Election guide: 10 seek mayor’s seat in St. Paul
Voters in the city of St. Paul will choose a new mayor on Nov. 7, as incumbent Chris Coleman is not running for a fourth term. With ranked choice voting in the mayoral election, voters have the option to rank candidates in order of their preference, up to a maximum of six. Voters are not required to rank more than one candidate and can vote for just one candidate.
We asked each candidate for their biographical information, a statement explaining why they want to be mayor, and what they would do about widespread concerns over rising property taxes in the wake of a recent court order to change the structure of the city’s assessments. —Anne Holzman
Sharon Anderson did not respond to our request for information. This is Anderson’s fourth time running for mayor of St. Paul. Websites from previous races for attorney general and St. Paul City Council indicate past affiliation with the Republican Party.
Melvin Carter served on St. Paul City Council from 2008 to 2013, when he stepped down to accept a position with the state of Minnesota. Most recently, he has served as executive director of the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet under Gov. Mark Dayton. Carter lives in the Rondo neighborhood with his wife, Sakeena, and three of their five children.
During his years on the city council, Carter said he worked on adding light-rail stops in neighborhoods; founded the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood to level the playing field for low-income families; and formed the city’s Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity.
“I believe that St. Paul’s future depends on recognizing the untapped potential in all our kids, families and communities,” Carter said. “As mayor, I will focus on building a St. Paul that works for everyone, not just those we’re used to seeing succeed.”
Concerning property taxes, Carter said, “The best way to alleviate pressure on residents is to strengthen the city’s tax base overall. As St. Paul grows, the demand for more jobs, housing and city services will also grow. Fulfilling this demand requires a big vision for economic growth; without right-sizing the tax base to match demand, St. Paul will remain trapped in a cycle of raising taxes or cutting city services.”
Carter said he supports the proposed plan for the site of the former Ford Assembly Plant as part of that vision.
He would also ask large tax-exempt organizations to help pay for city services through voluntary contributions.
Carter said he is committed to “eliminating disparities” in the city. “Neighborhoods with quality public infrastructure, stable housing and employment opportunities are also those who contribute most in taxes,” he said. “Addressing disparities will help those that have been left behind by our city’s progress, but it will also benefit the whole city by expanding prosperity and adding the tax contributions that result to the city’s budget.”
Trahern Crews did not respond to our request for information. According to his blog, Crews is a 1993 graduate of Central High School and has run unsuccessfully for the Ward 1 seat on St. Paul City Council.
Elizabeth A. Dickinson said her goal as mayor would be “to mobilize St. Paul’s underappreciated cultural, natural, educational, medical, business and people-powered assets.” Her experience in those areas includes work with health and education policy groups. She has served on the West Side Community Organization District Council.
Dickinson studied education at Cambridge University in England and holds a master’s degree in psychology from Lesley University in Massachusetts. She is endorsed by the Green Party, womenwinning, the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action.
“I want to be your mayor because this is the most meaningful contribution I could make to a city and people I love,” Dickinson said. She lists her “core values” as “social, economic and environmental justice; grassroots democracy; and non-violence.”
“As your mayor,” Dickinson said, “I will be a partnership-builder and connector inside and outside of city hall, communicating, convening, collaborating and connecting people from different backgrounds to resources they need and increasing public input to address shared challenges.”
Dickinson said she would approach taxes starting with “a deep dive” into department budgets to find out what’s working, what isn’t and what complaints the managers have noted. She would examine methods used to track short- vs. long-term impacts of spending in each area.
“From there I would share my city priorities based on my campaign promises,” Dickinson said. “I would consult with city and community councils and construct a budget to reflect the city’s values, including the need to hold the line on taxes, especially for those on fixed incomes.”
Currently working as a life coach through Pursue Your Path, Dickinson is also a landlord, writer and public speaker.
Tom Goldstein has worked as a community activist, affordable-housing advocate, job-placement coordinator, legislative aide, citizen lobbyist, and labor organizer. He served on the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education from 2005 to 2008.
Goldstein grew up outside Washington, D.C., moved to Minnesota to attend Carleton College, and now lives in the Hamline/Midway neighborhood. He earned a law degree from the evening program at William Mitchell College of Law.
Recently visible in campaigns opposing the financing of a sports stadium, Goldstein is the founder and former owner of the Sports Collection on Grand Avenue.
“I know firsthand the many challenges entrepreneurs face in trying to build a successful business, what it means to live within a budget, how to treat employees fairly yet still hold them accountable, and why helpful customer service that solves everyday problems in people’s lives is as crucial to the success of cities as it is to businesses.”
