Join me for a Screening and Discussion of "Demolition Dreaming" and Downtown Minneapolis History on November 11th

[People walking the Minneapolis sidewalks with the Metropolitan Building looming.]
I'm excited to be part of a panel discussion coming up that will focus on the history of the downtown Minneapolis "Gateway" area and the Metropolitan Building. Filmmaker and artist John Akre will be screening his film "Demolition Dreaming" over at the Traffic Zone gallery in Minneapolis' Warehouse District.

I wrote an article about Akre's film in Minnpost a while back, talking about its origins and what I think it says about Minneapolis' urban landscape.

[Razing buildings in the Gateway, 1953.]
Here's a highlight:
The plot of Akre’s film traces the story of a nameless Minneapolis sign painter who watched the Gateway’s massive stone buildings being constructed as a child, spent most of his life raising a family in the middle of the neighborhood, and ends his days living in a forgotten house on the edge of a northeast strip mall, dreaming of his lost past. The bulk of the film recounts the decade surrounding the Gateway’s demolition, telling tales of imaginary neighborhood characters like Stomps McGee, the Gateway barber, or Heavy Steve, a popular drifter with a regular room at a skid row flophouse. It’s framed as a flashback, narrated by the maybe-magical daughter of the old sign painter, a young girl who had disappeared into the walls of a condemned building to re-emerge as a modern-day librarian.
As Akre explains it, his story is intended to complicate the typical skid row image of the old Gateway.
“I’m not a historian, and my story isn’t based on historic research,” Akre said. “But all the stories of that area are the stories of the down and out men. That’s part of the story, but there were whole communities there too, in the rooming houses and the other people who lived there, people who supported that. There were many small businesses there. So I have a down and out itinerant worker who goes out on the rails and comes back, but I also have a barber and a whole family that runs one of those Gateway hotels.”

I'll be joined by a bunch of other Minneapolis urban architecture, planning, and history experts and this should be a great conversation about one of my favorite topics. Plust a rare chance to see a unique and compelling film about a forgotten slice of Minneapolis history.

What: Screening of "Demolition Dreaming" and panel discussion of Minneapolis' Gateway history
When: 11/11 6:30 to 8:30
Who: Anyone! Free of charge
Where: Traffic Zone Art Gallery (in the North Loop)
Why: Because it's not there

Hope to see you there!

[The Metropolitan Building on the left in the 1940s, and the same site today.]
[See also: Stuck with the Skyways, Finding Occupyable Public Space Ain't Easy!, Common Room Tour Recap, and Noteworthy Dive Bars of Downtown Minneapolis.]


Twin City Lamp Posts #10

 [State fairgrounds, Falcon Heights.]

 [State fairgrounds, Falcon Heights.]

 [Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]

[Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]

 [Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Red Wing.]

 [Red Wing.]
[Winnipeg, Manitoba.]


Signs of the Times #131


[Lake Street, Minneapolis.]


[Chain. West Side, Saint Paul.]


[Fence. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis.]


[Window. Rice Street, Saint Paul.]


[Wall. River Falls, WI.]


[Yard. Seward, Minneapolis.]


[Sidewalk. Seward, Minneapolis.]


[Bus shelter. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis.]


Twin City Message Boards #14

[Boston, MA.]



[Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis.]

[Location forgotten. Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis. [Ed. Duh! Thanks John!]]

[Memphis, TN.]

[New Orleans, LA.]

[New Orleans, LA.]


Reading the Highland Villager #192

[The last Villager in the skyway liquor store.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Council OKs Ford site plan despite deep divisions [Especially considering the mayoral stakes, a 5-2 vote is not that “deep”, considering even Bostom voted with the majority here.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council approved a zoning and public realm plan for the old car and truck factory after ten years of working on it. CMs Prince and Thao voted against. People talked a lot before they voted. [See last fortnight’s Villager re-cap for my fuller take on all of this.] Article includes lots of overview of the [long] debate over the issue, and the competing lawn signs. [Fact: Green YES signs have been taken down, while many / most red NO signs have remained in people’s yards.] Neighbors are concerned about traffic and apocalypse. Quote from testifier: “it almost feels like you’re taking our neighborhood away from us.” Article describes the CM Thao-sponsored affordable housing amendment, which passed.

