It wasn’t a forum exactly, more like political Shark Tank: An opportunity for the five leading candidates vying to be the next mayor St. Paul to make a pitch to more than 100 very likely voters: the residents of the Episcopal Homes on University Avenue. They got five minutes each to make their best case for why they deserve to be the city’s next mayor.
Here’s what they said. (Statements here are in the order they were presented and have been edited slightly for clarity and length.)
Party: Green Party (endorsed)
Experience: Life coach/motivational speaker; previously: advocate for National PTA, community affairs for MN AIDS Project
“A lot of people have asked why I would choose to run for mayor of St. Paul. The short answer is, it was the most meaningful contribution that I thought I could make to a people and a city I’ve come to love. Two women came to me between Christmas and New Year’s and said ‘we think you should get into it and we think there’s a hole in the race.’ I said, what kind of hole is there? Well, No. 1, there is no woman in the race. And No. 2, there was no one we thought would be carrying an environmental and energy platform. That is something that I am definitely carrying because it is one of the top three issues for me in this race. …
“So what do I normally say at the door. Normally I say, I’m the only Green, I’m the only woman. What makes me different is energy and the environment. I have a plan on my website for how we might get to Solar on the Schools. And if you’d like to geek out on kilowatt hours and what it will cost, how we do it with rebates, without rebates, by investing, by not owning but by renting the space, it’s all out there. I would also like to see us try to get more solar and wind manufacturers and installers to town. And the reason for that is that whole industry is growing 12 times faster than any other industry in the United States. …
“I believe that will be a key economic development tool, especially here in the Midwest. And I would especially like to tie that to minority hiring because as you know we’ve got 25 percent poverty in St. Paul. That is not acceptable. I’ve been talking with a guy called Solar Bear who is a Native American who runs a solar installation company and he agrees with me. He believes that is key to get our underserved, our underrepresented, our underprivileged people jobs and skills that they can take into the future.
“I’m also a big supporter of the $15 Now campaign. The $15 Now campaign would do something like they’ve done in Minneapolis which is raise the minimum wage to $15 over the next four to seven years. The reason that’s important is, as I’ve said, we’ve got 25 percent poverty. What the $15 Now campaign says is that if we raise the minimum wage it will lift 68,000 St. Paulites out of poverty, and there is nothing that I could do as mayor that would have more effect in terms of helping people than that one thing.
“Some people are concerned with how will that affect small business. Well the first thing you have to remember is that it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s approximately 75 cents an hour added each year until we get to $15. So there’s a long time period for implementation. But in addition to that, I want to add some supports for small businesses. When light rail when down University Avenue, there was a lot of concern about small businesses going out of business. Well they started something called U7, which was a support group to help all of those impacted businesses where they could get help. As a result, only about eight businesses went out of business during that time. I think we could do something similar with $15 Now. …
“One of the strengths that I have is working with people on different sides of the aisle, people with different backgrounds and bringing them together to create new solutions to the challenges we all face. …”
Experience: St. Paul City Council member, Ward 1, IT consultant; previously: organizer for ISAIAH, Take Action Minnesota
“I might be an elected official. I sit on the St. Paul City Council. But you are the true leaders of this community. You have been the pillar and the keeper of this community. And this city has done well, has been welcoming, has been a strong city because of your leadership, because of your investment. You haven’t given up on this city and that’s why we are strong today. …
“I want to ask for your support. I want to serve you as mayor. Because I know no one appreciates America more than a refugee. My family came here in 1983 as a political refugee. During the Vietnam War my father and his five brothers fought on behalf of the United States. When the United States pulled out of Vietnam, our family went into exile. I lost two sisters and a younger brother. I thought that if I come to America it would be paradise because in the refugee camp we were so poor I remember walking in the market following people who had money because if they throw a chicken bone away, that would be my meal.
