There are three challengers for St Paul Mayor Chris Coleman as he runs for his third term. If one visits MinnPost, E-Democracy, or other online sources, people seem to agree that Mayor Coleman is popular. However, is Chris Coleman’s popularity deep or are people mostly ignorant about his policies.
Coleman has accomplished quite a bit during his two terms, but have the results for projects he has championed satisfied his constituents?
For example, public parks have been privatized. In 2008, Mayor Coleman began the process of giving recreation centers to Non-Goverment Organizations (NGOs) due to a lack of city funds for operating expenses. Some public parks, like Dunning Field, now have a significant section that is closed as a private area, used only for baseball/softball leagues managed outside of the city park system. This, at a time when the marketing strategies say St Paul wants to be more walkable and livable with more green space.
Of course, Coleman will say that he did this to save the public parks. He has also reduced library hours in an effort to save our city libraries.
Yet, the question arises, if there is no money for the parks and libraries, why is there suddenly millions of dollars for the St Paul Saints? It must be because the St Paul Saints improve our quality of life by attracting other businesses (jobs) to our city just like the Minnesota Wild improved downtown St Paul so many years ago? Parks and libraries are never a quality of life investment, right?
Secondly, Mayor Coleman has been instrumental in attracting high density urban development around the Green Line, which tends not to be popular amongst the people that live in these areas. Scanning E-Democracy regarding the Snelling/Selby Whole Foods development, people wonder when the city will invest in infrastructure to support the new Snelling Avenue traffic that these dense developments will attract. What they don't seem to understand is that Mayor Coleman has already done this. His vision for the city is one that severely restricts auto traffic. His infrastructure investment has been in the form of the light rail, bicycling lanes, and medians along busy roads that reduce lanes of traffic, reduce parking and increase the congestion of University Avenue and Marshall Avenue.
Speaking of the light rail, millions of dollars were invested to build a rail connecting St Paul to Minneapolis. This investment has helped corporate developers who have money and who the mayor likely cares deeply about. Public transit riders, on the other hand, have witnessed reduced bus service. There is less choice in bus routes and slower service.
With the money that Mayor Coleman seems to find for his favorite projects, these examples could have been studied and implemented in a way to benefit a larger share of the population. There were public hearings where many people were not against any of these projects, but were providing suggestions for implementation, such as ideas to maintain levels of bus service, ways to make transit more accessible and speedier, and ways to keep privatized park land accessible to the public. It is clear, though, that what is important to Mayor Coleman is that the corporate developers are happy and corporate investors are happy. As for the rest of St Paul? Residents have their ideas, they complain for a while, then they realize they have no voice and finally stop complaining.
Perhaps the key to whatever popularity Mayor Coleman has is that he hides in plain sight and does not engage with other points of view. There are no pictures of Coleman facing opposition, therefore he must be “popular.” In national politics, media would be more aggressive at illuminating the opposition and Coleman’s tactics would be described as “aloof” and part of his “rose garden strategy.”
If you've been surprised by what is happening in your neighborhood and how your tax money is being spent, spend some time to learn about your local politics. You do have a choice.
Of Coleman's three opponents, Tim Holden is a serious challenger for the mayor. As a local business owner, he understands how to encourage a more local base of business growth within the city. His idea that small businesses can grow more living wage jobs makes sense if we consider the recent demonstrations by corporate employees fighting for pay increases.
Participation in local elections is never as strong as in national elections, but local elections are more often the place where we have the largest impact. Learn about your candidates and go out and vote. Let your voice be heard.