Headline: City delays vote on restricting menthol tobacco stales
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council decided to lay over restrictions on menthol tobacco sales, with CM Prince voting against. [Curiously, she testified that the matter did not need “more process.”] CM Brendmoen wanted to have further study to make sure the restriction was done properly, and wouldn’t increase the number of “tobacco stores” [that are not regulated by this rule]. Article includes a picture of a guy buying Newports at Cooper’s. [A Villager first!]

Headline: City may let the air out of short-term bnb’s
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Council is going to put regulations on airBnB and other short term rentals. Article lists the terms of the policy, which will try to shape nuisance, taxes, and size of the regulations. BnB owners are concerned about unfair competition. [It passed.]

Headline: St. Paul to wrap up new regulations on carryout packaging
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Council was going to put regulations on non-recyclilable food packaging. [It did not.] Business people complained, while environmentalists really wanted the policy. [It did not pass. All hail the all-powerful food packaging and plastic bag lobby! If only the bicycle lobby was half as all-powerful…]

Headline: Davanni’s could lose use of St. Thomas lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A pizza place with a parking lot was leasing another parking lot but might not be able to for much longer. Neighbors want on-campus housing in the space where the parking lot is. [Some Grand Avenue parking meters could really help right here.] Neighbors are concerned about parking.

Headline: Property taxpayers will feel the pain with big gains in levies
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Taxes are going up and also property values are going up so that means that what you pay will go up even more because it is a combination of the two. [That is all I know about property taxes! See also this streets.mn piece.]

Headline: Apartments, commercial properties are facing double-digit tax hikes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [See above, only with bigger buildings.]

Headline: St. Paul continues review of organized trash collection
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: City staff are still herding [alley cats] garbage haulers. Maybe they will be done by November. [I am guessing the garbage people are hoping Goldstein gets elected or something, and they will not have to do what the City wants after all.]

Headline: City delays work until spring on Snelling Avenue medians
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City is still going to build medians on Snelling that will make it easier to cross the street, but not until Spring. There will be parking bays in three places. [These cost a lot.]

Headline: Zoning study of Marshall Ave. west of Hamline moves ahead
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council is going to study zoning on Marshall Avenue. Some homes may be “architecturally significant.” CM Stark is sponsoring it,. Thee will also be a zoning moratorium that would “block any changes” in the xis blocks in question. [Check out this article in the Pioneer Press on the topic. This seems exactly like the Grand Avenue moratorium and subsequent zoning changes, sort of a restricting student housing playbook at this point.]

Headline: Bad Weather seeks sound level variance for Halloween party
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A brewery wants to have an outdoor event with music. Neighbors are concerned about noise. The brewery wants to have a DJ until 10pm.

Headline: City’s battle against ash borer aided with $1.5M state grant
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is getting some state money to cut down its ash trees. [In Celtic mythology the ash tree symbolizes healing and the well-being of children.]

Headline: Highland Village roadwork is about to get even noisier
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Ford Parkway is under construction and there will be milling, grinding, and jackhammering during the daytime.

Headline: Goodrich Avenue home saved from wrecking ball, for now
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A dilapidated but old house may or may not be torn down. Neighbors are concerned about the loss of historic properties.

Headline: Mendota Heights seeks name for new pedestrian underpass
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s a tunnel under the freeway in the suburbs now! Whoever names it will get a gift certificate to a nearby restaurant. [“Mendota depths?”]

Headline: Riverview advisory recommends modern streetcar line on West 7th
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The group that makes decisions about the Riverview transit project made a decision to go with a “locally preferred alternative” of having a modern streetcar that would go from downtown to the airport. [Key details: it may or may not go on Smith Avenue, may or may not go its own lane or in a shared lane depending, may or may not go on the CP rail spur, and will probably definitely go under the Fort Snelling in a tunnel-type thing.] There will be a public hearing. [If you go, please make suggestions about what the key details should look like.]


What Should We Make of Star Tribune Endorsements?

