This is part of a series on the 2019 St. Paul Elections
Alright, we are finally to the real City Council action in Ward 6, home of some excellent pancakes, the intersection of two of the nicest bike trails in the area, and the highest point in St. Paul, hopefully some day more exciting than a golf course.
Where is Ward 6?
Ward 6 is St. Paul’s northeast corner, everything east of Edgerton and north of Minnehaha/Bush/Stillwater. Neighborhood-wise, Ward 6 has most of Payne-Phalen and the Greater East Side and a little bit of Dayton’s Bluff.
Alexander Bourne - a political consultant and entrepreneur
Kasim Busuri - the incumbent* councilmember *WITH *MANY *LARGE *ASTERISKS
Greg Copeland - a Republican perennial candidate
Danielle Swift - a mother, community organizer, and an Eastsider
This is the last ward I’m writing about and I’m very tired of finding new ways to creatively dismiss anti-trash candidates. Also, Alexander Bourne has been accused of acts of violence enough times by enough people, particularly former romantic partners, that I don’t think you should seriously consider him for a leadership position in our city.
Kasim Busuri is the current councilmember for Ward 6, having been appointed as an interim councilmember after Dan Bostrom retired. It’s standard procedure to appoint an interim councilmember after a retirement from the council; people apply for it like any other job. One of the big, bold requirements for applying is pledging not to run for the seat in the next election if you are appointed. This rule is taken seriously by (most of) the council because they don’t want to be seen as subverting the democratic process to appoint a successor. Can you guess where this is going? Kasim Busuri pledged not to run, he got the interim job, and he decided to run for the office anyway.
Starting a campaign by breaking the first promise you made to the city you’re hoping to represent is, shall we say, not a good look. We want our leaders to be trustworthy and to take their commitments seriously, not to make and break bullshit promises out of pure self-interest. I think such an obvious violation of trust should probably be disqualifying on it’s own.
But if you’re less bothered than me about Busuri deciding to run in the first place, don’t worry, there are plenty of other good reasons not to vote for him. He has a history of homophobic statements on social media, including support for an utterly repulsive anti-gay law in Uganda. As far as I’m aware, he’s never recanted or even apologized for these statements.
Busuri is also a “founding member” of Saint Paul Strong, a local advocacy group that prides itself as the anti-trash collection, anti-development, anti-bike lane, anti-transit thorn in the city council’s side. I disagree with these folks on most local policy issues, but even setting that aside, I find it baffling that they’ll make an alliance with an unashamed homophobe to try and keep a few parking spots and a bit of single-family zoning. Candidates like Patty Hartmann (Ward 3), Tarrence Robertson-Bayless (Ward 4), Shirley Erstad (former Ward 4 candidate and Busuri’s campagin manager), and current Councilmember Jane Prince should be pressed harder on their association with Busuri and what they think of his disrespect toward the LGBTQ community in St. Paul and around the world.
Since serving as the Maplewood City Manager, Greg Copeland has run for office six times (2019 is his seventh), each time filling the role of “lone Republican on the ballot” in a town where that won’t get you very far. The tagline on his website is “All Minds Matter”, which is a very efficient way of communicating to his audience that he is a massive doofus. He’s written one blog post this election cycle, an unfocused and poorly-edited rant about the current council, mayor, and schoolboard.
Don’t vote for Greg Copeland.
Danielle Swift looks like she’s headed in the right direction, but there are other candidates who are further ahead of her. Her campaign website mentions that she’s worked in housing advocacy, but it doesn’t really give specifics about what organization or what she’s been able to accomplish. I do like that she specifically mentions a “housing crisis” in the Twin Cities, I think that’s an appropriate frame for the problem, but her campaign site is pretty light on details or discussion of other issues she’d like to tackle if she were elected.
Similarly, Swift gave a really solid answer (link should start at 49:25) to a question about density at the SPNN candidate forum. She’s in favor of more duplexes and four-plexes and is totally right when she says “the way that our city is growing, we don’t really have an option whether to choose to increase density or not”. Also, she apparently sits on the Board of Zoning Appeals? Why doesn’t she mention that relevant experience on her campaign site?
Compared to the more detailed policy positions, higher participation in questionnaires and forums, and many endorsements of Yang and Thao, it’d be hard to argue that Danielle Swift should get the #1 position on your ballot, but she seems like she cares about the right issues and you should definitely rank her over Busuri.
