For a few hours over the weekend, I thought I’d found someone who actually believed St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman might be be beaten in his attempt for a third term this November.
Coleman has already engineered two landslide mayoral victories — in 2005 and 2009 — to solidify his hold on the DFL-dominated city. And unless some of his grandiose projects in the making — like the Penfield and Saints ballpark — go belly-up, there’s a chance he could become Mayor for Life in the capital city.
This year’s election, by most accounts, will be merely another speed bump on the CC expressway.
But I found a guy at the State Fairgrounds who flatly stated that Tim Holden will beat Coleman on Nov. 5. No question about it.
The guy with the opinion, of course, was Tim Holden.
Holden is one of three challengers who filed to run against Coleman. Perennial candidate Sharon Anderson (whose Scandinavian name helped her garner one GOP statewide primary win in 1994, but in general elections she’s about 0-for-35) and city road worker Kurt “Dirty Kurty” Dornfeld are the others.
And Holden, a real estate investor and contractor, has plenty of yellow-and-black lawn signs showing up around town.
He spent lots of time at the fair, buttonholing passers-by and giving his spiel, whether they were from St. Paul or not.
He heard them complain about jobs, schools and potholes. And when he’d prompt then, many would complain about the subsidized minor-league baseball stadium scheduled to go up in Lowertown.
“We can’t afford boondoggles like this,” he told one fairgoer. “We’re closing park and rec centers. This doesn’t make sense.Where are the priorities?”
Naomi Kritzer, who does live in St. Paul, heard Holden out. She told Holden she’d recently moved from Minneapolis and had seen his signs. She admitted she knows more about the Minneapolis mayoral race — where 35 candidates are campaigning to replace R.T. Rybak — than she does about St. Paul.
When Holden suggested St. Paul taxes are too high, Kritzer countered that they’re similar to what she was paying in Minneapolis. Kritzer’s daughter, Molly Burke, a seventh-grader asked Holden about his stand on charter schools.
“I like charter schools. I visited the Hmong one on Snelling the other day and thought they’re doing a great job,” Holden said.
Molly Burke smiled. She attends a different St. Paul charter school.
Holden talked about how the schools are failing kids of color and said more needs to be done to solve the achievement gap.
As Kritzer and her kids headed off toward Machinery Hill, I asked what she thought about the candidate.
“I wonder if he should run for the school board. There’s a limit to what the mayor can do about schools,” she said.
Kritzer’s main criteria in voting for mayor: “Not doing stupid stuff.” (She was really glad 12 years ago, when R.T. Rybak beat Sharon Sayles Belton in Minneapolis.)
So far, she said, her opinion of Coleman as mayor is: “Overall, basically favorable.”
The next person to stop by the booth, Gary Iverson, of Highland Park, wasn’t so flattering in talkinga bout the incumbent.
“Property taxes are out of control. Schools don’t get their money’s worth. That crazy ballpark,” he counted off as reasons to support Holden.
This was just what the candidate wanted to hear: “Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell everyone you know,” Holden said.
As a business owner, he pushes a pro-business agenda, saying the city should encourage new entrepreneurs with less regulation and more city assistance.
“That’s the way to get more livable wage jobs,” he said. “Roll out the red carpet for businesses.”
He said that when he’s mayor, he’ll insist that each of the seven Cty Council members visit each business in their district once a year, to see what they want and how the city can better help them thrive.
Of course, the City Council members are elected themselves and accountable to voters, not to the mayor. But Holden still thinks it’s a good idea.
In most news stories about him and the election, he’s depicted as a landlord, and his most famous tenant is the Love Doctor, an adult sex shop on University Avenue. Holden’s company offices are in the back of the building.
“The Love Doctor is a good tenant and abides by the city ordinances and rules,” Holden said. “We need more businesses in St. Paul; we shouldn’t be attacking those that are there.”
He’s been a big critic of the way the new light rail line has eliminated on-street parking for businesses there, including his tenant. “They’ve lost six or seven spots, right by the door,” he said.
And he asks to be called a “real estate investor” rather than a “landlord.”
“I don’t mind landlord so much, but some of my supporters thinks people will associate it with slumlord,” he said.
He owns commercial and residential properties, in St. Paul and around the metro area, he said. No slums, he said.
So to anyone who will listen, and some who’d rather not, Holden repeats his mantra: More livable wage jobs, promote businesses, better education and can the big expensive subsidized projects.
And potholes. Fix the potholes, he said.
“We’re going to win,” he told me. “There’s so much positive energy. People talk to me and then they talk to their friends. I’m going to be mayor on Nov. 5.”
It wasn’t until much later — when I needed to head to the 4-H building to see my niece win a blue ribbon — that the tiniest sliver of doubt emerged from the candidate:
“It’s going to take a miracle, but I think we can do it,” he said.
There’s no doubt that most observers would agree about the miracle part.