Residents sit down to chat with St. Paul mayoral candidates

East Side and other St. Paul residents were able to sit down and chat with St. Paul mayoral candidates Oct. 17 during a League of Women Voters candidate forum at the Minnesota Humanities Center. Marjorie Otto/Review


Marjorie Otto

Review staff


With Election Day fewer than three weeks away, St. Paul’s mayoral candidates have been busy attending forums across the city. The candidates visited the East Side on Oct. 17 for a candidate meet-and-greet forum at the Minnesota Humanities Center near Lake Phalen. 

The forum was organized by the League of Women Voters St. Paul, the Payne-Phalen Community Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center and the NAACP of St. Paul. 

The forum included candidates Sharon Anderson, a perennial candidate for various offices over the years; Melvin Carter, a former St. Paul City Council member, who is now executive director of the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet; Elizabeth Dickinson, the Green Party-endorsed candidate; Tom Goldstein, a former St. Paul Public School Board member; Pat Harris, a former St. Paul City Council member and senior vice president at BMO Harris Bank; Chris Holbrook, current chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota; Tim Holden, a real estate investor; Dai Thao, current St. Paul City Council member for Ward 1; and Barnabas Joshua Y’Shua, who said decided to run for the mayor’s office after hearing a calling from the Lord. Candidate Trahern Crews did not attend the forum. 

The forum took a unique form. Participants sat at 10 tables while mayoral candidates traveled from table to table. Candidates were given five minutes to answer questions from participants.

Some of the questions participants asked included how candidates would respond if St. Paul had an event similar to the Philando Castile killing and what actions they would take to try to prevent it, if they favored raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for private sector businesses and for city employees, and how to invest in neighborhoods across the city and address poverty.

Election Day is Nov. 7.


Police killings

Castile was a 32-year-old African-American man who was shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Height in July, 2016.

Thao said if an event like the Castile killing were to happen in the city of St. Paul, he would bring the community together to address the root cause of the problem.

“We don’t ever want to have that happen,” he said

He added that when hiring officers, “we want police officers to have good character and to treat people with dignity and respect, [to] not have an attitude of policing you, but helping you.” He said training is important for officers, especially crisis intervention training, which is why he supported the new police training facility.

Holbrook said if he were elected mayor, he would require all officers to carry independent liability insurance. He said he would review the use-of-force policy and body camera policy to make sure cameras are turned on when they’re supposed to be, promote the use of de-escalation techniques and “rejection of military-grade weapons.”

Goldstein focused on things he thinks could prevent killings, explaining “we need to focus on a police force made up of peace officers.”

“Drawing of weapons should be rare,” he said, adding that he believes there is not enough training that goes towards de-escalation. 

He said St. Paul needs to hire police officers who live within the city because if they “live in the city, they police differently.”

He also said the police chief and mayor need to set a precedent by firing officers right away when a killing occurs and perhaps reevaluating police contracts and police unions. 

Carter, who is black, said what happened to Castile is “not a hypothetical for me.” At the time of the shooting, Carter said he served as an advisor to Gov. Mark Dayton and encouraged him to go out and address those in front of the governor’s mansion in the days following the shooting. 

He said for him, the issue is how to prevent an incident like what happened with Castile from occurring in St. Paul. His plan is to invest in neighborhoods, in things like recreation centers.

He also wants to change the use of force policy and make sure officers are held accountable. 

Y’Shua said the issue of police killings is something he thinks about a lot, as he has had many “misunderstandings with police.”

He added that he believes “guns should be pulled at the last minute” and believes there are problems with “over-policing.”

Dickinson said she would change police culture to prevent another shooting. She mentioned evaluating police training programs and increasing training in de-escalation techniques. 

She added she would create policies to assign regular beats to police officers so they could do outreach, get to know community leaders and evaluate and prioritize the problems on their beat. Dickinson said she would like civilian review boards to have subpoena power so they can choose which cases to hear and to see the police force represent the diversity of the city by hiring more women and people of color.

