Residents across the Twin Cities metro don’t have to wait until 2020 to participate in electoral politics: On Tuesday, voters in St. Paul will get to vote on trash collection and select City Council and school board candidates — while several suburbs are also holding elections that could bring new faces to their city halls.
Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming election in the metro: from St. Paul’s garbage question to Bloomington’s taproom ballot measure.
St. Paul City Council
All seven seats on the St. Paul City Council are up for election Tuesday — and more than two dozen candidates will be on the ballot. That’s because St. Paul uses ranked-choice voting, a system that doesn’t narrow races to the two top candidates via primary elections, so voters will pick their first, second, third — and so on — choices to represent them on the council. (In case you forgot, here’s our explainer on how RCV works.)
Six of the seven races involve an incumbent who’s already received the DFL endorsement, a huge advantage in the heavily DFL city, even though the races are technically nonpartisan. Those endorsed incumbents are: Dai Thao in Ward 1, Rebecca Noecker in Ward 2, Chris Tolbert in Ward 3, Mitra Jalali Nelson in Ward 4, Amy Brendmoen in Ward 5, and Jane Prince in Ward 7.
That makes the race for Ward 6 the city’s most competitive contest in 2019. Before retiring last fall, former Council Member Dan Bostrom represented the ward, which covers the city’s East Side, for 22 years. Six candidates filed to succeed him, including Kassim Busuri, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Bostrom’s term on the promise that he would not join the 2019 race for council. He went back on that vow and launched his Ward 6 campaign this spring.
In addition to Busuri, Ward 6 candidates include Nelsie Yang, a community activist; Terri Thao, a former St. Paul planning commissioner; Danielle Swift, an organizer with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association; Alexander Bourne, a former business owner who has made news for his criminal history; and Greg Copeland, a Republican activist who has unsuccessfully run for city office in the past.
Many of the candidates say their existing connections to the neighborhoods will help spur economic growth and needed investments in the East Side. The majority also tout experiences as first or second-generation Americans and people of color who will lift up the voices of constituents that have been historically left out of conversations at City Hall.
Besides the open race for Ward 6, the city’s garbage-collection controversy has become a factor in several of the other council races. A group of political outsiders are campaigning to represent St. Paul residents who want to abolish the city’s current trash pickup system (the “Vote No” camp) and say the debate over trash reveals bigger problems within city government. Those candidates include Patty Hartmann in Ward 3; Chris Holbrook and Tarrence Robertson-Bayless in Ward 4; and Jamie Hendricks and Suyapa Miranda in Ward 5.
In all council races, if the majority of voters pick the same candidate as their first choice under RCV, that candidate will be elected Tuesday night. But if 50 percent or less voters are split on their top choice, election officials will take a break from counting until Friday.
On that day, as part of the RCV process, elections officials will start the process of eliminating candidates who received the least amount of votes in each race. Votes from the eliminated candidate will then be reallocated to the remaining candidates based on the voter’s next highest choice. The counting and reallocation continue until one candidate receives a majority of votes, a process that could take several days. (Check MinnPost’s 2019 Election Results Dashboard for winners and losers beginning Tuesday night.)
St. Paul ballot question
Also on the ballot in St. Paul is an issue that’s emerged as the election’s most controversial issue: whether to keep the city’s coordinated trash collection system.
For decades, St. Paul residents of single-family homes or small multi-family complexes hired their own trash haulers or coordinated with neighbors for pickup. But in 2017, the council passed the ordinance to level the playing field from household-to-household in terms of bill costs and pickup schedules, as well as mitigate the number of garbage trucks on the streets each day. As a result, the city entered a five-year contract with a consortium of trash haulers — an agreement that eliminated the option for neighbors to share trash containers and prohibited owners of housing complexes with four or less units to opt out of garbage collection.
Shortly after the new program’s launch, more than 6,400 residents signed a petition asking the trash program to go before voters as a ballot referendum. The St. Paul City Council denied that request, so a group of property owners under the name “St. Paul Trash” sued the city. A judge ruled in the activists’ favor, which is how question got on Tuesday’s ballot.