[The bike lobby takes on the newspapers.]
Sometime soon, the Star Tribune will start publishing its endorsements for mayor and city council. (The Pioneer Press, which has all the same issues mentioned here, did this last weekend.)

Here’s the thing that progressive Minneapolis voters should remember when reading these endorsements: the Star Tribune is now clearly a conservative, Republican-owned, Republican-leaning paper.

This challenges the paper’s reputation. I'm often out chatting with people, and occasionally a semi-talk-radio type will refer to it as "The Red Star", as if the Star Tribune is some sort of left-wing journalistic bastion.

(For the record, the star is clearly green.) 

Journalism fans, don't get me wrong! The Strib is a great paper. I am super-duper glad that it's thriving, and that so many good reporters are paid a decent wage (I hope!) to cover local, regional, and state stories and politics. We should not take that for granted, and especially in this age of media attrition. As a Saint Paulite, and someone who has watched our paper get "harvested" until almost every reporter is under the age of 25, I am extremely happy the Star Tribune has maintained its excellence seventeen years into the 21st century. 

(Maybe local ownership has something to do with that? I don't know. That's certainly NOT true for locally-owned KSTP.)

But the "rep" that the Star Tribune has built up over years as having a center-left editorial stance? That's not really the case any more.

Here's some evidence supporting my claim.

Who Owns the Strib?

[The owner of the Strib.]
The paper has had a long history of being more center than left. They endorsed Meg Tuthill in 2013 against DFL-endorsed Lisa Bender, for example. But they also endorsed Betsy Hodges, calling on her to do a few big things: support transit, follow through with her “Cradle-to-K Cabinet” proposal, and work for equity. They called for a “fully developed transit system, a birth-to-graduation emphasis on academic achievement for all youths, and housing and job opportunities for young and old, regardless of the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they live.”

What changed?

Well, it’s important for everyone to know that in mid-2014, Glen Taylor bought the Star Tribune

Who is Glen Taylor? He’s a billionaire business owner, who made his fortune with the Fastenal company, a big Minnesota corporation that makes something to do with plastic shipping stuff. 

[Ed. Whoopsies! Something completely wrong in there. Turns out I was thinking about a different 80s Minnesota Republican, Bob Kierlin. Taylor Corp has something to do with printing, and is like the biggest company in Mankato.] (Dunno!)

Anyway, he also owns the Timberwolves and Lynx. And he’s also a former Republican state senator who served as Minority Leader of the Republican caucus in the 1980s. The rightward lurch of the paper post-2014 becomes clearer when you know who owns it.

The Strib loves stadium subsidies

[Totally not falling apart already!]
This sort of makes sense once you consider the fact that sports are one the few remaining cash cows in the media sphere. The Vikings stadium, which is still killing birds at the very same time that it's falling apart, is a great example.

Ironically enough, the one the thing that didn’t change when the Star Tribune was purchased by a billionaire sports team owner was the paper’s stance on subsidizing stadiums for privately-owned sports teams. The Star Tribune has supported that for years. They opined in favor of the Vikings stadium deal more than a few times

It’s clear that at least one of their motivations was that the Star Tribune itself stood to gain from the deal, as part of their land sale. And that’s exactly what happened

That’s not the only stadium subsidy the Strib has supported. They also thought that giving tax-exempt status to a new soccer stadium - part owned by Glen Taylor, of course - was a great idea in 2015. 

(Of course, the United stadium, which has no actual tax dollars invested in it, is a far better deal than the Vikings, Timberwolves, or even Twin stadium... But the point remains.)

The Strib’s pro-business stance is also anti-working class

[City Hall when it was new.]
The story that came out today about how the Downtown Council and Minneapolis business interests are trying hard to influence the City Council races is a great example of this point. Since Taylor bought the paper, the Star Tribune has come out against nearly every piece of progress for working people that the City has made in the last four years. In a Trump age, when cities are one of the only places where progressive policy can happen, that's a big deal. And on no set of issues is the Strib's editorial stance clearer than on Minneapolis' efforts to support working families.

