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Amid Thao campaign turmoil, Carter extends lead for DFL endorsement bid in St. Paul mayor's race

Melvin Carter III
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Whether Melvin Carter III, right, has enough delegates to be the party’s choice — he needs 60 percent — must await the citywide convention set for June 17.

Melvin Carter III continues to lead the battle for the DFL endorsement in the St. Paul mayor’s race after the completion of the party’s seven city ward conventions. But whether Carter has enough delegates to be the party’s choice — he needs 60 percent — must await the citywide convention set for June 17.

Once the Ward 7 convention adjourned Sunday afternoon, Carter had collected 156 delegates out of 500, outpacing rivals Dai Thao with 107, Pat Harris with 93 and Tom Goldstein with 14. The 60 percent threshold requires winning 300 votes, somewhat less if all 500 delegates elected over the last two weekends don’t show up at the city DFL convention on June 17.

The wildcard for the campaign to replace outgoing Mayor Chris Coleman is the 130 currently uncommitted delegates. Carter would have to win all of those plus another 14 to win a 500-delegate-convention endorsement. But at least five uncommitted delegates elected from Ward 3 ran on a platform of having no endorsement in the mayor’s race.

While the uncommitteds may already favor a candidate, that will only become apparent at the city convention. That’s because they became delegates elected to support either one of the St. Paul school board candidates or specific issues, such as “equitable justice for all,” “$15 Now,” “Pro Ranked Choice Voting,” or even “Tell Me More.”

Absent an endorsement, the two candidates who said they would drop out if someone else received it — Carter and Thao — would be released from that pledge. Harris has said he will run regardless of who get the endorsement and Goldstein said he would decide once the process is complete.

The number of delegates in each of the seven wards is based on the size of their DFL vote in the last two general elections. The three wards that are generally wealthier and whiter — the 2nd, 3rd and 4th — have 282 combined delegates. The wards that are generally more diverse — the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th — have 218 combined delegates.

Turmoil around Thao campaign

The two bits of drama in an otherwise uneventful Ward 3 convention Sunday were whether Harris had violated the rules by having too many signs in the Highland school building (he didn’t), and whether City Council member Thao would show up at all (he didn’t). Thao’s campaign is in flux after a news report Saturday that the candidate and his campaign manager may have solicited a campaign contribution in exchange for a change of opinion on an issue facing the city.

Thao fired his campaign manager after being asked by FOX 9 about the meeting and an email exchange with the lobbyist. The allegation is that Thao and his campaign manager linked the council member changing his stance on an issue affecting the lobbyist's clients with a contribution. “We will certainly rethink this issue,” read an email from Angela Marlow, Thao’s campaign manager.

The exchange followed a meeting between Thao, the lobbyist and the lobbyist’s clients during which Thao also asked for “resources” for his campaign.

Ward 7 convention
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Once the Ward 7 convention adjourned Sunday afternoon, Melvin Carter III had collected 156 delegates out of 500.

It is unusual that Thao would not make an appearance at the Ward 3 convention. Normally, a candidate would at least have a table staffed with staff and supporters. Up until the allegation was made public, Thao has appeared at each ward convention.

In Ward 3, he did have a delegate create a subcaucus on his behalf that attracted just 10 of the 341 delegates in attendance. That earned him three delegates to the citywide convention. He did much better in Ward 7, where he appeared and led the efforts to secure delegates. With 52 delegates available, the ward gave Thao 30, while eight went for Carter, seven for Harris and seven uncommitted.  

Coleman: ‘appropriate authorities’ investigating allegations

According to the Pioneer Press, Thao told delegates that he had met with a tobacco lobbyist “but allegations of impropriety in their exchange were a ‘bait and switch’” and he would be exonerated by the facts as they emerge.

Coleman said he has been in contact with Police Chief Todd Axtell and the matter is being looked into. “Anytime you have an allegation of any kind of impropriety on the part of an elected official, I think you need to take those very seriously,” the mayor said.  “It is already being looked into by the appropriate authorities.” Axtell issued a statement Sunday night that he is asking the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to conduct the investigation.

Coleman, attending ward conventions for his campaign for governor, declined to say whether the federal government was involved. The mayor, who has not endorsed any of the candidates seeking to replace him, said an investigation will be done by the appropriate agency, “whether that is the St. Paul Police department or another agency.”

Dai Thao
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
It is unusual that Dai Thao would not make an appearance at the Ward 3 convention.

Should Thao discontinue his campaign before the convention, his delegates could vote for any nominated candidate. But that is true of any delegate to the city meeting since DFL rules do not bind them to the candidate they were elected to support.

“It is allowed and somewhat common for delegates to be persuaded to another candidate between the Ward and City Convention,” said St. Paul DFL Chair Libby Kantner. “So in terms of who a delegate could vote for, from a rules standpoint, it would not make any difference if a candidate dropped out.” A candidate, however, must be formally nominated at the convention to receive votes.

Update: This story was corrected to show that the distribution of delegates to each ward is based on the DFL vote in the last two general elections, not just the last election.

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