Minnesota Report

C&B: All right, I’m interviewing Terry Thao for Ward 6 and Terry, can you tell me when did you move to St. Paul?

Thao: Um, I was seven years old, um, so it was ’87, ‘86 with my family. We were part of the secondary migration of the Hmong folks. My family first came to this country in Chicago and my mom’s family was here in St Paul but on top of that they said there were jobs and housing here. So we moved up here to be with my mom’s family.  his family was here in St Paul. But on top of that they said they were jobs in here. So, we moved up here to give him all his family was so happy.

C&B: So, when did you move to Ward 6?

Thao: 2007, so I have to, 2007, I had just gotten engaged so my in-laws lived on Case and Arcade and so I married an Eastsider and then about

C&B: Oh, wait a minute.

Thao: I married an Eastsider and we moved into our house about six weeks later, we bought our house that we live in now.

C&B: In the first 100 days, what would you expect you would be able to do if you were elected?

Thao: The first 100 days, well the first 100 days I would definitely it would be a lot of learning right and so I’m sit down with the department heads to kind of figure out what’s you know, what their priorities are find out especially with their interests are in Ward 6. I would sit down with, you know, I come back to a lot of residents and get a get a way communications up and running right? I know there are other electeds have been doing kind of coffee in the community or kind of, you know, it’s not, not a town hall but just opportunities to where I can go and engage with folks and so I’d want to get that structure set-up. I think you have to hire an assistant get that up and running or a policy aide, so it just, you know, get a lay of the, get a lay of the lands. So, doing a lot of listening the first hundred days to but bring you forth what Ward 6er’s elected me to come do and really come bring some of those issues forth

C&B: What do you think is the most important issues pending the city right now?

Thao: The whole city? Oh geez, there’s a lot of issues. We’re going to be managing our growth because apparently keep adding 10,000 people to the city each year and which is, you know, when you think about overall that’s a good thing but given the shortage of housing. The wear and tear on our roads? You know, we really have to think about what that means and for the current residents here to that while their new residents coming let’s not displace the current residents get way to have a huge homelessness problem, right? So, so I think that’s that’s a couple different big issues. But I think that you know, and then how do we design a city so that people there are going to be driving, biking, walking? You know, how do we have businesses such as this that accommodate, you know, these new residents a lot of folks when I was at doors talked about coffee shops. I don’t think they know that this is here. Yeah.

C&B: (Regarding the coffee shop Sante Fe in which the interview occurred) It’s been a quiet opening. It’s been open since January. Now, I guess the question is where do you see the balance between renters and owners where do you see that in the housing mix?

Thao: You know, we need to have both right? And so for some people they, you know, they just they can’t or don’t want to don’t want to own and so, you know, it’s about you know, I think, when we know sometimes people paint it as an either or that there’s a particularly bad perception of, of renter’s and so it it’s like actually 99% of people have been renters right. So, don’t forget that folks, but it’s about striking a balance, like for owners, you know, everybody cares, you know, a lot of owners, because their invested, they want to make sure their properties are you know, values are kept up. They want to make sure they have good neighborhoods but, you know, a lot of the times renters want that too. So, however they would suffer the effects that homeowners suffer, right, which if your property value goes up the owner is just going to pass the cost, if you are a renter if you are an owner you absorb it directly. So I think there is a lot we can to do to kind of bridge some of those divides thinking that perception and some of that is racialized, let’s be honest right, so.

C&B: So, do you actually have some thoughts about what to do with absentee landlords and the way that they treat the property is just an investment?

Thao: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with investors with landlords. I think it is about finding good ones and I will say in the course of talking with folks there are people want to be good local landlords and there’s a guy actually not too far from here owns a duplex with love to own more property. Lives in the neighborhood that those you know, I mean, you know investors who do good upkeep, you know there are absentee ones that do-good upkeep too right of the homes. It’s the ones that you know, kind of let their properties go bad don’t respond or there’s a lot of you know any incidences at their units. I think those need to be kept more on a watch list. More than you know and in which you know, Department of Safety and Inspections I know one of the new things despite being adding new people. I think they’re a busy department. I think they you know, respond to a lot of calls but does that’s where we would start for reporting nuisance properties.

C&B: What about situations on evictions? Its pretty much all very strongly for the owner but the renter really has no real opportunity other than maybe one week   

