Former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly among names surfacing for MnDOT head

Randy Kelly
Randy Kelly

The name of former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly has been floating around the Capitol as a possible new state transportation commissioner.

With Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau now officially deposed as head of MnDOT, speculation has intensified about who might succeed her. Several names have come to the forefront, including Kelly’s, because before his single term as mayor, he was a longtime legislator who chaired the Senate Transportation Committee.

The thinking is, because of his transportation history and his longtime DFL ties (and tough-guy reputation at the Capitol) he might be acceptable to Democrats. And because he supported President Bush in the 2004 presidential election (a questionable — and ultimately devastating — decision in a DFL stronghold like St. Paul that largely led to his trouncing by Chris Coleman in the 2005 mayoral election) it’s long been expected that the Republicans would “take care of him” somehow.

Gov. Pawlenty did name Kelly to the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board in 2006. 

Kelly has stayed out of the public eye since losing the mayor’s race. Reporters have tried for interviews, but to no avail. A phone message left at his house this week was not returned.

Kelly unlikely to be a leading contender for job

Although Kelly’s name has been mentioned, it doesn’t appear that he’s a leading contender at this point.

Bob McFarlin, Molnau’s top aide at the transportation department, is now the acting commissioner. During most of the aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse, McFarlin, who seemed to take the lead at department news conferences and public appearances, appears to have some support among key legislators in retaining the job full time.

Another candidate is Bob Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. He’s been interviewed by state officials and has told WCCO-TV that he’s interested in the job.

Also being considered is Tom Sorel, division manager of the Federal Highway Administration in Minnesota. He helped develop the transportation plan for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Charlie Weaver, Pawlenty’s former chief of staff, also has had talks about the job, but is now head of the Minnesota Business Partnership and told that he’s happy where he is.

Pawlenty decision expected soon
Brian McClung,spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said a decision on a new commissioner should come soon.

“We have not set a specific timetable for appointing a new Transportation Commissioner, but hope to name one in the next several weeks,” McClung said Thursday.

Observers say that the final choice probably won’t have to be an engineer but will have to have to have a deep understanding of the engineering elements required in roads, bridges and mass transportation.  The successful candidate also will need a highly refined political sensibility in dealing with the state’s divided political hierarchy and ability to handle all the questions surrounding the I-35W bridge and other infrastructure issues, as well as the battle over transportation funding.

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