The question reads:
Should Ordinance ROD 18-39, entitled “Residential Coordinated Collection”, remain in effect for residential trash collection in St. Paul? Ordinance 18-39 creates new rules for the collection and disposal of trash and payment for trash service; and requires that certain residential dwellings have trash collected by a designated trash hauler. A “yes” vote is a vote in favor of keeping Ordinance ORD 18-39. A “No” vote is a vote to get rid of Ordinance ORD 18-39.
St. Paul Trash, which is also leading the ‘vote no’ campaign, says it represents households that call themselves “zero wasters” and oppose the idea of mandatory collection, as well as property owners who face higher bills as a result of the new program or had poor experiences with their newly-assigned trash haulers. In advance of the election, the group’s political committee has spent more than $20,900 on campaign materials and legal fees.
Meanwhile, a group that wants voters to affirm the current trash system has also been campaigning, spending more than $9,600 on the effort. Donors include several labor union PACs, as well as City Council Member Noecker and former Council Member Russ Stark, who works in the mayor’s office. They believe keeping the ordinance is the best option for the city, in part because of the work city leaders have put into the new program and the possibility that they could renegotiate the contract with haulers to address some of residents’ complaints. Among current city council members, only Busuri said he is voting “no” on the ballot measure.
According to a recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court, even if the majority of voters repeal the ordinance Tuesday, the city of St. Paul will still have to uphold its contract with haulers and pay them. That could mean raising property taxes to generate revenue in place of trash fees established by the ordinance. Last month, in light of the ballot measure, the City Council approved a 22 percent limit on next year’s property tax levy — which would result in a $163 increase for a home of median-value in St. Paul if the maximum levy was sought.
School board elections and referenda
St. Paul residents could vote in a new school board majority on Nov. 5, when they’ll vote for four at-large seats to serve on the 7-member St. Paul Public Schools board. There are nine eligible candidates for those four seats, though voters will see a tenth name on the ballot: Elijah Norris-Holliday, who has been declared ineligible to run for office.
The board saw a majority turnover in 2016, but doesn’t seem as likely this year. Two incumbents brought in during that overhaul — Zuki Ellis and Steve Marchese — are seeking re-election, and both have the backing of the DFL Party and the teachers union. School board races are technically nonpartisan, though, as with the council races, the DFL endorsement tends to have a big influence on the outcome.
Outside of St. Paul, 29 other school districts have competitive board races on the ballot — with races in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Minnetonka districts generating the largest candidate pools (12 and 11, respectively) to fill four open seats in each district. Uncontested school board candidates in 14 districts will be on the ballot Tuesday as well.
In terms of school referendums, more than 40 districts are asking voters to renew or increase a local operating levy. And more than 30 districts are asking voters to approve bonds for building projects. Over half of these districts are located in Greater Minnesota, where voters have, historically, passed fewer bond questions than metro voters.
Most notably, the White Bear Lake Area Schools district is seeking a record-breaking bond amount — $326 million — to accommodate growing enrollment. Also facing growing enrollment pressures, the Worthington Public Schools district is seeking a $29.7 million bond — a campaign that’s been scaled back after voters rejected earlier versions at the polls.
Ramsey and Anoka county boards
In suburbs northwest of the Twin Cities, residents on Tuesday will vote in a special election to fill a vacant seat on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioner that Blake Huffman occupied until resigning summer 2019.
Huffman had served the area, District 1 — which includes Arden Hills, Gem Lake, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township, as well as portions of Mounds View and Spring Lake Park — since 2012. But earlier this year, he stepped down from the elected position after an investigation found the housing nonprofit he founded and ran, Journey Home, had received county money to buy homes for low-income veterans but ended up selling one of them to Huffman’s sons, among other potential conflicts of interests.
