A St. Paul mayor hasn’t run for a third term in 33 years. But Chris Coleman not only confirmed Wednesday that he’s taking that step, he’s doing so without an official opponent and primed to play a bigger role on the regional stage.
Coleman, a DFLer, kicked off his re-election campaign in a historic downtown office building that’s being renovated for market-rate apartments and commercial space — an example of private investment that he said will make St. Paul a hot destination not only in Minnesota but nationally in the years ahead.
To get to this point, he told a crowd of supporters, union hard hats and politicians including Gov. Mark Dayton, “We’ve overcome budget imbalances, deep recessions, department store closings, water main breaks, snowstorms, hockey strikes and national conventions.”
His opponents — if he had any — might mention that the city’s income gap remains too wide, unemployment is high, taxes and fees are up and recreation centers have been closed.
“Regardless of whether you have opposition, the re-election campaign does a couple things: It allows you to tell the story of what you’ve accomplished and what you hope to do in the next four years, and you have to get affirmation that you’re on the right track,” Coleman said after his speech.
But it does appear that the 51-year-old mayor has never been in a stronger position during his seven years in office.
Several projects around the city are about to open — including the long-awaited light-rail line — and the city budget has stabilized after years of state and federal cuts.
If Coleman is re-elected his mayoral tenure will stretch to 12 years, nearly as long as former Mayor George Latimer’s 13½ years in office. Latimer was the last St. Paul mayor to seek a third term, which he did successfully in 1980.
Latimer also was the last St. Paul mayor to be president of the National League of Cities, a high-profile role that Coleman is slated to assume this fall should he win. He also would become the senior of the Twin Cities’ two mayors, now that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is stepping down.
Dayton said at Wednesday’s campaign kickoff that Coleman is “recognized as one of the most successful mayors anywhere in the country, and he’s accomplished all of that under the most difficult circumstances.”
Coleman heads into the election year with a campaign war chest that topped $100,000 as of late January, including nearly $86,000 raised in 2012.
So far only one person has filed to run against him, Roger Meyer of the Green Party. But Meyer, a consultant and neighborhood activist who promised to make a strong challenge from the progressive side, dropped out of the race five weeks ago saying that he had underestimated the time and money necessary to make a serious race.
In recent days another possible candidate has emerged, property owner and entrepreneur Tim Holden. He said Wednesday that he plans to run as an independent on a pro-business platform and will soon file his campaign finance committee with Ramsey County.
“St. Paul is real stale and lethargic and not making a lot of progress,” Holden said. “With Chris there’s a real lack of communication with business, a lack of accountability. The ballpark downtown is going to be a major problem if they don’t figure out what they’re doing before they break ground.”
Coleman’s campaign kickoff Wednesday made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that he won’t have to worry about a challenge from the DFL Party.
He has the support of all seven City Council members, including Council President Kathy Lantry, and six of Ramsey County’s seven commissioners. St. Paul’s legislative delegation is backing him, as are the state’s two U.S. senators and Rep. Betty McCollum. Most all of them are DFLers.
The mayor also has the backing of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, whose CEO Matt Kramer — a former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty — attended Wednesday’s announcement.
The lack of a serious opponent so far for Coleman has to do mostly with the continuing dominance of the DFL in St. Paul, Hamline University political analyst David Schultz said.
“Basically, it’s a one-party town and the DFL is really a unified party at this point,” Schultz said. “We’ve heard rumblings from people on the left side of the DFL that they don’t like Chris Coleman, but they’re such a small portion.”
Coleman, Schultz said, has at least two things going for him: he’s inoffensive to most Democrats and he’s perceived as a winner. He beat incumbent Randy Kelly in 2005 and businesswoman Eva Ng four years ago by equal landslide margins.
Meyer said that the Green Party is talking with a couple people who are considering making a run, but he agreed with Schultz’s assessment.
“When you look at the probability that somebody’s going to break through from outside the DFL, that’s a challenge,” he said.
Greg Copeland, who chairs St. Paul’s Republican party, said that the GOP continues to recruit candidates for mayor and the school board. He said there was no shortage of issues on which to challenge Coleman, including the city’s high unemployment rate, hikes in property taxes and fees, and mismanagement of the police crime lab.
The city GOP caucus will meet in a couple weeks. “I am confident there is a brave St. Paul citizen who would like to stand for mayor despite Coleman’s war chest,” Copeland said.