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 …”