St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman wins another term

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman speaks to his supporters at the Saint Paul Hotel after the polls close on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2013. Coleman handily won a third term. (MPR Photo/Marcheta Fornoff)
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    Nov. 6, 2013 Re-elected Mayor Chris Coleman talks St. Paul’s future

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman won a third term in office Tuesday night, defeating his most active challenger, Tim Holden.

With all 97 precincts reporting, Coleman received 78.23 percent of the first-choice votes and Holden 16.31 percent, according to unofficial numbers reported by the Secretary of State.

The win makes Coleman the first St. Paul mayor to serve more than two terms since George Latimer, who was mayor from 1976 to 1990. Coleman unseated Mayor Randy Kelly eight years ago, and won re-election in 2009 with 69 percent of the vote.

“We’ve been beaten down by seven years of a really tough economy,” Coleman said Tuesday night. “We had a mortgage foreclosure crisis that didn’t allow us to do some of the things we wanted to do in our neighborhoods to make sure that our neighborhoods were strong. We got obviously a lot families in crisis that we’re going to continue to work with particularly around education issues. We got a Ford site, 130 acres of development opportunity. So there’s definitely a full plate for the next four years.”

Coleman, the DFL-endorsed candidate, raised six times as much money as Holden, according to campaign finance reports. Coleman was also endorsed by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and all seven members of the City Council.

Holden largely funded his campaign out of his own pocket.

Coleman was also running against two other candidates — Sharon Anderson and street maintenance worker Kurt Dornfeld. Neither filed campaign finance reports or waged an active campaign.

Throughout this campaign, Coleman has highlighted his work in the past eight years.

“I think St. Paul is in one of the best positions it’s ever been in – certainly in a lifetime — and I’ve lived here my entire life,” the mayor said during an Oct. 31 debate hosted by MPR.

One of Coleman’s top priorities was and still is the Central Corridor Light Rail Line, which he said will drive economic development when it starts service next year. The project has a total budget of $957 million.

Holden has said the project forced businesses to close along the line and eliminated parking spaces in front of small businesses along University Avenue. According to numbers from the Metropolitan Council, since 2011, 90 businesses along the line closed, while 122 have opened.

In his 2009 re-election, Coleman said the project would be his top priority as “it’s the greatest opportunity that the city of St. Paul has seen in probably a hundred years.”

Holden’s other recent criticism against Coleman was for the $63 million publicly subsidized ballpark that the city is building for the St. Paul Saints.

Coleman calls himself a “relentless advocate for public safety,” which he lists as his top priority. The mayor also said he’s “committed to building world-class departments that set the standard for service to residents and community” as he invests in training and improved technology, according to the city’s website.

But he has received some criticism from police officers in the weeks leading up to the election. The St. Paul Police Federation launched a social media, television, and print campaign asking the public to press the mayor for higher pay for officers.

St. Paul police officers have been working without a contract for about 11 months, and say the city ranks 22nd out of 27 metro departments in pay. Federation leaders accused Coleman of misleading the public about officer compensation when Coleman said the officers are in the top five in the metro in terms of complete compensation packages, and that he invested in the department for things like the crime lab.

The $1 million update to the crime lab came after the lab shut down in 2012, after a court case in Dakota County uncovered several problems: training had been only informal, documentation was scant and testing procedures were questionable.

Developing a proposal to renovate the long-vacant downtown Palace Theatre has been part of Coleman’s recent work, and he said the added vibrancy would make other vacant buildings in downtown easier to fill. The Macy’s department store closed in March, and the Wabasha Court space is also vacant.

Last week, a proposal from city planners was announced to reopen Palace Theater as a midsized concert hall in 2015.

Bridging the education gap in schools has been one of Coleman’s priorities and talking points in his campaign. In his time as mayor, he created Sprockets, an out-of-school network of more than 70 St. Paul organizations that’s a place for parents to find neighborhood education, training or skill-building programs for their children, outside of school.

In his first year in office in 2006, Coleman hired coordinators to work on sustainability, energy, environment, sustainable transportation and water resources. He signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and directed city funds to retrofit city buildings for energy efficiency, and equip public places with things like solar panels and vehicle charging stations.

As a result of his re-election, Coleman will now become president of the National League of Cities next year. Despite criticism from Holden about working both jobs, Coleman said his work with the league would put the city on a national stage, and improve the region.

In 2012, Coleman was elected the Second Vice President of National League of Cities, and became the League’s vice president this year.

“Mayors don’t have the luxury of just wearing one hat,” Coleman said in his Oct. 31 debate. “You have to know public safety. You have to know parks and rec. You have to know libraries. You have to know environmental issues. You have to do all things that create great cities. And I think that that is one of the things we are doing very well which is to create a vibrant and wonderful St. Paul.”

MPR News intern Marcheta Fornoff contributed to this report.