Thao: I have done a lot of work on the housing and looked at the impact and devastation that evictions have on families. Housing is a big predictor of student achievement and we look at you know, I’ve got kids in public school in the schools and I grew up in the school system too write so, so I know housing has a huge impact on it. So, I know right now there a lot of efforts working towards reducing evictions. I was part of an organization that was providing funding to it’s one of the legal aids that’s trying to help people actually at Eviction Court, cuz that’s the best time to reach people. And so, you know, it’s a little bit of both, right? So, how do we do it as you don’t work with landlords to have talked about? You know, I know for some folks, eviction is a last resort and then for residents to as well like to get steps beforehand, so that doesn’t quite get eviction you know the most. Another thing I’ve seen is a lot of 90% of the request of the emergency Grant Fund that we have here in St. Paul which people can access every 24 months is for rent 90% of the time so clearly, you know, people are. There is a need and I think you know trying to prevent evictions is going to be key it’s a last resort kind of a piece. It never leaves your record and its really devastating right, and so not even eviction if you have a UA right, so, (clarified it as UD Unlawful Detainer) sorry, UA is wo, wo it’s Monday. I hear you didn’t even that’s really, really hard to get off your record. But I know their efforts trying to really reduce that because you know, there’s been have you heard of this book called Evicted by Matthew Desmond. So, it’s like the taking the housing world by storm in al lot of economics and he did the study where he looked at the impact of evictions and African American women in Milwaukee. And so, but yeah people really so.

C&B: Let’s talk about the real the really nasty issue trash policy.

Thao: Okay, yes, so I will say this and I have gone on the record. I do support the municipal system there are a couple of reasons why I like that there’s less trucks on the street. I know when my when the bus with my kids that’s helpful. I like that some people told me that is this something that they like it because there’s less noise and people here work different shifts. So, they can measure me woken up like six-seven times a day. That would be very annoying. However, when I talked with Eastsiders, the issue is issue of cost and we can control for those issue of cost really because 40% of people still live in poverty. I talk to a lot of seniors who maybe had a bag a week and they would give it to their children who live like maybe you know the next neighborhood over or in the neighborhood. And so, we definitely need to have options that look at sharing and incentivizing zero waste because I think that’s you know, that’s you know making people pay for system you know, when they’re trying to reduce, you know, their trash is important. I do, ah, ya. So, I think I do. Yeah, so that’s the record. I mean, that’s what I have been saying.

C&B: Mainly, one of the issues is one size fits all is bad.

Thao: Well, You know, it’s.

C&B:  It’s literally the size of the trash.

Thao: You can have three sizes, so you can have options there, but, that’s an interesting question because having been a policy student, there’s pluses, good and bad side to those pieces so, yeah.

C&B: When we look at the broader question in the city of St Paul, what type o relationship would you like to have with the mayor?

Thao: I mean I’d like to have a positive working relationship, right. I think for the last several years we didn’t you know, we didn’t have very much leadership that really was, you know, or visible leadership that that really champion to the Eastside as well as really, you know to to make a case down at City Hall right is still a council of seven. So, in the strong-mayor system and so but I’m not certainly not a new kid on the block and so in terms of building relationship and the work that I’ve done and for the past 15 years. I feel like you know, it’s a lot of advocacy work and building up, you know, you know advocating for the neighborhood getting funds to come here. You know on the ground doing the work here, so but it is and the mayor knows.

Right? So I think that’s the thing to, is how do you know when to say it’s going to be you know, you know, I might you know, me from my work and then I’ll be honest with folks, you know, and particularly about the hard choices we have to make, and so maybe that’s the mom in me. But, ya so I want to be honest too. But even now at doors I am hearing things that are pushing me to think a little differently to, so.

C&B: You may know or you may not know, I am a staunch opponent to Ranked Choice Voting. You’re running in Ranked Choice voting system and how are you going to win it?

Thao: Oh, I think it’s, well I mean it’s, I think what Ranked Choice allow you to do is not close the door on you entirely right. So, somebody else has somebody else has a candidate is their number one, we just say, we would love to be considered your second spot. Right? And so, and I think particularly in a race like this where it’s an open seat and there are six people running. How do you distinguish yourself and people may like you or maybe like I really like you but you know XYZ I think is your gives you an opportunity and there’s actually I know how you feel about Ranked Choice if there’s actually has been some work that’s said it’s been really helpful particularly to women and candidates of color to help elevate them.

C&B: It’s not true.

Thao: Oh, interesting.

C&B: It’s not true.

Thao: I’ll have to go back and find those studies.

C&B: I will show you…

Thao: Alright, alright Shawn.

C&B: …plenty of studies that show it has been disenfranchising of people of color and specifically seniors.

Thao: Oh, interesting.

C&B: Because when a woman who has voted the same way for 50 years, and then she’s expected to do something different in the ballot and she gets confused and that I’m not talking about intelligence I am talking any of that, I just talking about history versus activity now. That actually causes an issue.

Thao: All right, fair enough.

C&B: Also, when you can vote for a single person. You still can and actually it’s an active position that you may be going by doing a single mode. But if you don’t pick one of the final two candidates, you are disenfranchised because your vote doesn’t count in the ultimate. As much as much is 29% of a voting population can have their votes disenfranchised so they might as well not even gone to the polls. That’s just the last two that is a structural disenfranchisement, but I’m not going to demagogue this but you need to think about a different system have to go and they cheated.

Thao: Oh, geez.

