While the race for mayor of Minneapolis features 35 candidates, the race for mayor of St. Paul is decidedly less competitive this year. Incumbent Chris Coleman has drawn just three challengers.
They met for their first debate last night, with Coleman asserting the city has accomplished a lot since he he was first elected mayor eight years ago.
“Together we built the light rail line. “Together we’re creating renewed vitality in downtown St. Paul. Together we’re opening up doors of possibility to close the achievement gap once and for all in the city of St. Paul,” he said. “I think downtown St. Paul is as exciting and healthy as it has ever been, certainly in my memory. And it’s only going to get better with all the new housing, the Lund’s grocery store, and some of the other amenities that are coming online.”
But Coleman’s chief challenger, Tim Holden, said things have been getting worse, not better, under Coleman’s leadership.
“We have streets with potholes. We have crime. We have police involved with all kinds of lawsuits, legal fees that we’re paying out. Our health inspectors have been lost to the state of Minnesota,” Holden said. “Chris said we wouldn’t lose one business due to light rail construction. Well, we’ve lost over a hundred.”
Holden says he would have an open-door policy as mayor.
“We can solve problems by taking one minute just to listen to someone. You don’t even sometimes have to do anything. Just listening will solve problems, giving each other respect, and that’s not happening. That’s why I’m running for mayor,” he said.
Holden owns a remodeling business on St. Paul’s University Avenue. That’s where the Green Line light rail trains will start running next year. He argues the city should have done more to help businesses survive the construction. But Coleman said the city responded to those concerns.
“You don’t do the largest public infrastructure project in the history of the city of St. Paul without it being a challenge,” Coleman said. “But we set out to minimize the impacts of that. We put the largest package together that I’m aware of anywhere in the country — $14 million to assist businesses all across the corridor, to help them through construction.”
Coleman also defended the new Lowertown ballpark for the St. Paul Saints — which is funded mostly by state and city money. Holden opposes the ballpark. He says the city ignored the complaints of nearby residents who are worried it will cause a parking crunch.
“People were never given a voice,” Holden said. “This is the mayor’s pet project. We’re closing kids’ parks and rec centers across the city right now to fund a ballpark for multi-millionaires.”
Holden has poured about $25,000 of his own money into his campaign. Coleman has raised more than six-times that much.
The other two candidates in the race haven’t been waging active campaigns. But they added some color to last night’s debate.
Kurt Dornfeld, who chose to be listed on the ballot as “Dirty Kurty,” is an employee of the St. Paul Department of Public Works. Asked to discuss the city’s diverse communities, Dornfeld spoke for a while about a youth hockey program he’d helped run.
“And it was a good deal. I enjoyed being at it,” he said, before losing his train of thought. “I don’t even know where I’m going with this, but I’m nervous as all heck, and I’ve never done this before.”
While Dornfeld and Holden are first-time candidates, Sharon Anderson is an old pro. She’s been running running for office in Minnesota for decades, without much success. Here’s some of her opening statement.
“My rod is the constitution and my camera, and I also am a registered gun owner,” she said. “My staff is my cane or my umbrella. Don’t be vain, walk with a cane, and if you come at me, I’ll stick you in the eye.”
It was the first of only two debates scheduled in the St. Paul mayor’s race.
Holden and Coleman face off Thursday at noon on MPR News.