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The fight for the DFL endorsement in the St. Paul mayor’s race is about to get personal

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Attendees participated in the Ward 1 convention at the Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet school.

There’s a handful of St. Paul DFL party members who are about to become very popular, at least with the four party candidates who’d like to become the city’s next mayor.

After the first weekend of the city’s DFL ward conventions — when three of the party’s seven wards distributed their delegates to June 17 city DFL convention — any path to a clean party endorsement will have to go through uncommitted delegates. “We’ll be knocking on their doors,” said Dai Thao of those delegates. “They’ll get tired of seeing us.”

Melvin Carter III, the former city council member and current advisor to Gov. Mark Dayton, can claim bragging rights for now. He won a total of 71 endorsements over the weekend, securing 19 of 55 delegates from the city’s northern Ward 5; 23 of the 67 delegates from his home Ward 1; and 29 of the 83 delegates from Ward 2. With those 71 of the 205 awarded so far — Wards 3,4,6 and 7 don’t hold their conventions until next weekend — Carter has the most delegates of the four candidates who are seeking the DFL endorsement, which includes current council member Dai Thao, former city council member Pat Harris and former school board member Tom Goldstein. 

Second and third places so far are held by Harris, with 39 delegates, and Thao, with 35. Harris rode strong support from Somali voters in a single precinct in Ward 1 to help him win 13 delegates there, four from the 5th Ward and 22 from the 2nd. Thao won 14 delegates from his current Ward 1, seven more from the 5th and 14 from the 2nd. Goldstein got a total of five delegates.

“We feel good about it,” a happy Carter said at the conclusion of the Ward 1 convention at the Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet school, his alma mater.

It takes 60 percent of the delegates at the city convention to win the endorsement, so a candidate who doesn’t have that level of support has to hope that no other candidate can reach the threshold. Both Carter and Thao have pledged not to run if another candidate wins the endorsement for the office, which is technically nonpartisan. Harris said he will continue to run even if he doesn’t get the endorsement, while Goldstein said he is undecided on whether to continue if he doesn’t get the DFL’s imprimatur. (Also running for St. Paul mayor are two candidates not seeking the DFL endorsement: Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson and Tim Holden, who has said he will run as an independent.)

Melvin Carter III
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Melvin Carter III, right, won a total of 71 endorsements over the weekend.

The totals for each of the candidates came from the sum of a small handful of different subcaucuses. Under the DFL rules, one way to elect candidates is with what are called walking subcaucuses. A delegate nominates a subcaucus that can be the name of a candidate a political issue or both. So Harris’ delegates in Ward 1 were a combination of support for “Harris Affordable Housing” and “Harris Serving Our Troops,” a reference to the organization Harris helped found, which travels the world to serve steak dinners to U.S. soldiers.

Thao’s walking subcaucuses were “Progressives for Dai” and “Dai Thao Equity,” while Carter’s delegates came from a single caucus in Ward 1, though he did well among subcaucuses in other wards focused on education.

Dai Thao, center, won 14 delegates from his current Ward 1.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Dai Thao, center, won 14 delegates from his current Ward 1.

Where the endorsement fight goes from here

With four more ward conventions next weekend and the city convention six weeks beyond that, the campaign now becomes one of house-to-house combat for delegates.

There are two types of undecided delegates. One is the delegate elected from a subcaucus that declared itself uncommitted but united behind an issue, such as uncommitted pro bicycling; uncommitted sanctuary city; uncommitted first-time caucusers; uncommitted but in favor of keeping ranked choice voting in the city; and uncommitted but in favor of another city vote on RCV.

Then there are delegates elected based on their support for a candidate for the St. Paul school board. Marny Xiong, a Hmong-American who is an administrator for the Minneapolis schools, won 10 of 55 delegates in the 5th Ward and three in the 1st; John Brodrick, a four-term school board member, won two delegates in Ward 5 and two delegates in Ward 2. Those delegates will take part in balloting for the mayoral endorsement, and may already have a favorite candidate for mayor.

