Mayor Melvin Carter will lead St. Paul for another four years after a sound victory in Tuesday's election, after which he pledged to continue the work his administration launched during his first term at the capital city's helm.
"We didn't know, when we stood here four years ago, exactly what we were signing up for," Carter said Tuesday night to a crowd of supporters at the Brew Hall in Allianz Field. "What happened over these last four years … has made the values that we laid out, the vision that we laid out together four years ago, just more urgent than ever."
With national attention focused on Minneapolis' mayoral contest and ballot measures, Carter quietly pursued re-election after a first term dominated by many of the same events that jolted St. Paul's twin city: the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and escalating violence and unrest.
Tens of thousands of voters cast their ballot in the race, where Carter faced seven challengers: Miki Frost, Dino Guerin, Bill Hosko, Dora Jones-Robinson, Paul Langenfeld, Abu Nayeem and Scott Evans Wergin. Throughout campaign season, those candidates and others criticized the mayor for his approach to public safety — conversations that are likely to continue.
Police Chief Todd Axtell announced last week that he will not seek reappointment when his term expires in June. The mayor will play a key role in selecting his replacement and shaping the future of the department.
A quadruple homicide in September followed by a mass shooting near downtown in October have sparked calls for more funding for police, an issue Carter and Axtell have publicly sparred over as the mayor launched a suite of alternative public safety programs during his first term.
After casting his ballot Tuesday at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood, Wolfie Browender said he felt "ambivalent" about the mayoral race, expecting Carter to win without much trouble.
"I think Mayor Carter has been OK," he said. "But I've been disappointed in how he's worked with the police chief, and I think that's part of the reason Chief Axtell announced last week that he's not going to try for a second term. I think that's a huge loss."
Carter has repeatedly responded to questions about police resources by pointing to other financial challenges facing St. Paul: a major street maintenance backlog, upkeep of parks and libraries, an affordable housing shortage — all while the city continues to recover from major revenue blows the pandemic dealt in 2020.
The $166 million St. Paul is receiving from the federal American Rescue Plan Act presents an opportunity to address some of those issues. Carter has announced a broad plan to spend most of that aid on neighborhood safety, housing and jobs programs, though City Council members have indicated they would like to see more dollars allocated toward infrastructure maintenance.
"I voted for Melvin because he's done a good job — especially given the circumstances," Betsy Walter said after casting her ballot Tuesday in the Midway neighborhood.
Others, like Patti Schulz, were less pleased with the mayor's performance.
"I voted for him four years ago. Not now," she said, though she added that she found his pool of challengers unimpressive.
After voting in the morning with his wife, Sakeena Futrell-Carter, the mayor spent most of Tuesday campaigning before heading to Allianz Field, a location almost symbolic of both the highs and lows of Carter's first term.
The $250 million soccer stadium, which opened in 2019, has been heralded as a spark for millions of dollars in future development in the Midway neighborhood. It's also across the street from the stretch of more than 70 University Avenue businesses damaged in riots following Floyd's murder.
The first half of Carter's first term was characterized by more traditional municipal matters, such as a fierce debate over an organized trash collection system that went to referendum in 2019 and moves forward in major development projects at the former Ford plant and Hillcrest Golf Club.
Then the murder of Floyd so close to home thrust Carter, a fifth-generation St. Paulite and the city's first Black mayor, into national conversations about race and policing. During his 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden called on the mayor to participate in ads and virtual roundtables, prompting some speculation that Carter had his sights set on higher offices.
But the mayor, now 42, has dismissed such rumors, asking St. Paul voters for another four years to continue to build on the programs and policies his administration has started in the growing and increasingly diverse city.
Staff writer James Walsh contributed to this report.