Let's look at some examples. The paper came out hard against the local minimum wage. They advocated for watering down the minimum wage ordinance, if we had to have one. That included advocating for a tip penalty (which was, thankfully, not included in the final ordinance), and for the definition of “large business” to be 250 employees or more. (The definition the Council adopted was 100.) 

The Star Tribune editorial page then called on the Legislature to preempt all local action on wages and employees’ rights generally, to kill not just the City’s recent pro-worker ordinances but any it could adopt in the future. They vehemently opposed all aspects of the Working Families Agenda, including calling for the Fair Scheduling ordinance to be “buried.” They took a strong position against adopting the Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance which passed the Council unanimously.

And as with the correlation between direct financial benefit to the Star Tribune from the stadium deals its editorial board supports, it’s clear that at least some of their opposition to bettering the lives of Minneapolis workers stemmed directly from their own self-interest. Nowhere was this clearer than with the letter the Publisher and CEO sent opposing the Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance. It’s worth a read. They opposed an Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance because they don’t want to give sick and safe time benefits to their employees.

They’ve come out against a lot of other progress

[Tumblebags in Minneapolis: one of the city symbols.]
The list of conservative positions taken by the Star Tribune editorial board extends well beyond workplace policies. They’ve staked out conservative, “law and order” positions on public safety. They came out against repealing low-level “livability” crimes like “lurking” and spitting (this effort passed the Council 12-1). They publicly defended Mike Freeman’s decision not to charge the officers who killed Jamar Clark.

They took a mostly positive view of the purely symbolic move to cut the property tax levy in 2014, dubbed the “latte levy”, because it would save the average Minneapolis property taxpayer enough to buy one cup of coffee per year. They noted without comment that the levy reduction was accomplished by “cutting funds for a neighborhood organizing program, the city’s convention center, its new Clean Energy Initiative, a disparity study planned for the Civil Rights Department, and on counseling and outreach programs for new homeowners.” And the paper positively glowed about $1 million in new funding for Bob Kroll's MPD.

On the environment, their stances have called for the City to apply the brakes. “Proceed with caution” was their ambiguously unsupportive advice on single-use disposable bags. They were clearer about energy: Xcel and Centerpoint are fine, leave this issue alone. And when Council Members started the process to try to hold Wells Fargo accountable for supporting pipelines and taking advantage of customers, the Star Tribune predictably came to the big bank’s aid.

They have a pattern of supporting conservative candidates and positions

[A vote for Mills was a vote for Trump.]

The Star Tribune endorsed Republican Stuart Mills over Rick Nolan in 2014. Oh, and Republican John Kline. And Republicans Tom Emmer and Erik Paulsen in 2016. If you think that Republican control of the House of Representatives is a good thing, than this shouldn't bother you... (Also, you should move to Wisconsin.)

And then there are the columnists. All of the above examples are of formal positions by the Star Tribune Editorial Board itself. There are also the regular columnists like Jon Tevlin, for example, who really likes criticizing bike lanes, and does it often. And need I even mention Katherine Kersten

(My own mother asked me about her the other day. I had to sigh audibly, and attempt to apologize for my favorite newspaper.)

Three key takeaways:

  1. This isn’t the Star Tribune you remember. Since it was purchased by wealthy Republican sports-team owner Glen Taylor, its positions have lurched to the right.

  1. The Star Tribune takes editorial opinions connected to the perceived economic best interest of the company itself and its owners. The clearest examples are the Vikings stadium deal and opposition to protections for their own employees.a [I updated and rephrased this a bit below.]
  1.  If you support any of the progress the City of Minneapolis has made over the last four years, you should know that the Star Tribune probably disagrees with you on that policy. More likely than not, they opposed it.


[Rybak, c. 1985, the downtown development reporter.]
Just wanted to clarify the second point there.  I feel like a lot of the editorial page position is loosely conservative, and supportive of a general pro-business, Downtown Council  / Chamber of Commerce / Minneapolis Club platform. It's literally conventional in the "convention center" sense of the term, the position of "civic booster" business Minneapolis. In old-school urban geography terms, this is called the "local growth coalition."

