Live-blogging Midday: Mayoral debates

This is, of course, the last full day of campaigning for mayoral candidates in both St. Paul and Minneapolis (Not sure where to vote? Go here.) and MPR’s Midday is hosting a mini-debate for each city.

Up first is St. Paul, where DFL-endorsed incumbent Chris Coleman is being challenged by Republican-endorsed Eva Ng. Then, it’s Minneapolis’ turn with incumbent DFLer R.T. Rybak is being challenged by Papa John Kolstad, who has both the Independence Party and Republican Party endorsements.

I’m live blogging (starting at noon) and you can listen to the debate here.

COLEMAN VS. NG

12:07 p.m.- Coleman introductory. Says “we’ve done a good job” getting through the worst economic times in the country.

Ng introductory. Says she found she could not make a living as an engineer during the oil bust. Became a business consultant, turning businesses around.

12:09 p.m. – Q: If elected, can residents expect tax and fee increases?

Coleman: The challenge we’ve had is since 2003, we’ve lost over $160 million in local government aid. “If the state continues to balance the budget on the backs of the cities, it’ll be hard to do that (not raise taxes)”

Ng: Says she’d freeze raises and budget. “LGA is not a fixed number. It’s a false thing to say we lost $160 million; it’s a variable number every year.”

Q: Where would you cut city budget?

Ng: This is what consultants do. They look for efficiencies and look to grow the revenue. “Properties and assets need to produce income.” (Didn’t really answer the question)

Coleman: If you’re going to say you’re going to freeze/cut taxes, you have to have a specific program. Are you prepared to close libraries, cut firefighters, police? In a business you can close unprofitable businesses. But you can’t get out of the firefighting or snowplowing business.

12:14 p.m. Q: Is Central Corridor light rail line good for the city?

Coleman: It’s the most important project that the city has ever seen. “It puts the East Metro on a part with what’s happening in Minneapolis. If St. Paul is going to continue to thrive, we have to be part of a first-class transportation network.

Ng: This plan that we have is not the best one I’ve ever seen. We’re taking an existing system, compromising it — safety, cost, businesses losing parking. I project it will cost $2 billion by the time we finish. We should consider it doing north of there.

Q: Is the project so far down the tracks that you can’t make those kind of changes?

Ng: We talked to Ray Lahood, the Transportation Secretary, and he says it’s not too far down the road.

Coleman: The project has to have enough weight behind it that President Obama puts it in the budget. Says it won’t cost more than $914 million.

12:17 p.m. Q: You (Coleman) made education a top priority when you ran four years ago. Had education improved in the last four years?

Coleman: We’ve received national recognition for the out-of-school programs. We’ve seen growth of new daycare facilities. We’ve opened college-access centers in libraries and have been able to leverage a network to provide out-of-school time for our children. We have made significant progress in helping people understand that one of the most important things we can do is provide quality out-of-school time.

Ng: The mayor’s role is an advisory one. The mayor is saying he has funded three, four and five-year olds and that program is an overreach because the school department controls that budget; we shouldn’t be spending city budget money. It’s good to take kids off the street, but that program is not well administered. People on the East Side watch empty buses going up and down the street every hour. Our kids have a bigger achievement gap than ever. We have a 62% graduation rate.

Coleman: The money we spent on out-of-school programs is out of parks and recreation and library budget. The mayor has to be a critical and integral partner with the school district.

Ng: The mayor needs to convene the resources, but spending the city’s money as opposed to the school board… there is budget in there to take care of the children.

12:22 p.m. Q: Should garbage collection be operated by city or individual contracting?

Ng: Residents like having choice. But they don’t want to see wear-and-tear in their alleys. But they like their freedom of choice. The mayor should do listening and arrive at a solution.

Coleman: The city got out of the garbage business in the mid-’70s. You don’t put that back in the box. Where people don’t have garbage service, though, it impacts the neighborhood. We’ve tried to be aggressive on garbage cleanup.

12:25 p.m. Q: GOP National Convention. Success, failure or in-between?

Coleman: In between. There was a regional impact. Let’s remember why we asked both parties to bid on it. If someone has been here, they rate is as one they want to come back to. If they’ve never been here, they rate it as one they don’t want to come to.

Ng: Abysmal failure. To this day a lot of St. Paulites won’t forgive the fact the banner at Xcel Center put Minneapolis on top of St. Paul. Guests were bused out of here.

12:27 p.m. Q: What the biggest challenge?

Ng: Taxes

Coleman: Transportation and Central Corridor.

Q: Your opinion of instant runoff voting.

Coleman: No opinion.

Ng: “We can chill on that for awhile.”

RYBAK VS. KOLSTAD

  1. Listen Featured Audio

There are 11 candidates, Gary Eichten says, but “this being radio, we couldn’t feature all 11 candidates so we chose the two endorsed by the major parties.”

12:35 p.m. Introductory statements

Kolstad: I’m president of Mill City Music. I’ve done A Prairie Home Companion show when it was a morning show. The last 20 years I’ve been more active in civic life.