C&B: When it was on the referendum, they put out forty thousand pieces of literature that said that Barack Obama John McCain Ralph Nader the DFL Party in the League of Women Voters in endorsed it and they were falling in court guilty of that was a lie, but they didn’t have enough evidence to say that you could have changed the book but they won by four thousand volts and they put out when the new President Barack Obama was in his first year and if he is endorsed something and everybody liked him. Gee, I think it might have influenced 4,000 votes. Don’t ya? Again, I’m not going to demagogue.

C&B: Let’s talk about the process you’re going to use in this instance. Give me your picture on how you pitch for second choice at the door?

Thao: I would say you might have another candidate in mind, who you particularly favorite who’s you know whose value is aligned closer to you? But let me tell you what am I experiencing what I’ve been able to do right after nine years in the Planning Commission. I’ve also done again my body, my body of work over my career in community development has been helping folks here on the east side where it was housing work in the foreclosure crisis, whether it was, you know, helping organizations that work with small businesses along Payne Avenue here. I’m pretty sure Anne DeJoy had a had a hand in helping this restaurant get started up and then I sat on that board. And so, whether it’s been leveraging Investments Phalen Corridor, you know, my organization I actually work for actually funded a lot of projects here. That’s what I bring to the table. And so, you may have someone whose values align with you more but you know, but consider me as a second choice because of the experience and able to bring.

C&B: We have two Hmong candidates in this race. Is there any aspects and conversation happening between the two? Is there any intermediary? What role will Sen Foung Hawj play?

Thao: You know, I think, I think you know what, it’s funny when people say this cuz you don’t say this when there’s two white candidates in the race. I think the more people running. I mean that’s fine. You know, we had three at some point, right? And so, as a matter fact, I think it has people in our community paying attention and I also would like to point out that when we’ve had just one more person run in this Ward, they didn’t win. We’ve had races where to many people have run and a Hmong person has won. So I have to tell you in my own Community these facts and then they’re like, oh, you know I get that, you know, aspirationally we want to be united behind one person, you know, because then it doesn’t cause, conflict because you know very well very, you know, a very collective community where we going to we try to be in as much, you know, harmony or you know live peacefully with a lots less strife but you know, it is what it is. We’re here in this country the god of people understand and so on and I tell people this time like we should I be worried, you know about splitting the Hmong vote we shouldn’t have be worried about you know, and so that’s what I say.

C&B: Can you discuss the concept of Uncle in your community?

Thao: You know, it’s not just Uncle it’s the concept of families that you know, essentially everybody is a family member or related at some point. Whether, especially through marriage and so, so anybody, um, and you go by generations right. So if I am of this generation, anyone in my parent generation um I would call them an Aunty or an Uncle. Um, anyone younger than me you know even of my generation, if they were older or younger than me you would call them by their proper name. I was, it is, just a sign of respect. So, so, there’s a lot of, of goals and also the clan name, right.  So, if you have the same clan name, some of the believe is somewhere along the line you were related. Right, so.

C&B: So, again mentioning Sen Foung Hawj, he’s a distinguished individual in fact I was in California, and I ran into a, a gentleman, a Hmong gentleman and when I was talking with him he said do you know Sen Foung Hawj and I’m like ya, I just went for a walk with him around Lake Phalen, yesterday, and he said that’s my Uncle, or my cousin actually he said. And so I pick up my phone and call Foung and said, “Hey, Foung I’m in Sacramento and I got lost I’ve got this, I’ve got this guy here, he’s Hmong and I don’t understand him. Here can you talk to him?” And I handed him the phone and he’s talking to his cousin.

C&B: What role will Sen Foung, if he were to provide an endorsement, how important is that> What role will he play?

Thao: I think any elected public official provides certain weight, certain legitimacy to any candidate, and so, and, and especially in the Hmong community, I think, you know, he’s been doing a lot of work with Veterans for a while. And so, um, I think there’d be some weight to it. And I have asked for an endorsement so, ya.

C&B: Last question.  So in regards to this race, where do you think you are going to be at first ballot?

Chao: You know I think it will be, you know, I’m going to give it a high number because we’ve been, I’ve been at doors almost every day, right. And so, um it has been, and people have seen me multiple times and so, I think, that’s going to get, we’re doing some other strategies that’s going to get in front of people. And so, um, I think it will be a high number, I think it will be you know um, and I think Eastsiders deserve it so.

C&B What’s that high number?

Thao: I don’t know, you have to get what 50% plus one, so I think in will be in the high forties. And so, you know, it’s really, you know, you said the four contenders, I really think the race is down to Nelsie and myself too. And so, but I think, just my experience and reputation when I go out and talk to folks um, just having been here in the community longer. I mean I’m a St Paul girl right and so um I get the particularly Ward Six and Eastside dynamics very well, so.

C&B: I said last question, but what endorsements have you picked up?

Thao: So, my official organizational endorsements are um, in order, which in order of how I received them, Stonewall DFL Caucus, African-American DFL Caucus, um, ah, The St Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, from