It used to be that wasn't a huge deal, as someone like R.T. Rybak perfectly illustrates. Former Star Tribune reporter becomes Downtown Council media guy becomes popular centrist liberal mayor. (And then pushes the Vikings stadium deal.) He's really the perfect example of how those three worlds and roles overlap and in many ways are sides of the same coin.

But these days, cities and city politics have become the new battle ground. The case in point is pre-emption bills, like the recent state plastic bag ban ban. (Surprisingly powerful lobby right there: the Progressive Bag Alliance.) That's the tip of a larger anti-urban power grab that, if the right-wing had their druthers, might ban just about every progressive urban movement.

Anyways... I saw this on Twitter and absolutely believe it:


Point is that the "interests of the paper" are almost always more vague than specific. The two recent exceptions were the actual ownership of the parking lot land next to the Vikings stadium, which was an obvious case of private interest, and the sick-time situation. But that aside, typically the "interests" are a lot less tangible, and more about reinforcing the interests of the city's general business class. In that way, it's almost exactly like the Chamber of Commerce. Thus the stance against sick time referenced above.

Then there's sports. The Star Tribune editorial board is and was always going to be in favor of a Vikings stadium and in fact every stadium because #1) it's the perfect local oriented pro-business subsidy, and #2) as I said, sports are pretty much the one revenue stream that local media has going for it that hasn't sort-of collapsed. E.g., if things continue as-is, the Pioneer Press will eventually just be a sports page, crossword puzzle, and the "bulletin board," with an occasional auto-generated Soucheray column ranting about straws on the top. Let's hope we can avoid that fate!

Join me at the East Side Freedom Library on November 10th for a Dive Bar Discussion and Reading

When I first discovered the East Side Freedom Library, as part of a Minnpost piece I was writing, I was pretty excited. It's a great re-use of a fantastic historic building, an impressive archive, and much-needed example of organizing across social and cultural divides.

While I was there, talking to the library's founder, Peter Rachleff, he mentioned he'd like to help have an event in honor of my Payne/Arcade Dive Bar booklet. Well, that day has finally arrived!

We're going to have the first ever Dive Bar Booklet Release Reading on November 10th at the Library. I'll give a short presentation on Twin Cities dive bars, some of the history of liquor and bars in the area, and focus on place of the East Side within this historical landscape.

I'll also do a quick reading of some of the booklet's better bits, and I am hoping for a lively Q&A at the end!

Best of all, we'll do a mini-recreation of the Payne/Arcade dive bar walking tour from a year ago. That turned out to be one of my favorite of all the dive bar tours, and I see no reason why we shouldn't head right back to the Arcade Bar after the library event for a beer.

I hope to see you there! This should be great fun.

Event promo:
Just what is a “dive bar”?

It’s hard to say, but you can be sure the East Side has a lot of them.

The great dive bar debate has no easy answers, but that hasn’t stopped local geography writer Bill Lindeke from publishing a guide booklet called Noteworthy Dive Bars of Payne and Arcade. In it, Lindeke defines a quintessential dive bar as “more than the sum of its parts, a compound of qualities that seem singly inconsequential but, when considered together, come together for better or worse, for a moment or an evening, as delicate as rare jazz.”

Join us for a reading and discussion of where East Side dive bars fall in the pantheon of the Twin Cities historical liquor landscape. Lindeke will share anecodtes about the history of booze and liquor laws in the Twin Cities, talk about why old bars represent a special place within our urban and social landscape, and share some of the best parts of his most recent booklet about Payne and Arcade Streets.

Following his presentation, Bill will lead willing participants on a short walking tour and some site visits.

Bill holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Minnesota and has been a frequent contributor to local historical studies and journals, such as MinnPost and streets.mn, and has taught at the University of Minnesota and Metropolitan State University.


Twin City Bike Parking #29

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Location forgotten.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[West Bank, Minneapolis.]

 [Mac-Groveland, Saint Paul.]

[Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

[Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Lowertown, Saint Paul]


Why I'm Supporting Melvin Carter for Saint Paul Mayor

[My view as an "undecided voter" at the Ward convention.]
Earlier this spring, when running for a delegate seat at the Saint Paul DFL City Convention, I was undecided about the mayor's race. This year’s mayoral election is important because, for the first time in a well over a decade, there’s a wide-open race for the mayor’s office. And unlike in Minneapolis, in Saint Paul the mayor’s office is by far the most important position in the city.

