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Engaging the community: meet Dai Thao

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On a busy afternoon at Golden Tyme Cafe, Dai Thao enters and is greeted by people from Ward 1 who recognize him.

“It’s been a busy day,” he says as he sits down.

It’s been two weeks since Thao’s inauguration to the Saint Paul City Council. Since that time, he has been on a fast track meeting community leaders and learning the needs of Ward 1.

“If I could, I would want to know everyone by first name,” Dai Thao says of the constituents of Ward 1.

Thao has an engaging personality and is a true believer in what can be accomplished when people work together.

“As a community organizer, I gained experience and skills for this ward by working across race and income levels,” he says.

“My experience gave me the ability to be pragmatic. I know how to set a broad vision and be smart enough to know what’s achievable.”

These skills also helped lead Thao to a victory in a contest with several qualified candidates for city council. Thao’s campaign was organized and deliberate, sending people out to listen to constituents and educate them about Dai Thao as a candidate.

Thao’s ward may be the most diverse in Saint Paul. However, many issues are the same for everyone.

“The north part of the ward is concerned about jobs, housing, education, safety. South of Interstate 94 it’s property taxes, Ayd Mill Road, education. But, the common denominator is quality of life. People want to be treated with dignity. We’re all in this together. We need each other. The people north of the interstate need the people south of the interstate and the people south of 94 need the people to the north.”

Inclusiveness is a great goal, but not everyone thinks alike. How can everyone have a voice?

“I believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect regardless of beliefs.”

To further his point, Thao chose a baseball analogy.

“If a team just tried to hit home runs, the team wouldn’t win. The team needs bunts, base hits, good pitching. Winning the game is like winning quality of life. We need a strategy that is inclusive of all.”

He smiles as he thinks of using this style on his own children. “When the older son tells me his side of the story when his brother is annoying him, I could just ground the younger son. But, when I ask the younger one for his side, I find out that both were annoying each other.”

Dai Thao wants to hear all sides of an issue, stating that “it is important for policy decision and a step toward building consensus with each other.”

Thao says, “Priority is always given to the people who live near development. They are the most affected.”

He talks about Ayd Mill Road, which will likely be an issue once The Vintage at Snelling-Selby is complete.

“It has to be their decision,” Thao says, referring to the neighbors who live near the road.

Dai Thao acknowledges that his work will not be easy and that he will not be able to get to every meeting and meet every constituent.

“I said it at my swearing in speech that we all have a role to play. I will work hard for you, but I need everyone to do their part. In life we need each other.”

Thao hopes to encourage leaders to emerge within the community to bring people together.

“We have a shared responsibility as part of a movement,” he says in regards to working through the inevitable changes that happen within a neighborhood.

Dai Thao talks about his family’s experiences after the Vietnam War and his past mistrust of anyone not like him.

“Gradually, I grew to trust others and the more I trusted them, the more I trusted myself. I realized that I can make a difference. I didn’t have to be a certain race. I could make a difference.”

This story is part 2 of a series on the role of community engagement amongst citizens, elected officials, business leaders and community leaders.

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