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Crowded field seeks Ward One Council seat in St. Paul


By James Walsh
Saturday September 16, 2023


St. Paul Council during a swearing in ceremony for Police Chief Axel Henry int the Council Chambers on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

St. Paul's Ward One is the city's most racially and economically diverse ward, stretching from financially struggling areas in the North End and Frogtown to million-dollar homes on Summit Avenue, from middle class Midway and Union Park to the west to tony Cathedral Hill to the east.

The eight people seeking to represent the area on the City Council reflect its diversity, with not only a wide array of backgrounds but also a range of priorities, from housing to crime to potholes.

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On Nov. 7, all seven St. Paul City Council seats will be up for grabs. Ward One is one of four with no incumbent seeking reelection, after Council Member Dai Thao left office last year. Interim Council Member Russel Balenger agreed not to run for the seat as part of his bid for the temporary role.

Midway resident Ryan Schroeder admits he hasn't given much thought to the issues facing the ward or the city — yet.

"I usually look the day before the election and then figure out what all's been said and which candidate I align with better than the others," Schroeder said while attending Selby Avenue JazzFest.

Mitch McDonald, a teacher, said he's looking for someone who addresses issues affecting young people.

"I want to make sure that our youth are taken care of because they're the future. They're the ones who are going to be running things after we're gone," he said, adding that he doesn't support a particular candidate.

Jan Mandel does. The retired teacher said Anika Bowie is that champion: "She's a leader."

Bowie, an entrepreneur who challenged Thao in 2019, has been endorsed by Mayor Melvin Carter and state Attorney General Keith Ellison. She calls her her platform "pretty comprehensive" — she views housing affordability as the biggest issue facing the ward and supports the city's new reparations commission and Carter's reform-minded Community First Public Safety Policy.

But fixing potholes and plowing snow should be priorities, too, she said.

"I'm a pragmatic progressive," Bowie said.

Omar Syed agrees that the city should focus on housing. The 25-year resident of St. Paul who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia owns two small businesses and serves on the St. Paul Planning Commission. A renter, Syed said the city needs to find ways to encourage developers to build more housing of all types while boosting homeownership — possibly by finding creative ways to develop vacant lots.

But the most important issue facing St. Paul, Syed said, is potholes. The council, he said, "needs to take a hard look at the budget and find the money to fix the streets."

Yan Chen was born in Shanghai and came to the U.S. in 1989 as a refugee escaping a crackdown on student protesters. She views public safety as the top issue facing Ward One, and noted crime hotspots she's encountered while door-knocking for her campaign.

"Let's look at what we can do to change that," Chen said, adding that if elected, she intends to hold regular office hours to hear community concerns.

Jeff Zeitler, too, said St. Paul should focus on providing basic services. The Milwaukee native, who has lived in St. Paul for 20 years, owns a winery and cider bar in Minneapolis.

Zeitler, who said he is not affiliated with either major party, said the biggest issue facing the ward is "the spike in crime, and drivable streets. These are issues that can be dealt with, and should be dealt with, at the city level."

Suz Woehrle's campaign has an environment focus, from expanding renewable energy to building out pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. But she's not a single-issue candidate: "I'm an urbanist and I want better infrastructure in general," she said.

Woehrle said she supports the proposed 1% sales tax increase for city streets and parks that will be on the ballot this fall, and said the city should do more to collect payments in lieu of taxes from the many tax-exempt nonprofits that call St. Paul home.

Travis Helkamp, a St. Paul native, said he's running for council to bring a different voice to city leadership.

"I'm pro-business, I'm pro-law enforcement, and I believe it's possible to deliver routine infrastructure maintenance and snow removal without raising taxes on St Paul's citizens," he said in an email, after declining an interview.

Lucky Tiger Jack Rosenbloom said he wants to "continue the legacy" of Bill Wilson and Debbie Montgomery, two former Black council members from Ward One. Public safety is the top issue in the ward, he said, and he believes the city collects too much in taxes.

James Lo, a high school guidance counselor, did not respond to interview requests.





 





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