At the time, I was undecided. I was genuinely open to hearing from different candidates, and really did not want to see the DFL party endorsing a candidate in the spring. Instead, I wanted lots of information and a contested race. I wanted to watch the campaigns through the summer, and to understand more clearly the different stances that the candidates had on the issues.

To my relief, all of those things have happened and I got my wish. Barring any last-minute changes, here's my ballot. But before I get there, some context for this year's race.

Saint Paul’s political system

[The Council Chamber is not where the power is.]
For the most part, unlike our western neighbor, Saint Paul does not have a strong track record of explicitly radical politics. As Mary Lethert Wingerd lays out in her political / labor history of the Twin Cities, the model here has been one of compromise rather than confrontation. For generations, Saint Paul has gone the route of centrist liberalism, often aided by the Catholic church. Leaders have tried to mediate and mitigate political tensions like, for example, the one between labor and business. As a city, our most popular mayors have most been center-left business liberals, like Chris Coleman or George Latimer. In fact, rather than left-progressives in the Ellison/Wellstome mold, Saint Paul voters have been more likely to flirt with almost-extinct species of conservative urbanites like DINO mayors Norm Coleman and Randy Kelly (their Minneapolis equivalents would be Arne Carlson or Barb Johnson). A lot of that is because of low turnout and how campaign money operates, and for better or for worse, that’s been the way of city politics Saint Paul.

[Sadly for democracy, but happily for Coleman, the 2013 mayor's race was a farce.]
The city’s other big political hallmark is a “strong-mayor system” that dates back to the 1970s. Unlike Minneapolis’ dispersed (“thirteen mayors”) Council model, Saint Paul concentrates decision making and budget-setting power in one office. The next Mayor of Saint Paul, whoever it is, will have a by far the most influence over the city’s priorities, processes, and goals than anyone else.

There are good things and bad things about that system, and one of the most common complaints about Chris Coleman’s tenure as mayor has been a lack of transparency about big-ticket city decisions. Situations like the Saints stadium no-bid contract, the setting up of priorities during the city capital budget process (that often came at the expense of ward priorities), or the $40M+ “8-80” budget that included some real categorical stretches like the Palace Theater remodel.

Personally, I feel Coleman’s power of the purse has been used relatively well. The 8-80 projects, the Penfield, and the Palace theater renovation, for example, were all good investments. Likewise, the city’s two Chris Coleman-era stadium deals — the Saints and MN United — are vastly better than the ones in Minneapolis. Both might be as close as any Minnesota stadium project ever comes to “paying off,” in terms of economic development (which is to say, it’s all relative).

And unlike previous mayoral regimes, Coleman hasn’t wasted tons of money on doomed urban malls or big road expansions, and I give him props for doing things like trying — but badly failing! — to implement more parking meters and for trying — and probably succeeding — to organize garbage collection.

[CM Prince at a "Saint Paul Strong" meeting.]
Regardless of my take on it, there’s been a narrative bubbling under the surface of Saint Paul politics that city finances are falling apart because of waste or vague corruption, or that the city priorities are somehow skewed toward downtown business and away from geographically balanced and racially equitable investments.

If that’s the case, I’m not seeing it. Downtown is critical for the whole city, for example. And my take on tax-base problems are that we need to stem the continual leak of jobs (through downtown investment, among other things), that we have a lack of market-rate development, and that we still rely on fiscally-inefficient pro-sprawl policies. And, oh yeah, there’s the screw-up of the city’s street maintenance assessment system by some combination of it being a bad idea in the first place (thanks Randy Kelly!) and someone shrugging off an important law suit.

The key idea here: any Saint Paul mayor will be able make sweetheart back-room deals. That’s the nature of the system, and it’s going to be a problem in the city no matter who is elected. You hope for transparency and accountability and decentralization of decision making, but the entire system is set up to minimize those things.

Like I said, there are pros and cons to the strong mayor system, and for that reason, you hope that, whoever you elect, they're going to make smarter back-room deals than others.

