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In surprise announcement, Chris Coleman says he won’t run for governor

The DFL list of potential candidates for governor next year shrunk today when St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced he won’t throw his hat into the ring.

Many thought that he had already started running. However, Coleman  said that although he’d been urged to run for governor, had thought a lot about it — and even attended some gubernatorial forums — he wants to continue the work he’s begun in St. Paul.

Coleman is seeking a second term as mayor in next month’s city election.

He said he decided about 11:30 a.m., just three and a half hours before his surprise announcement. He hadn’t yet notified the other DFL candidates — including Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who’s in the same position of seeking re-election while simultaneously running a stealth campaign for governor.

But Coleman said he did talk earlier in the morning with former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer, who made an unsuccessful bid for governor after leaving the mayor’s office.

“George gave me the advice of a two-handed economist: on the one hand, I should run, on the other hand, I shouldn’t,” he told reporters.

He said he left Latimer thinking he probaby would make the state-wide run but soon decided his work in St. Paul wasn’t finished.

“I’m probably as shocked as anyone here,” he said.

And he said, a bit optimistically, perhaps: “I could have won.”

Republican officials quickly labeled Coleman’s exit from the governor’s race as recognition that he actually had been running for governor without forming a campaign committee. Coleman aides called that a “lame” complaint.

His mayoral opponent, Eva Ng — who’s running as an independent but has the city-wide Republican Party’s endorsement — has used the expectation that Coleman would be distracted by a run for governor in running the city for a second term.

There’s also been speculation that union endorsements — or the lack of them — might have contributed to the decision.

At a well-attended press conference in his City Hall office, Coleman said that he disagrees with the direction the state has taken under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and that it’s crucial that the DFL wins the governorship in 2010. Even so, he said, he won’t seek the party nomination.

Coleman said he asked himself two questions: Was his work in St. Paul finished, and, could he ask St. Paul residents to elect him to a second term if he was running a gubernatorial campaign?

“The answer to both questions was no,” he said. “My focus must be on St. Paul.”

He said there’s more work to be done on the Central Corridor light rail line that would link downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, and there’s an effort to bring high-speed rail to the Union Depot. He also wants to work to help close the achievement gap in St Paul schools and continue rebuilding downtown with restaurants and businesses.

He said he couldn’t accomplish those things if he spent 100 percent of his time campaigning for governor over the next 13 months.

He said he realized, after months of consideration, that “if I took the next stop [and began an official run] it would have been a distraction.”

His decision might put some pressure on Rybak, but Coleman said his decision was personal and not necessarily applicable to his friend in Minneapolis.

Coleman said he hasn’t done any polling, which would have told him how he might be faring in the eyes of state-wide voters. But he said he has talked with many DFL state delegates, and almost all said he was a top-tier candidate in their eyes.

And St. Paul residents didn’t seem to be bothered by Coleman’s interest in a gubernatorial run, he said.

“Most felt they’d be happy and proud to have the mayor of St. Paul become governor,” he said. “I’ve had little to no pushback on that.”

The Minnesota Independent  notes, too: “There were abundant signs that the Democrat was seriously entertaining a gubernatorial bid. He hired the DFL’s communications director to oversee a re-election campaign that looked to be a cakewalk and brought on high-powered political consultant Mandy Grunwald to assist with the effort. His lawn signs conspicuously failed to mention exactly which office he was seeking. And Coleman participated in a couple of candidate forums with the 10 other potential Democratic candidates.”

Coleman said he’ll support the DFL gubernatorial nominee next year, and at this point, he likes all of the current crop of DFL candidates “as an alternative to what the Republicans are presenting.”

Still in the running on the DFL side are Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, Sen. Tom Bakk, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, Rep. Tom Rukavina, Rep. Paul Thissen, Sen. John Marty and former Sen. Steve Kelley and, most likely, Rybak.