“When I came to America it wasn’t paradise as I thought. People told me to go back home to my country. Called me chink, called me gook. It was very painful. But I could take it because I had gone through so much. But then I began to see other kids at school, other immigrants, get bullied and get picked on just because of their ancestors. I went to help them. I went to protect them. I learned at an early age how to protect people. To protect all of those who are vulnerable in our community …
“We were so poor, so desperate, I asked God don’t give me any money because I don’t know what that is. But use me to serve you. Help me help other people so they wouldn’t have to feel the same hurt and pain that I felt. And I think God answered my call. I don’t want to squander this opportunity that God’s given me and America’s given me to fight to protect you all. …
“When the Founding Fathers said they would try to create a more perfect union, they were talking about us. They were envisioning that one day we would sit in a room like this and we would give the short little guy the opportunity to serve us. Because in St. Paul we don’t measure people’s height by how tall they are. We measure their height by the length of their shoulder to their head. And we measure the size of their heart. …
“Now you all heard those false allegations that have been made against me. I am happy that that happened because it proved that I’m stronger than what the opposition thought. It built character. Through that whole ordeal my family, and especially me, grew spiritually. I feel like I grew 5 inches taller. And whoever did that, I forgive ’em because we have to learn to forgive each other. We have to learn to see past that because we have to keep our eyes on the prize … stop taxing people, stop chasing people out of St. Paul, especially folks who are on fixed income, our seniors, out low-income families. The time is now and I hope you give me the opportunity to serve you. Not for any title but to help me help you create a better life.”
Experience: municipal finance banker; previously: St Paul City Council member for Ward 3.
“I love these opportunities to talk about what we can do for St. Paul. I’m a fourth-generation resident of St. Paul. My great-grandfather lived just up the street on Fairview and Iglehart, only about two blocks from here, just inside Fairview. I’m a lifelong St. Paulite. My wife Laura and I are raising our four children in St. Paul and we have four kids in the St. Paul public schools — Daniel, Ellie, Joe and Andrew, ages 10 and under.
“All my life every day when I wake up I want to make a difference for people. That’s how I live my life. Everything I’ve done in my life is to make a difference. I spent 12 years on the St. Paul City Council, where I was a leader on the budget in some of the most difficult financial times we’ve ever had. I was St. Paul’s leader on our libraries. I created St. Paul’s independent library agency, which resulted in the Rondo Library and resulted in the Arlington library, it resulted in renovations to Latimer Central, to Sunray and to the Highland Library. …
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done for our libraries. When I got elected to the City Council the first time, my mother sat me down. I thought she was going to tell me how proud she was of me. But she stuck a finger in my face and she said ‘you be good to my library.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I was a leader on housing in St. Paul, involved in projects like this facility right here, like the Shalom Home, like the Carondelet facility, like other affordable housing developments that we have in St. Paul. I was proud to be a leader of those projects.
“My wife Laura and I have been active in the nonprofit community for many, many years. I serve on the board of the Children’s Museum, the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the Como Zoo. I’ve served on the Catholic Charities board, Loaves and Fishes Board, I currently serve on the Metropolitan Airports Commission, where we have made an incredible difference on increasing wages for people and providing solar energy at the airport and involving local St. Paul businesses at our airport. … I’m the founder of the Serving Our Troops program. We’ve served 90,000 steaks to the soldiers and families of the Minnesota National Guard, recognizing the sacrifice that our National Guard members make so we can be in rooms like this and we can have these great conversations that we’re having right now.
“I made my career out of making a difference. And that’s why I’m running for the mayor of the city of St. Paul, because I want to make a difference for St. Paul and I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna make a difference on jobs. I’m gonna provide over $100 million in small business funding throughout St. Paul in targeted neighborhoods to make sure people have a living wage job in St. Paul. We’re gonna make a difference in housing in St. Paul. As I said I was a leader on the City Council in housing and I am committed, committed, in continuing the leadership I provide on housing in St. Paul. We’re gonna continue to make a difference on libraries in St. Paul on parks and on things like snow plowing, we will make a difference on snow plowing. We’re gonna make a difference on pedestrian safety. I authored the only ordinance in the United States of America that allows citizens to petition the city to increase crosswalk times in their community. I will continue to do those things.”
Experience: attorney; previously: owner of sports memorabilia stores, former St. Paul school board, consultant and representative for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota
“Somewhere there’s a joke out there about a Jew running in a primarily Catholic community giving a talk at Episcopal Homes. I came out here in 1975 to attend Carleton College, where I had the privilege of meeting Paul Wellstone and didn’t really plan on getting involved in politics until Paul ran in 1990 and I had a chance — like many of you — to be involved in that campaign which kinda took away the cynicism I had about politics. I saw someone who could really run based on what he believed in and that inspired me to run for school board after his death. … Though I don’t talk about it a lot, my campaign colors since 2005 have been in tribute to Paul and that’s the vision that I try to carry forward.
