Four St. Paul mayoral candidates spoke at a forum at Dayton’s Bluff Rec Center on March 25: former city council members Melvin Carter and Pat Harris, former school board member Tom Goldstein, and current city council member Dai Thao. All four candidates are DFLers, and that may have contributed to similar answers to a lot of the questions posed. Differences were more in emphasis than in priorities: everyone spoke about the importance of education, jobs, and affordable housing, as well as parks and rec, libraries, transportation, and investment in neighborhoods.
Melvin Carter said in response to the final question, “We’re a progressive, passionate DFL city.” These are four progressive, passionate DFL candidates. In alphabetical order:
Melvin Carter emphasized his work on St. Paul’s Promise Neighborhood and his commitment to children and education. He also talked his roots and how his personal experiences inform his passionate commitments. He grew up as the son of a 28-year police officer. “I knew many police officers as a child,” he said, “but not nearly as many as I met when I turned 16 and began driving and getting pulled over over and over and over again.” In response to the question about public safety, he talked about decriminalizing mental health and addiction issues, writing community service into the police officers’ job description, and transparency in processes for city resident complaints and commendations of officers.
Tom Goldstein said his campaign emphasizes people before politics, and that he wants to change the DFL party to be more representative of people. He emphasized his differences with current city policies as well as with the other candidates, particularly in his strong and years-long opposition to the city’s “obsession with stadiums and shiny new buildings.” Stadium tax breaks cost the city money that it could use for investment and to hold down property taxes. He criticized “insider games” and said the city needs to invest more in neighborhoods and neighborhood development, and needs to move forward on broadband and high tech development. As a former school board member, Goldstein said he would be an education mayor.
Pat Harris said public safety was the top issue facing the city, and said he is a strong believer in community policing. As a public finance manager, he is also concerned about “smart budgeting,” proper debt management, and ” being cognizant of fact that property taxes impact people.” He talked about introducing the city separation ordinance, sometimes called sanctuary city, when he was on the city council. “I would stand my ground on that because it’s the right thing to do,” he said, even if there are financial repercussions from Washington. He also recalled his work on the Metropolitan Airports Commission and his participation in setting a $15 minimum wage there.
Dai Thao talked about his family coming to St. Paul as political refugees in 1983, and about the need to continue to support immigrants and refugees in the face of the Trump anti-immigrant orders. He talked about his personal experience of racism and about the need to dismantle institutional racism because it is hurting the whole community. That’s not the only structural change needed, though: he also talked about the need to create jobs by building small business, expanding midsize business, and recruiting big business. Financing St. Paul’s needs is tough, he said, because 30 percent of St. Paul property is off the tax rolls. As mayor, he would go to the state legislature and to the federal government to fight for a fair share for St. Paul.