Pat Harris
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Pat Harris, right, said he will continue to run even if he doesn’t get the endorsement.

The St. Paul DFL is trying a different format for its caucuses and ward conventions, a move that chair Libby Kantner said is aimed at increasing participation and reducing the time commitment. This year, precinct caucuses and ward conventions are being held on the same day and same location. Ward 1, for example, started holding its 17 precinct caucuses at the Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet school 10 a.m., followed by the ward convention in the school gymnasium at around noon.

Throughout the morning, the four mayoral campaigns were staffed by workers wearing different colored shirts, while the candidates made the rounds of all 17 caucuses for short speeches. In their speeches to delegates in Precinct 2, the candidates made an attempt to appeal to the many immigrants present.

“Would you rather have a soccer stadium in your neighborhood or soccer fields your kids can play on and a rec center open to your families,” said Goldstein.

Tom Goldstein
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Tom Goldstein, left, said he is undecided on whether to continue if he doesn’t get the DFL’s imprimatur.

Harris reminded attendees of his work on increasing the minimum wage for workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, which he oversees as a member of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. Thao spoke of his own immigration experience, fleeing Laos in a migration that saw two sisters and a brother die. And Carter said he envisions a city that embraces its multi-ethnic residents to become a leader in the global economy.

But the speeches didn’t matter. Harris had a team of Somali-American volunteers, including former city council candidate Samakab Hussein, who worked to deliver them as delegates to the ward convention, and 17 of the precinct’s 25 delegates to the Ward convention were for Harris.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 04/24/2017 - 10:37 am.

    Imbalance in delegate allottment

    I have heard that the delegate allotment is based on previous years’ turnout, which means that Ward 3 (the wealthiest part of the city) has the most delegates at stake. That system seems to privilege the already privileged, which is an unfortunate dynamic for a city that is 50% POC and already rife with economic inequality.

    Do you know the details on this?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/24/2017 - 02:52 pm.


      Some votes count more than others. But hey, at least they aren’t disenfranchised like all the people who can’t make the caucuses. Time to end this.

      Also, that headline? This wasn’t what getting personal in a political campaign means.

    • Submitted by Chuck Repke on 04/24/2017 - 08:27 pm.

      delegate allotments

      People forget that local political parties are dictated by national rules.

      The Democrat party wants to make sure that its endorsement is based on the people who vote for their candidates, not just who shows up at anyone caucus. So it assigns the number of delegates to each precinct or ward or senate district or congressional district or each state at the national convention on the Number of People Who VOTED Democrat in the last several elections.

      So ward 3 in Saint Paul will get more delegates than anywhere else because it gets the most Democratic votes than anywhere else in the City. But, if ward 3 was still just as wealthy and had just as many voters but they were voting Republican they would get almost no delegates at all.

      A part of the reason why there are more voters in Ward 3 than a lot of the other Wards is that it has a higher number of people of voting age. When we do redistricting we base it on the number of humans in the district and Wards 1, 5 and 6 have a lot more children than Wards 2 and 3 do. Children count in the number of people to determine representation in size of the wards or legislative districts but they don’t help at all for the political parties that base their delegates only on numbers of voters.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/25/2017 - 10:52 am.


        Also, it is probably easier for Ward 3 residents to attend caucuses than some other wards. Having children to take care of is one obstacle for attending.

        Undemocratic and indefensible.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 04/26/2017 - 10:27 pm.

      Please present this proposal at your precinct

      Here is the proposal I have written for my precinct. Please feel free to copy it and present it at yours. There is a form you can attach it to.

      Be it resolved that when the city convention is the terminal convention, the Saint Paul DFL will allocate delegates proportional to either Ward population or alternatively Ward voting age population, and not based on voter turnout. This proposal would sunset after two mayoral cycles, at which time they would reassess the results for any unforeseen consequences.

      Whereas: We currently use voter turnout to determine delegates for each Ward. We know that voter turnout under-represents minorities and the less affluent. Our diversity commitment says we will actively promote equity, but we use a process we know unequivocally does the opposite.