“The reason I’m running for mayor of St. Paul is I want to change our priorities. We in St. Paul need to invest in things like job creation, to do something about the 13,000 jobs we have not recovered since 2000. We need to invest in affordable housing. We need to invest in after-school programs and all-day pre-K so parents have a place for their kids to be and they have something to do so we don’t have to worry about them getting into trouble or having no path forward in life. …
“My experience is in innovation and fighting for things I believe in, which is why I’m been a longtime opponent of public funding for stadiums and the kind of major subsidies we have been providing throughout the city. That’s where our money is going …
“No one is talking in this city about poverty. If as much time in the last 10 years have been spent talking about alleviating poverty — which is 25 percent, and if you include people living at 185 percent of the poverty level it gets as high as 40, 50 and even 60 percent in some of our neighborhoods. What’s our plan to address poverty? What’s our plan to address affordable housing? We know that when it comes to building a Saints ballpark, we have $70 million for that. If you want to want to build a luxury apartment in downtown with a Lunds store, we have $62 million for that. If you want to renovate a private practice facility for the Wild, we have $11½ million for that. If you want to build a soccer stadium — even though we have a gentleman who’s worth billions building the stadium supposedly for free — we’re putting $18 and half million in public money into that. Imagine what you could do with all of that money in St. Paul to alleviate issues, to building affordable housing, to provide job training, to create a loan fund particularly for people in the Midway, all the ethnic businesses and woman-owned businesses, to repair Rondo and invest in those neighborhoods that we have not done. I mean there is a question of what our priorities are gonna be as a city. …
“For some people in St. Paul who are affluent, who have the political connections, the lobbyists, longtime political insiders, they’re doing fine. But what about for the rest of us? When are we going to be a city that truly works for all of us? We’re not going to get there by continuing business as usual. We’re not going to get there by continuing to have subsidies for things that will benefit developers and monied interests but not do anything for the rest of us. …”
Experience: executive director, Governor’s Minnesota Children’s Cabinet; previously: St. Paul City Council member for Ward 1.
“Our family’s been here for 100 years. My great-grandparents came here literally 100 years ago from Paris, Texas, a town that at the time was known for being home to some of the most vicious and notorious racial violence and lynchings in the country. They came up here because they had a family member here and they heard there were some schools, they heard there was some opportunity. They heard there was an opportunity for a better life here. They brought their two children here and they had a third when they got here who you know well (Melvin Carter, Sr. was a resident until he died in June). I’m running to be your first choice for mayor. But I know that at Episcopal Homes I’m gonna have to settle for being your second-favorite Melvin Carter.
“I’m running in a community where grandpa lived in Rondo, where he had half a dozen commercial properties taken from him to build the freeway. I’m running in this community where my grandmother successfully petitioned Mayor Latimer to make sure there was a swimming pool for African-American children at Oxford playground. I’m running in a community that my father served for 28 years as a St. Paul police officer, that my mother has served as a teacher and now as a member of the Ramsey County board of commissioners. …
“And I’m running in a city, I’m raising children in a city, where the life outcomes of two children born in St. Paul today are starkly different based on how that child looks, based on that child’s race and ZIP code and neighborhood that child is born into, and based on whether or not that child’s parents went to college. I find that unacceptable. I cannot sit with that and none of us should be able to.
“When we talk about diversity in St. Paul, when we talk about equity and closing gaps in St. Paul, we talk about it too much as though it’s something we’ve got to do for those people. Right? It’s a cherry for the Eastside and we have to do it for communities of color. There’s a Martin Luther King quote that I love … ‘We may have come on different ships but we’re all in the same boat now.’ And I’m here to tell you, half of a boat never sinks. If we think that our fight for equity is for somebody else, we’re not realizing that half of a boat never sinks. We are all in this city together, we are all in this boat together and St. Paul will never be the city that we can be and the city that we should be until we figure that out and get that right and truly build a St. Paul that works for everyone.
“I have a perspective on this city that has never sat in the mayor’s office. When we talk about police-community relations, I talk about it both as the son of a police officer and probably being the only candidate in this race who’s ever been pulled over for driving while black. When we talk about education, I say it as the only product of the St. Paul Public Schools and I’m also raising our children in the St. Paul Public Schools. I have a personal stake in this work in a way that does not allow me to sit back, does not allow me to sit still and that does not allow me to stand down in the context of the opportunity that we have to build the amazing and exciting city that my great-grandparents can be proud of, that my grandfather can be amazingly proud of, and that my grandchildren will be happy and excited to call home.”