The field of candidates for Minnesota Governor narrowed a bit on Thursday when St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced he would not be running for Governor. Coleman had never formally entered the Governor’s race, but had been considering a run for the DFL nomination. Here he speaks about his decision with Mike McIntee on “Quick on The UpTake”.
Q:This is a decision you apparently just reached recently, correct?
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: One of the things we have said is we wanted to make a decision before the November elections so that the voters in St. Paul as I was seeking re-election know exactly what my intentions were. So as we came closer to that I weighed the challenges that we faced and the opportunities we have in the city of St. Paul and decided I needed to focus my attention on what’s happening in St. Paul.
Q:There’s a lot on your plate there.
Coleman:Well we do have some great things going on but still some hurdles to clear. The central corridor light rail line,which is then number one priority for me for a long time, has still some work to do on it and I would hate to think that somehow that project wouldn’t move forward because I was out running for Governor. And there was simply no way for me to effectively do both.
Q:Well let me just ask what the reaction you got on the campaign trail when you were testing the waters for running for Governor. What were people telling you?
Coleman:Well, really really positive. And I think that that’s been part of the struggle in my decision is because of I as I called through who were regular convention attendees or key members of the labor community or whatever it may be, there was very, very supportive words and encouragement for me to run and almost everyone that I talked to felt that if I wasn’t their automatic first choice I was in their top two or three. And that’s all I can really ask for at this stage of the game. So, felt I had as good of a shot as I was ever going to have to do that, but I just made a commitment four years ago to the voters of St. Paul and I’m asking them to make a commitment to me again and felt that was more important at this point.
Q:You said this is … you thought this was the best shot to do something like this. Does this mean that you’re not going to be seeking the Governor’s office in the future or is that very hard to say at this point?
Coleman: No I don’t preclude anything. I didn’t expect to be running for Governor in 2005… er I didn’t expect to be running for Mayor in 2005, but felt very passionately that the city needed to go in a different direction and so chose to run at that point and so what the future holds I guess we’ll… only time will tell.
Q:Well, that all of course begs the question… everything is politics… the DFL is a very political group. There are a lot of people vying for the DFL endorsement for Governor. Have you decided if you are going to back anyone or is that again, too early to say?
Coleman: Well, I’ll be backing the endorsed candidate of the DFL party. I think we need to unify around the convention in April and put forth the candidate that can win in the fall. And I think the longer we spend our time shooting at each other, the harder that’s going to be. But I think it’s very clear that any of the candidates that are running on the DFL side are marked improvements from the Republican side. I didn’t know there were nine people in the state of Minnesota that didn’t understand the serious nature of climate change and they all seem to be running for Governor.
Q:I think there are more than that who don’t understand climate change, but yes the do all seem to be running for Governor. I do have to ask though, you’ve had a chance to test the waters, you’ve had a chance to hear the voters, you’ve talked to the people who would very likely be the delegates to any kind of convention. What do you think they are looking for in a candidate. We said we’re not going to name names here. But what qualities do you think they want?
Coleman: Well I think first and foremost they want to win. You have 20 years since the last Democratic Governor was serving in the corner office of the capitol. And so people are very hungry to have someone that can unify the party, unify progressives and labor and put that winning coalition together and win in the fall. But then beyond the victory that’s when the work begins. So who can get beyond the rhetoric and partisanship that you sometimes see up at the capitol, who can make some of the tough decisions, who is really going to balance out the fact that got a potential seven billion dollar budget deficit in the city of St. Paul… I mean state of Minnesota. It means some very tough choices are going to need to be made to get out of that. Are people going to have a seat at the table when those decisions are being made? I think that’s one of the things we’ve been very very proud of in St. Paul that we brought our public employees to the table to help us work out some of the challenges. We brought community groups to the table. People demand that process. They want to be a part of that decision making and so they’ll be looking for a candidate that understands that.
Q:Well, then let’s talk about the issues you’re facing in St. Paul. Which is the reason you’re not going to run. You got to focus on what’s in front of you. Light rail, you said, is one of the bigger issues. I listened to part of the debate the other night where your opponent is saying it’s all too expensive… and I think she suggest that we should run things underground which could make it even more expensive. Where do thinks sit here with light rail?
Coleman: First of all after 30 years of discussion we’re very, very close to officially moving forward. We’ve actually begun some of the construction on some key components in downtown. It’s very exciting, but there are some hurdles. Some issues that need to be worked out with respect to the mitigation at the University of Minnesota that at this point is probably the largest impediment to getting funding from the federal government. The second piece of it is the challenges of making sure the business community that exists along University Avenue is protected and the steps that we take enhance the quality of the businesses and don’t detract from that. And some challenges and some hurdles that need to be overcome, but it’s an incredible opportunity. It only gets more expensive the longer you wait. So any suggestion that St. Paul is not ready for a first class transportation network just misses the point.
Q:I have one question about light rail and I think your opponent raised it the other night, which is we a set of rails just to the north of the corridor we’re going to be running the light rail on University Avenue. Is anybody seriously looking at that corridor instead of taking University Avenue? If not, why not?
Coleman: Well, there’s some 30 years of looking at various options. We looked at in the past Burlington Northern-Pierce Butler line which I think is what the references was to….
Coleman: We’ve looked at the 94 avenue corridor. And when you mention those decisions there are a couple factors that are critical. First of all, what’s the ridership going to be? It doesn’t help you to have a line going through a place where no one lives and no one can live. and so the Pierce-Butler or the Burlington Northern corridor really wouldn’t serve very many folks. And the 94 corridor really doesn’t have the ability to impact economic development and other opportunities like the University Avenue line . So this is really… everyone can second guess. But 30 years of studying and discussion about the alignment of this line have made it very clear that the University alignment is the best way to go.
Q:And one last question here about the Governor’s race before we let you go. Do you have any words of advice to the remaining candidates in the DFL race on what they should do?
Coleman: The one thing that I had an opportunity to do is to get to know even better the folks that are running and considering running. I have tremendous respect for them and at the end of the day just got to run hard and they got to give it their all. They got to give 110 percent to this thing because you can’t… it doesn’t do any good to do it 90 percent of the way, you got to do it 100 percent of the way. And you got to be able to unify folks at the end of the day. So I would hope that people would go and fight hard for the endorsement and at end of the day honor that process. The DFL is … sometimes we like to get in circular firing squads and I think that would be a tremendous mistake because the state can’t afford another four years of the philosophy that’s governed for the last eight.