St Paul Voters Are Not Being Served Well This Election

We have been strong in our criticism of Ranked Choice Voting, and our experience in the way voters are being informed this election is a prime example of the problems with the system. Saint Paul voters are left with little information other than candidates literature when making their determinations for the next mayor in November.

The main reasons because of a large number of candidates (10), and the structure of the forums based on standards from the League of Women Voters (LWV). The LWV in its attempt to be fair and impartial does a serious disservice to the voters.  By incorporating all the candidate’s voices, is laudable as a goal, practically it does not provide the citizenry a good quality understanding of the positions of the various candidates. We have attended two separate events one at the Mount Zion Temple and the Halle Q Brown Center during the last week and came away with the same conclusion. There are too many people to hear from.

The LWV produced a 2017 Saint Paul Voter Guide, but it only exists as a handout and is not available on their website.

We understand, there will be other forums that will be structured in a “Speed Dating” format where the candidates will move from one table to the next engaging with the participants. Sorry, but selecting a mayor is not like looking for a date, that is a trite pursuit and the affairs of the Capitol City warrant far more consideration than a novelty.

Prior to attending these forums, we expected them to distinctively different, because of the locations of the discussion, but sadly they were similar. We came hoping for a robust conversation about the major issue facing the city and received less than a Cliff notes version of any one candidate’s thoughts.

At Mount Zion Temple, the audience mainly consisted of middle-aged to elderly Caucasians with a spattering of younger people most involved with one or another campaign. We were not surprised when the only four persons of color were the three candidates former City Council Member Ward 0ne Melvin Carter III (DFL), City Council Member Ward 0ne Dai Thao (DFL), Trahern Crews and one Hispanic gentleman providing technical support.

We anticipated this event to be more of a conservative affair because of the nature of the sponsors Summit Hill Neighborhood Association and the Grand Avenue Chamber of Commerce. 9 of the 10 candidates were present except for Chris Holbrook and perennial gadfly candidate Sharon Anderson arrived late.

Each event was the same the candidates were given a short one-minute response to questions asked by the moderator and the moderator started with a different person each time based on LWV rules. The result was no in-depth discussion about any topic but just a cursory statement made by each of the candidates.

The problem is other than comedic value certain candidates being on the stage provided more of a distraction instead of useful information. Each time Anderson spoke it resulted in either laughter or groans. Again, if there were a primary that had taken place prior to this time the field would we be without it down to two candidates and the voters of Saint Paul would have an opportunity to understand the differences between the two candidates and whom they thought best capable representing the city.

As we have previously discussed, we have broken the field of candidates into 3 tiers and will only discuss issue of substance from thought people. We will not waste your time discussing others.

On Tuesday night, at Mount Zion Temple, the candidates provided their standard stump speech which we’ve have heard throughout the summer. Former City Council Member (Ward One) Melvin Carter III (DFL) discussed his being a fourth-generation St Paulite whose grandfather was a janitor in St. Paul public schools and he’s a product of the Rondo neighborhood.

Tim Holden (I) criticized the mayor and the City Council for pushing through issues without citizen support.

Former City Council Member (Ward Three) Pat Harris (DFL) stated he is also a fourth-generation St Paulite emphasizing that he is been working all his public life to make the city better by creating a library committee which resulted in the Rondo library and the Arlington Heights library. He’s a public finance professional with a bold jobs program.

Former School Board Member Tom Goldstein (DFL) discussed the need for improvements and infrastructure affordable housing pre-kindergarten education rec centers libraries and parks focusing on job-creating not subsidizing stadiums and other nonessential building projects as priorities.

Current, City Council Member (Ward One) Dai Thao (DFL) due to his late arrive was given an opportunity to state his opening remarks and said, he’s a short Asian liberal IT professional who has the clout to succeed and keep meters off of Grand Avenue not supporting the Ford site because he respects the people who live there.

Elizabeth Dickinson (GR) quickly stated she’s the Green party candidate with experience working with the Minnesota aids project and that the main difference she has from the guys is that she’s running to bring green jobs to Saint Paul.

In the limited amount of time, they covered some cursory issues including:

$15 minimum wage.

Dickinson was in support feeling that property is disproportionate amongst people of color and it does not put businesses out of business

Harris also supports a $15 minimum wage stating that he supported it as a member of the Metropolitan Airport Commission when they were pushing for a $15 minimum wage for baggage handlers. He wants to protect against job loss inflation in managing taxes and regulation.

Thao didn’t answer the question, he waffled. He says he wants to invite businesses to the table but seems to have changed his opinion on the minimum wage which as we understand has been a point of contention between him and the mung Chamber of Commerce.

Carter emphasized being the first candidate to have stated his favorable position for the $15 minimum wage. He believes it’s an investment in creating a stable family and neighborhood and providing better opportunities for education.

Holden supports it in a patchwork fashion for certain businesses that can afford it agrees that it will fix the party problem and promote additiona commerce, but discussed the fact that some businesses cannot handle a $15 minimum wage.

Goldstein supports the effort to get everyone to a $15 minimum wage your plugs targets movement towards a $15 minimum wage but also believes that a $15 minimum wage is not adequate unless you also have a healthcare system in place.

Racial Equity

Holden believes it’s all about respect and that people need to listen to one another.

Goldstein sees it as an opportunity if you don’t have housing and jobs in low-income neighborhoods everything should be like Highland Park. He believes that solar jobs are one of the answers.

Harris also sees it as an opportunity started to discuss his bald jobs program with access to capital in Summit University and on the east side of St. Paul targeting schools with more dollars in the classroom and I focus on jobs-education housing.

