St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced Thursday what he won’t be doing in 2017.
The city’s third longest-serving mayor, however, said he’s not quite ready to announce what he will be doing in 2018.
Coleman used a gathering at Lake Monster Brewing, one of the city’s growing number of craft breweries to say that his current term as mayor — his third — will be his last. He did not dispute speculation that he will be a DFL candidate for governor of Minnesota in 2018 but said that is a decision — and an announcement — yet to come.
“I have another year left on my term and we’ll drive to the finish line, but I will not seek re-election,” Coleman said in an interview. “I love St. Paul — born and raised — and have loved being here and raising my family here in all of its glory and craziness and weirdness.
“To be the mayor of the city you grew up in and to have the impact I believe I’ve had is about the best thing you could ever get to do,” Coleman said.
But Coleman said he wasn’t prepared to say what he planned to do after leaving office in January of 2018.
“We’ll talk about the future in the future,” Coleman said. “It’s no surprise that I’ve been considering what’s next and considering the governor’s office as one of the possibilities.”
Legacy or résumé?
The announcement of his decision not to seek a fourth term, then, was about legacy — and perhaps résumé — building. He said that he expects a new Major League Soccer stadium to be under construction and work on the Ford site plan to be complete. He said he will continue to push on issues of equity and inclusion, including making the city workforce more reflective of the city’s population.
A three-page-plus list of advances during his term prepared by his staff includes the completion of the Green Line light rail service, the new St. Paul Saints ballpark, the redevelopment of the former brewery into the Schmidt Artists’ Lofts, the Penfield apartments, the bolstering of the after-school Sprockets program, the new paid-leave ordinance, and the Promise Neighborhoods initiative.
And, for the first time since the 1950s, the city population passed 300,000.
“I’m proudest of the fact that St. Paul is back. It’s as strong as I’ve seen it in my lifetime,” Coleman said. “There’s a vitality to it that I think people from all over are recognizing.”
Coleman is a St. Paul native, growing up near the former Schmidt Brewery. He graduated from Cretin High School and took undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Minnesota. He served two terms on the City Council from Ward 2 and launched a successful challenge to then-incumbent Mayor Randy Kelly in 2005.
Coleman took office in 2006 just as Ford was announcing the closure of its massive assembly plant along the Mississippi River. He will leave it just as the cleared and cleaned-up site is being marketed for redevelopment. In between was the Great Recession, which brought budget challenges as well as record foreclosures of homes in the city.
“When I first came into office we were looking at how do we take some of the neighborhoods that haven’t seen the kind of the investments we’d like to see and revitalize them. And then all of a sudden the crash comes in 2007,” Coleman said. “The mortgage foreclosure crisis overwhelmed us in all corners of the city.”
Coleman said he and his staff tried not to take their eyes off longer-term plans for the city while responding to the crises caused by the recession. When the recession ended, the city was already in the middle of work on the Green Line, on the ballpark and in the Lowertown neighborhood.
Coleman dismissed the generational conflicts in city politics that at times pits younger residents with long-established neighbors over issues such as density, bike lanes and parking.
“We’re still kind of a blue-collar, scrappy town,” he said. “That’s who we are. And what I’m proud of is the work that we’ve done hasn’t changed that fundamental fact of the character of St. Paul.” But he said it is important to be a city where millennials who can live anywhere in the world will choose St. Paul.
Coleman considered a run for governor in 2010 but never entered the race. If he jumps in for 2018, he would face already-announced candidate Erin Murphy, a DFL House member from St. Paul, and likely candidate Tina Smith, the current lieutenant governor. Also thought to be considering a DFL run are state Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and even U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Who might seek Coleman’s current job? Former Council Member Melvin Carter III has formed a campaign committee, as has former council candidate Tom Goldstein. Also said to be considering a run is former Council Member Pat Harris.
Libby Kantner, chair of the St. Paul City DFL, said the endorsement process will start at the end of April with combined precinct and ward caucuses. The city DFL endorsement convention will be June 17.
Asked about the challenges facing the state over the next few years, Coleman said the first is to help people across the state realize they have more in common than they have differences. That follows a theme that Coleman has pressed as mayor in his work with mayors across the state — that none benefit if they are pitted against one another. He helped forge a statewide coalition of mayors first to support increases in local government aid and then to oppose House Republican efforts to cut aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We all have pothole problems. We all have financial challenges. We all have needs for our communities to be vibrant. Pitting one city against the other is not going to be a successful strategy.”
He said he would “save for another day” the challenges the DFL faces after the 2016 election to re-establish its appeal to Greater Minnesota. “But the focus has to be that if you’re up on the Iron Range, you have the same challenges that somebody in North Minneapolis has.”