nelsie Yang, 24, an organizer for Take Action Minnesota. She started campaigning for the job in August 2018 and has been one of the top fundraisers among all the council candidates. Still, we give the edge to Thao because of her experience.
The incumbent is Kassim Busuri, 32, an educator and small-business owner who was appointed to the position last year to replace Bostrom. A condition of the appointment was that he would not compete for the office, but he reversed that pledge and has not always effectively collaborated with his council colleagues.
Perennial candidate Greg Copeland, 65, is a retired public administrator. Also on the ballot are Alexander Bourne, a consultant and entrepreneur, and Danielle Swift, a community organizer. Neither of them responded to our request for information.
Attorney and former council aide Jane Prince, 65, is running for a second term to represent the southeastern East Side ward and should continue on the council. During her tenure, Prince has helped reopen two community centers and increase recreation center hours in the ward and spurred creation of a $300,000 program to provide free and low-cost activities for low-income families.
Prince believes that city property taxes are becoming unsustainable and that St. Paul must identify other sources of revenue. Prince’s top priority in a second term would be developing housing at all income levels to keep pace with St. Paul’s growing population.
Prince ran without opposition for her first term. This cycle she has three challengers — Kartumu King, Mary Anne Quiroz and David Thom. None of them responded to our request for information.
The Nov. 5 election will be the fourth race in St. Paul — and the third City Council election — to use ranked-choice voting, in which voters may select up to six candidates in order of preference.