Three competing for St. Paul City Council Ward 4 seat

By Anne Holzman

Incumbent Mitra Jalali Nelson is facing two challengers, Chris Holbrook and Tarrance Robertson-Bayless, for St. Paul’s Ward 4 City Council seat. The following are brief sketches on each of the candidates:

Chris Holbrook

Holbrook ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017 but has not held elected office or served in government. He works as a sales account manager for a building company. He owns his home as well as rental property in St. Paul.

            The controversy over St. Paul’s trash ordinance motivated Holbrook to run for council. “What further motivates me is a desire to see our City take care of a few basic civic needs that they seem to be failing at,” Holbrook said, including street repair and public safety. He expressed concern about rising property taxes, as well.   

            Holbrook said he will vote no on the referendum on the city’s trash hauling system. “We need a path for people to opt out (self haulers and zero wasters) as well as an option for people to share containers, especially in duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes,” Holbrook said. “That is where the naturally occurring affordable housing is, and by mandating extra carts to them creates extra costs which increases rents.”  

Mitra Jalali Nelson

Nelson won a special election in 2018 to serve out the term of Russ Stark, who resigned in order to accept a position on city staff. Nelson is now running for a first full term. She has also worked as a teacher, organizer, and immigration and public safety policy aide. She rents her home.

Nelson cites the minimum wage hike, affordable housing, renewable energy, and alternatives to policing as achievements in her first year in office. She said, “I first ran for office to address at least four central challenges of our ward that will be critical to help sustain the future of our city: attainable and affordable housing and homeownership, building community wealth, sustainability and city action on climate, and community-first public safety.”

Nelson said challenges in the next term will be about managing growth in the city, and recognizing a shift to younger, more diverse residents. “It’s our responsibility now to bring everyone to the table – including and especially constituencies that have historically been left out of our city planning conversations,” she said.

            Nelson said she will vote yes on the trash referendum. She was not on the council when the new system was put in place but would rather fix it than reject it. She noted, “I’ve pushed for immediate improvements to our contract like allowing cart-sharing for duplex, triplex, and fourplex buildings; ensuring homeowner and townhome associations are not included in residential collection and receive a sensible adjustment within the current contract; changing our pricing to encourage waste reduction; and other incentives for zero-waste and low-waste households.”

Tarrance Robertson-Bayless

This is Robertson-Bayless’s first time running for public office. He is a major in the Minnesota Army National Guard and recently returned from deployment in the Middle East. He is also project director for diversity, equity and inclusion in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. “I am someone who has battled addiction, homelessness, been in and out of jail, faced housing discrimination, and been on public assistance. I have lived experiences that most politicians can’t even relate to.”

            He added, “I am an openly transgender man, a long-time advocate for our LGBTQIA+ communities, and have a distinct passion for advancing social justice and racial equity work.”

            Robertson-Bayless was motivated to run for office due to inequities in access to jobs, affordable housing, transit, and other benefits. He is also concerned about infrastructure, small businesses, property taxes, and “transparency, accountability, and accessibility.”

            Robertson-Bayless did not take a position on the trash referendum. He said, “I support organized trash collection. However, I am deeply disappointed with our current contract and, more importantly, the process by which we got to where we are today. Our current contract was poorly negotiated and doesn’t incentivize people to reduce waste, but instead punishes them with a lack of options and a lack of flexibility.” He continued, “Our city has become extremely divided over this issue, and rather than fueling that divide, I want to work toward community-based solutions that address concerns from the collective St. Paul.”

—Anne Holzman, a former St. Anthony Park resident, is a regular freelance contributor to the Park Bugle.

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