Anderson said she would change the way the police chief is chosen. She would make it so the police chief is elected, rather than be appointed by the mayor.

Harris said if an event like the Castile shooting occurred while he was in office, he believes the mayor needs to be on-site immediately to reach out to the family and community, hold officers accountable and engage the community in decision making.

He said to prevent something like that from occurring in St. Paul, he believes the police force needs to reflect the city’s diversity, the force needs to be trained in de-escalation techniques, there needs to be fewer guns on the street and he wants to increase the number of cops, to keep up with the increasing population of St. Paul.

Holden said he would deal with the situation by firing the police officer immediately. He added that to prevent something like this from occurring in St. Paul, he believes that solving the problem of poverty will solve a lot of the problems.

When asked how officers should deal with people having mental health crises, he said police receive a lot of training regarding crisis intervention and de-escalation training and that “police have to do what they have to do.”


Raising minimum wage

Participants were curious to know what candidates thought about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, after Minneapolis passed an ordinance doing so this summer. While not all candidates had time to answer, Holbrook said he did not believe it was the government’s place to raise the minimum wage, as he believes it would be a burden on small businesses. When pressed if he would support the city government paying its workers a minimum wage of $15, he said he would.

Dickinson said she would support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to “lift people out of poverty.” She added that if elected, she would phase it in over time, similar to what Minneapolis is doing. 

Holden said he would not be able to support a city-mandated minimum wage of $15 an hour because of the burden it would put onto small businesses. 


Investment and poverty

Many of the candidates used their five minutes during the forum to talk about their plans for investment across the city and how to address poverty.

Thao said one of the main issues he wants to address is equity across the city’s neighborhoods. He said his plan to promote equity, especially when it comes to spending and projects across the city, is to “dismantle the system in place,” which he describes as a system where if you have political connections, your neighborhood is likely to receive more resources. His plan to change it is to use “equity criteria” to evaluate projects and funding from the city and how it would affect neighborhoods. He said criteria may include benefits to seniors and young people, how it would affect those with low income, environmental outcomes, affects on people of color and unintended consequences. 

Holbrook said there clearly is a problem with the inequity of investment across the city.

“I think it’s abysmal and embarrassing,” he said, adding that he believes spending that goes towards sports stadiums and downtown projects take away from neighborhood investments like recreations centers. 

Goldstein said the city needs to evaluate the causes of poverty and invest more in after school programs and create mentorships within the schools to help youth see more clearly defined career paths. 

“When I talk about our priorities, we have the money to build stadiums and entertainment complexes and those types of things, why can’t we find the money to actually take care of the youth?” he asked.

Carter said that while neighborhoods like the East Side and the North End are struggling, he said to solve the issue of inequity of investment and poverty across the city, “We have to make sure we’re not in a position where we’re pitting one low income neighborhood against another low income neighborhood.”

He said the city needs a vision for investment and that it’s important for the city to “see the promise and opportunity that exists where other people see problems to solve.”

Carter said that instead of trying to close the gap, the city needs to use it’s diversity to “open up potential global economy success.”

As someone who has been homeless, participants asked Y’Shua about his thoughts regarding homelessness in St. Paul. 

He said the biggest issue he has experienced is that most of the shelters in the city are maxed out — they’re full. He said another issue is those without homes self-medicating to deal with mental issues, perpetuating their problem. Treatment programs can’t find housing for those people in their programs, something Y’Shua is dealing with right now.

Harris talked about the city needing a mayor who supports the public schools. If elected, Harris said he would like to create a joint energy retrofit program between the school district and the city, create a partnership between the St. Paul Public Library system and St. Paul Public Schools to get branches of the library into school buildings and to use the cultural sales tax to help fund St. Paul Public School’s defunded music program. 

“We need to support our public schools,” he said.


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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