St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman delivered his final State of the City address Wednesday, hitting the classic local notes — new development, youth programs, public safety — while hinting at his statewide aspirations.
He touted St. Paul’s progress in his speech at the Pipefitters Local 455 Training Center: The Palace Theatre and Higher Ground shelter are open, the former Macy’s building is under reconstruction and the Penfield apartment complex generated millions for the city. And Coleman outlined priorities for his final nine months in office, including adding the Major League Soccer stadium and finalizing a plan for redevelopment at the Ford site.
But the gubernatorial candidate also took firm stands on state and national issues, and name-dropped Minnesota cities from Worthington to Warroad. Cities are dealing with national problems, like climate change and crumbling infrastructure, in the absence of federal action, Coleman said. He told refugees and immigrants that St. Paul is their home and they are welcome there.
“We have pushed back on the purveyors of hate, and will continue to do so with every resource at our disposal,” Coleman said.
With trade workers and trainees in the audience, Coleman emphasized job creation and the importance of local control. He urged legislators to increase local aid and stop attempting to pit greater Minnesota against the metro area.
Coleman is one of four DFL candidates who have announced they are running for governor. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato entered the race this week, joining Coleman, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul.
Many topics Coleman discussed Wednesday hearkened back to his first State of the City speech 11 years ago, when he told residents he would bring in a diverse staff, solve the city’s budget deficit, boost after-school programs and shepherd the creation of light rail and surrounding development along University Avenue.
In three terms as mayor, Coleman has delivered on many of those promises.
The city’s staff is more diverse, even though some departments lag behind. The Green Line light rail started running in 2014 and Coleman said redevelopment plans at Snelling Avenue — including the soccer stadium — will bolster jobs along the St. Paul portion of the line, which dipped during construction. The city has added Sprockets, which helps connect students with after-school programs.
“He’s seen as sort of the after-school mayor,” Sprockets Director Erik Skold said, noting that Coleman is nationally recognized for getting the city involved in educating kids outside of school.
But challenges remain, including budget complications, higher poverty and frayed police-community relations.
When Coleman took office he said he inherited a $20 million budget deficit. Now he has different financial challenges from pushback against the city’s right-of-way assessments for street maintenance.
A Minnesota Supreme Court ruling compelled the city to rethink those assessments — a challenge the next mayor will also have to take on. This year, city officials opted to hold off on new spending and draw from fund balances to deal with the potential $32 million budget hole that resulted from the ruling.
The Police Department’s relationship with the community has been tested in the past year, Coleman said, but “we kept our footing atop a foundation of trust.”
Some would disagree. Protesters interrupted a City Council meeting last week and demanded to discuss police accountability.
Coleman closed by urging the next mayor to focus on the future and take risks.
“Tough economic times or tight budgets or uncertain national politics are not reasons to pull back,” he said.