In Tom Goldstein’s ideal world, a plethora of ideas to improve St. Paul would gain more traction than campaign contributions. Healthy debate would outstrip name recognition. And knocking on the doors of everyday people would mean more than fistfuls of endorsements.
But Goldstein, a former business owner, St. Paul school board member, failed City Council candidate and outspoken critic of public subsidies for professional sports stadiums acknowledges he’s a long shot to become St. Paul’s next mayor. He’s one of 10 candidates in the race to replace Mayor Chris Coleman, who is stepping down to run for governor.
“I am not a natural politician. I am someone who wants to solve problems. I am genuinely concerned about the state of the city,” said Goldstein, whose many priorities include making high-speed broadband affordable, updating the city’s infrastructure and securing education and jobs for the nearly 40 percent of St. Paul families living in poverty. “I figured I’ve done a lot of complaining and I think it’s incumbent on someone that if they’re going to complain, they need to offer solutions.”
Certain facts make Goldstein’s campaign an uphill slog. While delegates to the city’s DFL convention in July did not endorse a candidate, he finished a distant fourth behind Melvin Carter, Dai Thao and Pat Harris in the delegate count. On the most recent campaign finance report, Goldstein noted $19,954 in contributions, about half of which he loaned to his campaign. That’s far behind the more than $250,000 raised, respectively, by Harris and Carter and the more than $171,000 raised by Thao.
Still, City Council Member Jane Prince, who has known Goldstein since the 1990s, said he is the strongest “voice on public policy” in the race and has her support.
“He recognizes a lot of the issues that people don’t really want to talk about,” she said of his plans to step up community policing and end giveaways to wealthy developers and sports team owners. “He’s making this a better mayor’s race by being in it.”
Former DFL state Rep. Andy Dawkins, who also once ran for mayor — unsuccessfully — said Goldstein has impressed since his school board days. The reason? Goldstein’s often-gruff, never-shy tackling of difficult issues.
“People say a lot of fluffy stuff and never really dive right in,” he said, even though he acknowledges Goldstein might win wider support if he were a little more charming. “Tom’s not a glib guy.”
Goldstein, who said he’s knocked on 1,800 doors, said his priorities resonate with voters who feel disengaged from an insider-driven system.
A native of Maryland who graduated from Northfield’s Carleton College and ran a sports memorabilia business while attending St. Paul’s William Mitchell Law School (now Mitchell Hamline), Goldstein first became involved in education issues on the PTO at his son’s elementary school. That led to a stint on the school board and, over the years, political action testifying against stadium subsidies and city giveaways and calling for greater financial accountability.
Imagine, he said, what the $18.4 million St. Paul is spending on infrastructure near the soccer stadium could do in neighborhoods. Imagine the improvements the city could make to recreation centers and streets if it had less debt to repay. He wants to develop a citywide scorecard to measure how the city is actually doing on crime prevention, job creation and economic growth. And he would hire an independent auditor to evaluate programs and departments.
Now, if he could just get people to listen to his not-polished message.
“To me, the one thing that I have going for me is being authentic. Nuance is very tough in politics,” Goldstein said. “Too much of politics is saying what you need to get elected.”