Rybak: When I ran for office, I said we’d be very focused, and we have been. We’ve had lower juvenile crime, we’ve created jobs, and we’ve created systems to help our young people for out-of-school time.

12:36 p.m. Q: What are the major issues:

Rybak: Public safety and job creation.

Kolstad: Increasing business, and the cost of a special election if Rybak runs for governor.

12:36p.m. How much of the lower crime rate is because of mayoral policies?

Kolstad: It’s a national trend; it’s not something controlled by what’s going on in Minneapolis. This happened during the Great Depression. The most important thing to do to prevent crime is to have good jobs available. If you have that, they’re not going to get involved with crime.

Rybak: If you ask the citizens of Chicago if it’s a national trend, they’d say absolutely not. Minneapolis has led the nation in so many areas. We put 100 more police officers on the street. “They took down some key gangs.” Launched youth violence prevention initiative.

12:38 p.m. Q: What would you do about complaints about the relationship between police and minority communities.

Rybak: We’ve made tremendous progress, but when police officers step over the line, they have to be accountable. Chief Timothy Dolan has removed three times as many police officers as any recent police chief. We’ll continue to diversity police force, which is 18.6 officers of color. The recruit class is 50 percent officers of color.

Kolstad: There’s mismanagement going on. The police are not being held accountable. There’s a track record of the Minneapolis police … there’s serious cases of police violating civil rights, using excessive force, being absusive. If an officer does that, it’s a criminal act and they should be held accountable. Too often, it’s dealt as an internal affair.

12:41 p.m. How would you increase business?

Kolstad: Ninety percent of new jobs come from small business. They’re being so burdened with taxes and fees and penalties. Their biggest problem is capital and when you rob them of that capital,you’re harming business.

Rybak: John is wrong. Small business has a lobbyist in city hall and it’s me. My parents ran a corner drug store. The first thing I did was to make it more efficient to get a business opened in Minneapolis. Before I took office, it took 37 days to get a permit. Today, it takes about nine days. We’ve done a tremendous amount for small business.

12:44 p.m. What would you do to make unemployment situation better?

Rybak: When I came into office, we merged programs and it’s worked. The Sears building has 1,400 jobs for Allina. We’ve done things for smaller businesses. Standard Heating was thinking about moving out of the city; now we have 80 news jobs for Minneapolis. Wants more attention on job centers. Will continue to look at green and clean energy and medical technology.

Kolstad: He says small business has declined in the city. “I wish what he was saying was true, but East Lake St., looks like Detroit in the ’70s. Things are not going well.”

We have to find ways to support businesses. Green jobs is a great opportunity for the city. I’d like to turn it into a center for green technology. If I become mayor, I’d want to have an empowerment zone just for cities doing that and focus on small and independent businesses.

12:47 p.m. Can we assume taxes will go up?

Kolstad: Some people are hurting very badly. It’s taking almost all of my capital to pay taxes, fees, and fines. They just started a new 20 percent penalty for fees that aren’t paid on time. There are non-essential things; there hasn’t been an internal audit in more than three years.

Rybak: The city is audited every year by the state auditor. Over the last eight years, I’ve made a series of tough choices and significant cuts. We cut $1.4 million out of budget last year. The city has navigated through incredibly difficult time. When I came into office, the city’s debt rating was going down. First thing we said is we’d cut spending, then reform services and lay out a five year plan that would require people to put more money in. I’m very concerned about property taxes. Part of this issue rests on my shoulders. People who want property taxes should propose any cut they want to make, but we’re not going to retreat on the process we’ve made. Not going to take cops off the street, or cut job creation strategies.

12:51 p.m. Why should people vote for you if you’re going to run for governor?

Rybak: They knew three years ago when I became first mayor to endorse Obama that I would spend a lot of time campaigning for Obama. The years when we lowered unemployment, I was campaigning for Obama, but I was also working hard as mayor. The only thing I don’t love about my job is the fiscal chaos.

Kolstad: He’s appeared at three governor forums already. It’s clear from what he’s doing that he’ll run. We’ve tried to get him to mayoral debates and he hasn’t attended a single one. In 2001, there were 20 debates, in 2005 there were 10 debates for mayor. This year there were none. The mayor should make a choice.

12:54 p.m. Q: Do you support Republican and Independent Party platforms?

Kolstad: I’m endorsed by the GOP of Minneapolis, which is a little different than the statewide party.

FINAL STATEMENTS

Kolstad: I’m heading up a broad coalition across the political spectrum. These people are tired of mismanagement in Minneapolis. Are we better off than we were eight years ago? Most of us are not and it has to do with mismanagement by mayor and city council. Will remove regulatory burden on small business. I have 30 years of experience.

Rybak: I walked into our workforce center at Chicago and Lake and found something in short supply: hope. If that was the only sign of hope, I’d say our work has been successful. But then you look at Allina in the old Sears building, the streets are cleaner, in North Minneapolis you see crime dramatically down and improvements on West Broadway. There’s been strong fiscal management. When a bridge collapses, when a tornado goes through a neighborhood, I’ve been a mayor who shows up.