      For example, mostly white Ward 3 at 105 delegates get double the delegates of mostly minority Ward 7. Mostly White Ward 4 at 94 delegates gets double mostly minority Ward 6 at 44 delegates. The system we use ensures minority, less affluent citizens literally get half the representation at the city convention.

      Using voter turnout may make sense in greater Minnesota where there are mixtures of Republicans and Democrats, but Saint Paul is relatively homogenous. We need a local solution that works for us.

      The ultimate solution is getting out the vote equally in all wards, but that is not the reality we live in right now. Citizens in high minority wards deserve equal representation now.

      • Submitted by Chuck Repke on 04/28/2017 - 07:57 am.

        Precinct proposal

        I don’t know if you were able to read my post above your post, but local political parties are creatures of the state and national organizations. The local party might decide that it was more fair or equitable to give the same number of delegates to each ward regardless of the number of DFL voters in the ward, but we couldn’t claim to be the Saint Paul DFL party or use the word Democrat in anything that we did. We would be some new independent party.

        People in rural Minnesota could make the same claim at a state convention that it isn’t fair that the Senate Districts from Saint Paul and Minneapolis get two or three times the number of delegates as the Senate Districts in rural Minnesota. Why does the city districts get more delegates at state conventions? Because they have more Democratic voters.

        Political parties are not a part of the government and as such they don’t give out their delegates based on the number of people who live in the district. Your Ward was determined based on the number of humans in the ward, citizen or non-citizen, voting age or not voting age, voter or not voter. So, you get equal representation in City Hall for those humans.

        Political parties are organizations of like minded citizens. When you get elected out of your precinct you represent 25 or so people who voted Democrat in the last election. Your seat is based on the number of Democrats that exist in the precinct and then the ward. You aren’t there based on the number of humans in the district because you aren’t a part of the “small d” democratic process, you have shown up at a meeting of a political party that desires to impact the democratic process by joining like minded people together… and to do that they have the same rules (generally) through out the nation.

  2. Submitted by Josh Lease on 04/24/2017 - 12:10 pm.

    bizarre headline

    This headline suggests that things are about to get unpleasant in the Saint Paul Mayoral race; as a volunteer at Ward 1 for the party (not any campaign), things sure seemed to be pretty cordial between the campaigns, especially the top vote getters who were certainly working very hard but not getting mean or nasty about anything. So that seems like an odd way to describe what is otherwise a pretty fair assessment.

    Also, I’m enjoying the fact that Tim Holden’s candidacy is so irrelevant that MinnPost keeps calling him “Tom”…

  3. Submitted by Diggitt McLaughlin on 04/24/2017 - 02:11 pm.

    “about to get personal”

    Trying and trying to understand what the header on this story can possibly mean. “About to get personal”? What CAN that mean? One reading could be that the campaign is going to get nasty. It beats me how anyone who attended either of this past weekend’s caucuses could believe that. The caucuses were friendly, free of bad-mouthing or physical carnage, and followed the rules without debate over them.

    Why is it necessary for the press to frequently imply that World War III is breaking out? Are you guys still in middle school doodling tank battles and fighter planes on the edge of your math homework? The voters are adults–and behave that way. You should try it.

    If you simply MUST imply conflict to gain reader attention, where the conflict is is in the candidates’ IDEAS. Please respect the candidates–and the voters–enough to write your stories about the ideas our candidates are bringing forth. There are some good, interesting stories there (and, in fact, lots of conflict) if you’d take the time–and the information is much more useful to the voters.

  4. Submitted by Brigid McDonough on 04/24/2017 - 06:52 pm.

    About to get personsl

    The headline means that the candidates will be making personal pitches to the uncommitted delegates. It has nothing to do with any conflict among the candidates themselves. P

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/25/2017 - 10:49 am.


      But anyone reading the headline would assume that the race had become nasty and non-issue based. It’s a really, really bad headline.

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