This is part of a series on the 2019 St. Paul Elections
The next stop on our tour of the St. Paul City Council election is Ward 5, home to St. Paul’s most adorable ice cream shop, its weirdest dive bar, a lovely lake that’s not named after any historic racists, and technically not the St. Paul Bagelry, which I am heartbroken to learn is across Larpenteur in the city of Roseville.
Where is Ward 5?
Ward 5 is the north-central part of St. Paul, bordered on the north by Larpenteur ave, the east by Edgerton Street, on the south mostly by Front Ave, and on the west mostly by Lexington Pkwy. Ward 5 has all of the North End neighborhood as well as parts of Como and Payne-Phalen.
Bob Blake - An activist and member of the Red Lake Nation who owns a solar power installation business
Amy Brendmoen - The incumbent councilmember, elected in 2011
Jamie Hendricks - A North End resident who runs the North End Free Pantry
Suyapa Miranda - Vice-Chair for the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability and former Executive Director for Saint Anthony Park Community Council
This race is a little tough to write about, because the incumbent is a popular, accomplished councilmember. Her challengers also seem like overall great people who care about the right issues, but they aren’t doing a lot in their campaign materials to make the case that we should vote for them over someone else who is currently doing the job with substantial success.
Bob Blake is an excellent example. He seems like a nice guy with a deep background in environmental advocacy and relevant experience that would make him an asset in city government. The issues that concern him are important - local economic development, renewable energy, public safety - but all we get are headings, no details on what he thinks we should do about those issues. His campaign site doesn’t list any endorsements or upcoming campaign events. He attended a candidate forum put on by St. Paul Strong (a group I’m not particularly fond of), but that’s the only place I can see him trying to publicly make the case to get elected, and I don’t think he’s doing enough to make that case.
Amy Brendmoen is in her second term on the City Council and first term serving as council president. She’s led or been in the voting majority on a number of important bills that helped improve St. Paul, including the $15 minimum wage, earned sick and safe leave, the Ford site master plan, sustainable to-go packaging, and a number of small but meaningful improvements in the city’s bike and pedestrian infrastrcuture. I don’t watch a whole lot of council debates, but I have noticed that she’s often one of the first voices to advocate a bold policy at the council or in the media, giving full-throated support to issues that other councilmembers will just quietly vote in favor of.
I also like that on her issues page she’s not afraid to bring up two issues that she knows will be controversial: the much-discussed coordinated trash program and the fight over the future of the former St. Andrews Church. In both cases she clearly advocates for her position while showing that she understands and empathizes with the other side. I think it shows maturity and confidence to explain why a policy is the right thing for our city even if you know that there are groups of citizens who strongly disagree.
I’ll also note that even though just about everyone talks about how “affordable housing” is desirable, Brendmoen clearly states on her issues page that “Increasing our housing supply is one of Amy’s top priorities” (emphasis mine). It’s important that we have people clearly and specifically advocate for more housing because it’s a necessary component to any attempt to make housing more affordable at all income levels citywide. If we’re not going to create more housing supply to match increases in demand, at best our affordable housing policy will be picking a few winners (beneficiaries of rent control, for example) while most people lose out with higher overall rents. Amy is right to argue strongly for increased supply along with inclusionary zoning and other policies that help make more housing more affordable across the city.
As of mid-October, the front page of Jamie’s campaign website features a video of her testifying in front of city council protesting her own property tax bill and arguing that her property is valued too high. There’s definitely a crowd that will find that appealing, but I find it extremely odd to put that front-and-center on a campaign website. Sometimes I make the criticism that the more conservative faction in St. Paul is selfishly motivated by their own tax bill, their own back-window view, the street parking in front of their house they feel entitled to, and anything else that benefits themselves at total ignorance to wider issues in the city. It feels petty and ungenerous of me to phrase it that way, but when someone thinks that the first thing I should know about her is how important it is to lower her personal tax bill, it smells pretty bad.
Jamie lists her as her first endorsement “St. Paul CARTless”, an organization against coordinated trash collection, so here’s where I will repeat that voting no in the trash referendum is terribly shortsighted.
There’s a lot to like on Suyapa Miranda’s campaign website. She’s worked for a nonprofit that promotes environmental and economic justice and it seems like during her time on the St. Anthony Park Community Council she was able to make some strides in broadening the demographic that usually engages with neighborhood councils. Her issues page talks about the importance of access to healthy food and affordable housing at all income levels. It seems like she really believes in advancing alterntive energy, access to public transit, and making more economic opportunity for underpriviledged communities.
All of which is why I find it utterly baffling that she’s advocating a No vote on the trash referendum. I find that position surprising from someone who seems otherwise dedicated to environmentalism, so I watched her explain why at a candidate forum (link starts at 23:06). She starts by claiming that she “believes in organized trash” and bemoans the uncivil tone of the trash debate, which, fair enough. But it appears that she’s been persuaded by the anti-trash petition, saying that “6500 people can’t be wrong”.
Here’s the thing though, 6500 can be wrong - thousands of people believe that vaccines are harmful, millions believe that climate change is a hoax, etc. 6500 people can also have legitimate concerns but end up advocating for a fix that is wrongheaded or counter-productive. More importantly, 6500 people can be outvoted in a city of 300,000 where we elect leaders on the hope that they make decisions that benefit all of us for the long term. I want leadership that does that right thing for our city and our planet even when a loudly aggreieved minority faction disagrees, and Suyapa is telling us all that she will not be that kind of leader.
If I lived in Ward 5, I’d rank the candidates:
- Amy Brendmoen
- Suyapa Miranda