Carter wants to eliminate racial discrimination and it’s all involved in the same goals which are to improve education and jobs.

Thao stressed the fact that he is an example of somebody who has experienced racial inequities as an immigrant coming to this country as a child and living in subsidized housing.

Dickinson supports in hiring 40% people of color for city jobs and supports the forthcoming Bigelow foundation recommendations.

During one moment in the forum a question was asked about the Amazon contest for various cities to come forward with proposals to encourage the siting of the second corporate headquarters. As a device, they suggested that Amazon President Jeff Bezos was in the audience and what would you say to him.

Thao missed the question altogether Holden talked about how if we could bring Amazon here it might help fill the downtown.

Goldstein remarked flippantly asking “are you lost” and then went on to saying that the Ford plant site would have been a great distribution spot not Shakopee and stressed the need to negotiate across the table.

Harris said that he would stress education the private colleges and university of Minnesota in addition to transit and then also discussed the Ford site and then said well you could stop over to my house will have some food and make some things happen.

Carter said we should look at all other cities and compare are we looking for a 21st-century transportation system navigation system of our schools and our colleges and in comparison Saint Paul comes out on top.

Spending Cuts

Carter stressed that the budget is a values document and we should focus on expanding our cities opportunities.

Harris discussed efficiencies general fund financing Public Safety and restructuring the cities’ debt. Recommending that you run the city like a business.

Goldstein called for the hiring of an independent city auditor and how the city could save $21 million if it weren’t for obligations based on tax increment financing.

Dickinson agreed with Harris regarding restructuring the debt. She also agreed with Goldstein on the tax increment financing issues and called for a freezing of senior’s property taxes where their obligation would be for filled after they leave their home. Meaning creating a specific debt that is tied to that property from his past residents.

Holden said that there are 12 departments they need to be looked at and there needs to be a financial audit.

Thao stressed his work in IT. Believes that through data analysis of cell phone records computer logs and other mechanisms that efficiency and accountability can be established so that we would know which employees are looking at Facebook on city computers. He supports the PILOT program or PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) to meet funding and calls for a public audit.

On Schools

Harris calls for more money to the schools immediately. Stressing that he has a program that will bring money into the school, but due to lack of time had no ability to impart that knowledge to the audience.

Carter highlights his role in the creation of Saint Paul promise neighborhood when he was a City Council member. Calls for more money for early childhood education, after-school and summer programs. Additionally, he would like to have a jobs program for students and employers with labor unions.

Goldstein stressed the fact that he’s the only one running for mayor who has been a school board member. He called on people in the room not to demonize schools. He called for a citywide commitment to education by establishing a strong higher education tie as is in place with Hamline University.

Dickinson pointed out that she’s the only one who is been a public-school teacher.

Thao discussed test scores have fallen for the last five years and that the curriculum needs to reflect the values of the community. He also called for all day pre-K.

Holden discussed the fact that the main issue in public schools is safety.

In each of their closing statements day again highlighted the same points that they did in their opening and there wasn’t much new information communicated.

On Wednesday at the Halle Q Brown Center. The evening started without Thao in attendance because he was in a council meeting about the Ford plant

.As we surveyed the audience in the highest minority district in the city only a 1/3 of the people by our account, were persons of color.

Once again, the openings were the same as we’d seen the day before the questions opened with the issue of racial disparities.

Carter emphasized Minnesota leads the nation in racial disparities.

Dickinson said that her program for solar on schools would help hire people and minority communities for solar installation jobs.

Harris emphasized jobs and education and fixing racial disparities based on a shift in the investment portfolio of the city.

On Schools

Carter again discussed his role in the creation of the St. Paul promise neighborhood.

Dickinson again pointed out she’s a former schoolteacher and called for an education based on restorative justice.

Goldstein stressed the need for partnerships between higher education systems and the schools.

Upon his arrival, Thao talked about the education gap and it’s connected to an economic gap in the need for role modeling of teachers that look like the community they are teaching.

On Public Safety

Dickinson discussed being on it a couple of ride-alongs emphasizing the only 2/10 of 1% of requiring the use of force.

Goldstein was critical of the fact the only 16% of the police force lives in St. Paul. And discussed incentives that could be used to encourage cops to live in the community they police.

Harris called for better training for the police force and that they should reflect the communities they police. He said that police need to be out in the neighborhood for community events not just for law-enforcement.

Thao discussed his role in helping remove the two officers off the civilian review board. And stated his support for the use of body cams.

Carter said as a son of a police officer he understands law enforcement. And said that when he turned 16 years old and began to drive he met a whole lot more police officers.

He called for hiring people that reflect their communities. An easier method for filing complaints. The need for crisis counselors. And a change in the use of force policy.

Biking and walking paths

Dickinson supports the bike plan and Grand Rounds. She said that we need to respect small businesses and provide support responses when there’s a lot of parking.

Goldstein believes that there should be a effort to build consensus on biking and proposed any need for a more commonsense solution.

Harris supports complete streets and walkable city is a livable city in a breakable city is a livable city.

Thao supports the bike plan and got a great laugh when you said I look funny on a bicycle because I can’t reach the pedals. He is an advocate for the stop for me campaign.

Carter discussed the need to discuss a sample of where we would like to be versus where we used to be an identified biking is an issue but it should not be a conflict between bikes versus cars and that we should seek the type of St. Paul that we want to live in.

Though this article may seem long there truly isn’t much information that differentiates one candidate from the others, except our tiered structure.

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