Entenza’s campaign issued a statement in which the candidate noted: “I have known Chris Coleman for many years and have enjoyed working work side-by-side with him for the betterment of our community in St. Paul. I am proud to have Chris as my mayor; he has been an outstanding public servant, and I wholeheartedly support his re-election this fall. I’m sure the decision not to run for governor was not an easy one …”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by William Pappas on 10/09/2009 - 06:21 am.

    Chris Coleman ran smack up against the reality that you can’t seek the DFL nomination if you alienate large portions of the party. Coleman’s didsappearance in the face of human rights violations all over his city durring the Republican Convention last year was more than disappointing to almost all ST. Paul citizens. Allowing the Department of Homneland Security to turn his city into a state of seige drastically reduced the economic benefits to St. Paul and encouraged convention goers to reside in Minneapolis and spend their money where a state of “occupation” did not intimidate their movements and enjoyment of the city. The DFL does not need another democrat with neither a spine nor the moral clarity to advocate for policy that actually benefits real people.

  2. Submitted by Reggie McGurt on 10/09/2009 - 09:13 am.

    William says, “Chris Coleman ran smack up against the reality that you can’t seek the DFL nomination if you alienate large portions of the party.”

    Gee, he didn’t seem to have much problem getting the DFL’s nomination for the mayoral race.

  3. Submitted by Sherry Gunelson on 10/09/2009 - 09:47 am.

    Your list of candidates seems to forget someone, Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/10/2009 - 06:38 am.

    Only a tiny sub particle like fraction of the voters in St. Paul give two bits about alleged “human rights violations”.

    Most folks care about their right to not have some knuckle heads come to town and disrupt their community with loud abusive language and property damage.

    I would argue that any major city would have used the same level of law enforcement in similar circumstances. With the goal to protect peaceful law abiding citizens and property. Which are the majority of the folks that vote and not the out of towners that travel to the event city to be disruptive.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/10/2009 - 04:11 pm.

    Mr. Pappas: I don’t believe the mayor or even the St. Paul police had anything to say about how security was handled during the RNC.

    The person placed in charge of local operations was Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher, who in turn was responsible to (choose one or all) the Secret Service, Homeland Security and the FBI, and perhaps the CIA if it was they flying black helicopters overhead). The pre-emptive arrests, mass arrests and jailings were an affront to the Constitution, but not because of the mayor or the St. Paul Police Department.

    I’d guess that the practice of importing thousands of extra cops, outfitting them in riot gear, and instilling in them an unwarranted zeal to “get those terrorists” would have come most likely from Homeland Security. We have now seen it in Pittsburgh as well.

  6. Submitted by William Pappas on 10/11/2009 - 08:56 am.

    Mr. Schulze, you are wrong. I have talked to too many citizens that were angry about what took place at the RNC. Perhaps they don’t use my language but the complaint is the same. After the convention Coleman also tried to whitewash what actually happened. That was probably his biggest sin. I agree with Mr. Vetsch that Homeland Security would have behaved in the same manner in any American City but the zeal with which the cops and Coleman embraced their tactics was disappointing to many citizens. Certainly, Coleman knew the violations that took place on the streets of St. Paul should not have been ignored by his administration. In any sense of the word the RNC week was not something the city of ST. Paul will want to repeat any time soon.
    As I drove by the “sustainability bus” that was making appearances and demonstrations all over the metro that week as it was impounded near 35E and Kellog and observed the two “dangerous” occupants standing alone on the side of the freeway while towtrucks, police cars and others swarmed all over their painted school bus the political nature of security in St. Paul couldn’t have been more apparent.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/11/2009 - 08:20 pm.

    While I certainly respect your opinion Mr Pappas, I would beg to differ on the number of folks that consider it to be a travesty. The “too many citizens” generalization is a rather ambiguous figure. I know of no one in my circle that does not sympathize with the law enforcement community in regards to the convention.

    I would simply say this. There are not enough folks that care about the issue of “human rights violations” during the RNC convention to make one bit of difference to the political career of Mayor Coleman. The majority of voters care about law and order. With all due respect sir, sometimes law and order “isn’t always pleasant”. Was it over the top? Perhaps that depends on from where one stands.

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