Goldstein said he would approach taxes by ordering an independent audit and looking for savings opportunities. “I would end subsidies for entertainment venues and stadiums, sharply curtail the use of tax-increment financing absent a specific project addressing a community need, and only raise taxes as a last resort to avoid a fiscal crisis,” he said.
“I would also insist that we get serious about job creation,” Goldstein said, listing alternative energy and broadband as two areas ripe for development.
“I am unafraid to say no to corporate handouts,” Goldstein said, “advocating instead for the priorities of neighborhoods: safe streets, well-maintained parks and rec centers, free after-school programming throughout the city; housing policies that protect us from predatory developers; and opportunities for everyone to succeed.”
Goldstein currently works as a lawyer and runs an online business.
Pat Harris has served on the St. Paul City Council (2000-2011) and on a variety of committees, including library, zoo and museum boards. He is the founder of Serving Our Troops, supporting members of the Minnesota National Guard and works is a senior vice president at BMO Harris Bank.
“On the council,” Harris said, “I earned a reputation for getting things done, for being the council’s leading expert on finance, and for my focus on providing quality city services. I was the council’s leader on a wide array of issues, including public safety, libraries, and city infrastructure.”
Harris said he is running for mayor “because I believe St. Paul is a place where people can achieve their dreams. In my lifetime of working with our citizens and getting things done, I have learned so much about what is great about St. Paul and what our neighbors cherish and want in their St. Paul.”
Harris said, “St. Paul’s finances are under stress for numerous reasons, including lack of stability in local government aid, the recent court ruling shifting certain fees to property taxes, and the general pressure of rising costs. I believe the city’s financial health is at risk and needs attention from an experienced financial leader in order to keep the city moving in the right direction.” Harris said he offers “nearly two decades of experience as a public finance professional in the private sector.”
Harris would examine current city expenses to eliminate inefficiencies and focus on core services, he said. “I will work vigorously to expand the tax base by promoting responsible development and growing our job base citywide,” he said. Finally, I would aggressively work to market our city to employers within Minnesota and across the nation. The mayor has a unique role as a salesman for the city.”
Harris is a lifelong resident of St. Paul. He and his wife, Laura, live in the Highland Park neighborhood with their four young children.
Chris Holbrook has lived in St. Paul for 18 years, in the Midway and Frogtown neighborhoods. He is the current chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota and ran for governor as a Libertarian in 2014. He works in building materials wholesale, managing accounts and sales.
Holbrook said he is running for mayor “to lower property tax[es].”
Holbrook stated that as mayor, “I would create an equitable focus on all diverse communities in the city. I would spread out the tax base to include the 25 percent of properties that enjoy exemption. I would place a moratorium on banning things—like menthols—and mandating things—like $15 labor. I would supervise city managers to prevent the millions over budget that all major city projects overspend.”
Tim Holden did not respond to our request for information. According to his campaign website, he is a graduate of St. Thomas Academy and St. Cloud State University, with a degree in criminal justice. He works as a general contractor and real estate agent.
Dai Thao has served on St. Paul City Council since 2013. He is a board member of the Port Authority, Twin Cities Community Land Bank and Family Housing Fund.
“I’m an information-technology professional by trade and a community organizer by passion,” Thao said.
Born in Laos, Thao said he has “seen what a bad government can do to its people,” adding, “I firmly believe government’s role is to serve the people.”
As mayor, “I will unite the city across race, faith, gender and neighborhoods to fight for racial justice, and economic progress,” he said. His experience with informational technology will help him find solutions “so that regular people and businesses don’t get taxed out of St. Paul.”
“We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our middle-class and low-income residents,” Thao said. “I do not believe in cutting back on the necessary and impactful services that the city provides, either. So instead of punishing the working class or cutting services, we need to find creative ways to diversify the city’s revenue streams.”
Thao noted that “nearly one-third” of St. Paul land is exempt from property taxes. “We have for too long shifted the burden onto the residents,” he said. “This is why I co-sponsored the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) study with the Citizens League for private universities and nonprofits that can afford to help support city services and programming.”
As mayor, he would “promote a culture of accountability and efficiency by doing a data analysis of city departments to find bottlenecks,” and by making the data public, he said.
“Other revenue sources I will pursue are the half-cent sales tax to dedicate toward maintaining our local parks and recreation centers, a soda tax at the distribution level to fund youth services and all-day-pre-kindergarten, and a wheelage tax to maintain our local street and maintenance services,” Thao said.
Barnabas Joshua Yshua did not respond to our request for information. According to an Aug. 4 article in the Pioneer Press, he lives at Union Gospel Mission, a men’s shelter on University Avenue, and told the Pioneer Press reporter that he had no political platform other than helping others.