On Thursday, October 31, Minnesota Public Radio hosted the final St Paul Mayoral debate before Tuesday’s election. The debate featured a current mayor who could hear nothing bad about about his work, see nothing bad about his work and speak nothing bad about his work.
“I think St. Paul's in one of the best positions it's ever been in -- certainly in my lifetime -- and I've lived here my entire life,” Coleman said. When callers described their experiences, Mayor Coleman made no apologies.
“I have to disagree with you,” he said to one caller who described problems getting to parking meters with snow piled high around them during the winter.
It also featured a mayoral candidate who saw a much bleaker view of the city. "As I sit here today, I don't know how Chris can sit across from me and say there are so many positive things going on, when there's a lot of negatives going on," Tim Holden said.
In 2005, Mayor Coleman defined a light rail strategy for growth. He continues to pursue this strategy doggedly; so unyielding that he can’t acknowledge that the resident who identifies issues with snow on the new parking meters may actually have a point. Candidate Holden doggedly criticizes Coleman’s downtown and “ballpork” focus and identifies employment, crime and education as bigger issues to focus on.
Thirty minutes after the debate, Tim Holden tells St Paul Independent Examiner about the specifics that a Holden administration would change in St Paul.
What is immediately noticed during the interview is how much Holden listens to people and is working from the ground up. The interview starts with Holden and campaign treasurer Rose Dzierzyneski. Campaign manager Bob Boland wanders in about 10 minutes into the interview and assistant manager, Melanie Freimuth, comes in towards the end. But, they all have something to contribute and Holden endorses their sentiments. They speak as much or sometimes more than he.
“When I started working for Tim, I told him I wasn’t going to just tell him what he wanted to hear. He is okay with that, too. He wants to hear the bad with the good,” says Ms Dzierzyneski.
That is the number one issue Tim Holden has identified as a problem with Mayor Chris Coleman. Holden is a member of the University Avenue Business Association (UABA). “UABA asked for signage, parking, access while the rail was being built. Coleman didn’t listen, he didn’t have a plan,” says Holden.
Holden holds up an article discussing the possibility of turning University Avenue into a two lane street, allowing for on-street parking where the other two lanes used to be. “This is a lack of planning,” Holden says.
Dzierzyneski also noted a lack of city promotion of available business access. “I didn’t even know there was any parking behind this building for businesses until I started working here,” she says of the building that holds the Holden campaign headquarters. Headquarters are located on University Avenue between Snelling Avenue and Fry Street.
“The whole thing may have to be revamped,” Holden says when asked what he would do as mayor to alleviate the parking concerns of businesses.
Of course, there are those who may disagree with Holden’s vision of St Paul. His own district council, Hamline-Midway, was a vocal opponent of allowing The Love Doctor a sign variance to promote its business. The Love Doctor’s owner rents space in one of Tim Holden’s properties.
“As mayor, I wouldn’t do anything to dissuade business,” Holden says.
When asked how he might work with the city council over an issue like this, Holden says he would tell the city council that St Paul “has a fine vision, but there are more important issues right now.” He sees giving businesses latitude to operate in St Paul as the number one priority. Once buildings are less vacant, then we can work as a community for the extra amenities.
St Paul will also vote for up to three candidates to the St Paul school board. One candidate, Chue Vue, has said that he believes the way to improve education is through getting parents more involved.
“Of course you want to get parents involved,” Tim Holden says. But, even with education, Holden is able to tie it back to getting St Paul back to work.
“It’s hard to get parents involved when they’re working two and three jobs. I want to bring livable wage jobs to St Paul to help bring parents back to their kids.”
“We want to follow the suburban examples. Parents can get lessons on-line, grade reports. Let’s use the technology we have,” says Dzierzyneski.
“There is so much opportunity for St Paul schools to collaborate with parks and libraries, get wifi more available, upgrade St Paul to make it a 21st Century city,” Holden smiles as he begins to describe his vision for the city.
While Tim Holden’s view of the state of St Paul is quite bleak, he is able to identify some positives within the city that one can imagine he would use a foundation to build this 21st Century city from the ground up.
UABA is a strong association and one that ideally should be a link between the city government and the private businesses.
Another area where Holden and his staff branch out into the city is within the minority communities.
“The Somali community feels ignored,” Bob Boland noted. “We were there bringing them pamphlets, listening to their concerns, they told us they hadn’t had this happen before.”
Holden says district councils could do more to reach out to under-served communities to give them a voice in the city.
“Lead by example. Go to them. Have a booth and participate in their activities,” he says.
“District councils expect you to come to them,” Dzierzyneski says. “They need to go out to the community.”
“It’s important to identify who the leaders are within a community, work with those leaders,” Holden says. He has stated that he plans to have a Hmong liaison to bring the Hmong voice to city government.
Tim Holden cites his confidence and work ethic as measures of his success as a business owner. He believes that will carry over to allow him to succeed as mayor.
“I know how to market, how to work with people,” he says. “You need to do that whether you’re a business owner or a city leader.”