For fairness’ sake, I should probably mention that Alexander Bourne accused Swift of assaulting him after the police were called to a dispute involving both candidates. You can read the details at the link - I don’t think either candidate comes off particularly great here but Bourne managed to put a bigger foot in his mouth by threatening the officer with budget cuts if he gets elected to the council. Yikes.
Before I get into the details, I want to say that this election makes me very glad that we have ranked choice voting in St. Paul, because we have two very well qualified candidates for the City Council in Ward 6. Nelsie Yang and Terri Thao have a number of similarities between them as candidates (both are Hmong women, both work for local nonprofits doing relevant work, both count a number of significant endorsements from local DFL politicians and groups), so I’m going to try and help parse the differences between them, but I want to make it clear that Ward 6 voters should be glad of the opportunity to vote for both of these two candidates and not worry about handing the race over to a wild card.
Terri Thao works for a local nonprofit, Nexus Community Partners, and it looks like her job involves helping train people from underrepresented communities to serve on boards and commissions. I think that’s pretty cool, personally - there’s a whole lot of rubber meeting the road in forums like zoning boards and transit advisory committees and having the right people serving in those roles is an underappreciated part of our local democratic system. Generally, we need more folks at all levels of government who are ready to do unglamorous but important work.
Terri’s issues page highlights the need for affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, and increasing economic development to the East Side. The public safety solutions she offers on her website and in the Ward 6 SPNN Forum include a list of sensible, agreeable, center-left reforms like gun buybacks, better lighting in the community, and more investment in rec centers and libraries to promote safe and productive activities for kids. She wants to use city funds to bring more commercial development to the East Side, especially on existing small business corridors like Payne Ave.
Generally, I think Terri is very strong on housing policy. She had very detailed and smart answers to the Neighbors for More Neighbors questionnaire, and I particularly like that she confronted the fact that a lot of anti-density sentiment in the city is rooted in racism. She supports Accessory Dwelling Units, inclusionary zoning, and grants to help existing homeowners keep and improve their homes.
I don’t like reading too much into endorsements, but I think it’s somewhat notable that Terri is endorsed by the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as well as a former police chief. She’s also endorsed by 2 MN House reps, a County Commisioner, and the County Attorney.
Nelsie Yang works as a community organizer with TakeAction Minnesota, and she specifically calls out her work on the $15 minimum wage and criminal justice reform as part of her bio. I’d definitely put her as more radical on policing than Thao: she talks about radical change in our criminal justice system with the goal of abolishing prisons as we know them today. She wants “ban the box”-style reforms of background checks on ex-felons and to restore their voting rights, and she wants to legalize cannabis and “de-incarcerate” people in jail for marijuana violations now.
That last point is something I haven’t heard from any other candidates this cycle, and I think it’s good to call out: there’s a fighting chance for Minnesota to legalize cannabis in the next 4 years, and if that happens there’s a good chance that city governments will be called on to help craft reasonable regulations for the sale of cannabis products. I think that Yang would be a good person to have on the council if and when that happens.
Nelsie’s answers on housing policy aren’t as specific as Terri Thao’s, but they show that she understands the key causes of the housing crisis and is working toward the right solutions. She wants to increase density, build a mixed-use neighborhood at that Hillcrest golf course site, and get more affordable housing built in St. Paul. She didn’t answer the Neighbors For More Neighbors questionnaire, but she did record an episode of the Streets.MN podcast which included a good discussion of housing and transportation. I also loved her story about working to get better safe street crossings installed at Hmong Village.
It’s worth noting that Nelsie equivocated a fair bit on the trash referendum early in the campaign, but ended up on a strong Vote Yes position. Terri Thao, to her credit, supported a Yes vote the whole time.
Nelsie Yang’s endorsements include the local chapters of Our Revolution and a few of the bigger labor unions in town (AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU). She’s endorsed by 2 current school board members, a MN House rep, a County Commissioner, and current Ward 4 Councilmember Mitra Jalali Nelson.
If I lived in Ward 6, Nelsie Yang’s strong position on criminal justice reform would be appealing enough to me for her to edge out Terri Thao for the #1 spot on my ballot. But let me say again that Thao and Yang are both excellent candidates and Swift deserves being ranked your ballot as well. Being an open seat, this is probably the most important City Council race happening this year, so if you live in Ward 6 I strongly urge you to make your way to the polls on November 5.