A dozen candidates lined up to serve the remainder of Huffman’s term, which ends in 2020. But in August, primary voters in District 1 narrowed the race to two candidates: Former Republican Rep. Randy Jessup and Nicole Frethem, a state Department of Human Services supervisor who is the DFL-endorsed candidate in the race.
One big issue in the race has been a controversial plan to redevelop the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP), a 427-acre property in Arden Hills. Both Arden Hill and the county want to build a hub of new housing and commercial space, but they disagree on the level of density. Jessup is siding with the city, saying the county is flexing inappropriate authority over the project, while Frethem hasn’t taken a firm stance on the issue.
The winner of Tuesday’s special election will take office immediately, and the seat will be on the ballot again in a year.
Voters in eastern Anoka County will narrow a field of six candidates for District 6 county commissioner to the top two vote-getters in a special primary election Tuesday. Rhonda Sivarajah has held the District 6 seat — representing Linwood Township, Columbus, Lino Lakes, Lexington, Circle Pines, Centerville, as well as portions of Blaine — since 2003. But she resigned from the board earlier this year to take the job of county administrator. The general election for her successor will take place in February 2020.
Suburban mayor and council races
Across Ramsey and Hennepin counties, seven suburbs have mayoral elections Tuesday. In Bloomington, the state’s fifth-largest city, current Mayor Gene Winstead is stepping down after two decades at the helm. Vying to succeed him are City Council member Tim Busse, a communications consultant who is supported by the state’s DFL party; and Ryan Kulka, a business owner who has the support of Senate District 49 Republicans. Only 38 votes separated the two candidates in the race’s primary.
To fill Busse’s at-large seat on the council, DFL-backed Jenna Carter is facing Brian “Clem” Clemens, both of whom are new to campaigning. Meanwhile, council incumbent Dwayne Lowman, who represents Bloomington’s District 1, is seeking re-election against challenger Al Noard, a Bloomington business owner.
Bloomington residents will also be voting on a widely watched ballot measure that could lift a decades-old prohibition on breweries and distilleries. Currently, the city’s charter only allows on-sale beer and liquor in hotels, restaurants and venues. But if the majority of voters answer “yes” to the question Tuesday, the city will remove the ban and have the ability to regulate taprooms similar to other municipalities.
St. Anthony Village also has an open mayoral race; current Mayor Jerry Faust is not seeking re-election. Council member Randy Stille, who has served on the council since 2004, is running against Nancy Robinett, an activist who has pushed for greater accountability of the St. Anthony Police Department following the death of Philando Castile. The two officers who initiated the fatal traffic stop were with the St. Anthony Police Department.
Falcon Heights is also facing a notable election. Earlier this year, Gov. Tim Walz appointed the suburb’s former mayor, Peter Lindstrom, to serve on the Metropolitan Council, so officials appointed then-City Council Member Randy Gustafson to serve the remainder of Lindstrom’s term. But in Tuesday’s election, Gustafson is running to secure a full mayoral term against resident Dave Thomas, a social studies teacher and veteran who has said his participation in the race is, in part, due to how the city handled the 2016 death of Philando Castille. Also in Falcon Heights, three newcomers are running for two open seats on the City Council.
Also on the ballot are mayoral races in St. Louis Park and Golden Valley. In Golden Valley, incumbent Shep Harris is seeking a third term against City Council Member Steve Schmidgall, a race that’s focusing on issues ranging from neighborhood density to citizen engagement in municipal politics. Meanwhile, St. Louis Park’s Mayor Jake Spano is facing challenger Yvette Baudelaire, a tax-reform advocate, for his re-election bid.
White Bear Lake voters will decide on three City Council races, all of which include incumbents. Minnetonka has five City Council races, including a special election to fill the at-large seat vacated by former Council Member Patty Acomb, who voters elected to the Minnesota House last fall. Three of the remaining council races have incumbents or only one candidate, while an open contest to represent southwest Minnetonka features two political newcomers. Other council races will take place in St. Anthony Village, Golden Valley, Hopkins, Independence and St. Louis Park, which has one open race.