Track records versus present-day stances

[Pat Harris' disappearing / re-appearing 2011 sharrow.]
The other thing that’s on the table here, at least with a few of the candidates, is that they previously served in office and have something of a record. The two front-runners, Pat Harris and Melvin Carter, both previously served on the City Council. Meanwhile, Dai Thao is currently on the council, and has recently taken a bunch of illuminating votes. How much weight do we give their track records versus what they are saying now on the campaign trail?

One thing to note: a lot has changed in Saint Paul over the last six years. For example, Harris was a Council Member in Highland for 12 years, ending in 2011 (replaced by CM Tolbert). So there’s a lot there.

The point is that I first encountered Harris when he was involved in the Jefferson Avenue bicycle debate. I remember him as the Council Member who ordered the city to remove sharrows from a repaving plan because they were a waste of money. (Scroll down to #5 on that link to read about it.) Harris was the Council Member during the entire Jefferson Bike boulevard debate (though not the final denouement). It turned into a bike planning fiasco, and today the once-ambitious project is an embarrassment to the city.

(A point in Harris’ favor: sharrows are not a big deal and do legitimately suck. But on the other hand, his rationale at the time was ridiculous and the position did not help one bit.)

Meanwhile, Carter’s track record on urban and equity issues isn’t entirely stellar. As former Council Candidate Jim Ivey is fond of reminding me on Twitter, both Harris and Carter voted to allow Cossetta’s to violate the city’s living wage ordinance back in 2011. And Carter scratched a traffic circle from the Griggs Bikeway before  eventually supporting it.

(Again, one-of-five traffic circles is hardly a big deal, and he ended up supporting the project. But still... must we?)

My point is that I prefer focusing on what the candidates are saying and doing now, rather than navel gazing at Council votes from the 2010s. Partly that's because there’s been a ton of progress on Saint Paul safe streets in the last seven years. In conversations with Harris today, and hearing him speak at events, he's changed his stance on street safety issues since the 2000s. The same is true for Carter and presumably some others. Meanwhile, Thao has the unfortunate position of actually being in office during an election year, and having to make tough-but-revealing decisions.

But most importantly, unlike previous Minneapolis and Saint Paul mayoral elections where there was either a total lack of opposition or an almost-total lack of daylight between nearly-identical candidates, in this race there are many important distinctions 

For example, here are four big issues for me: Ford site, living wage, public safety policy, and safe streets.

Four Key Issues

[Citizens giving CM Tolbert a spinal exam.]
Let’s take them one-by-one.

#1: Ford site / development

At first glance, using the contentious Ford site debate to evaluate different candidates seems a bit small-minded, like a single-issue voter who only cares about one particular crosswalk at one intersection.

But actually, as I tweeted a while back, the Ford debate combines a bunch of critical issues. It was a great test for a mayoral candidate because their positions revealed their character in action. Firstly, and probably most important, the different stances point to how much each candidate is willing to stand up to pressure brought by (in this case) a well-heeled group of wealthy homeowners. The Ford site is like a spinal exam.

That’s huge, because having a spine in the face of the city's unequal public engagement landscape will be be critically important as Saint Paul attempts to make some tough-but-necessary changes around things like sustainability, safety, and the precise meaning of the word “livable.”

Candidates’ Ford site stances also throw into relief a candidate’s trust in policy analyses, as well as their commitment to public process.  Both of those will also be critically important when it comes to ensuring the stability of Saint Paul’s tax-base, or not wasting thousands of hours of staff time on clearly lost causes. Meanwhile, there's an all-important need for more housing in the city, that's supported by reams of policy documents. The Ford site might be a “single issue,” but it’s one that brings together some of the most important policy threads dangling over Saint Paul right now.

#2: living wage

[Saint Paul wage flag.]
Especially in the Trump era, one where Minnesota teeters on the brink of a Scott Walker-esque state government that would wage all-out war on our cities, the living wage issue is a critical test of one’s political philosophy. Now that the mantle of progressivism has passed to the cities, passing a $15 city-wide wage practically the only thing anyone on the left can do to help working-class people. Supporting the effort, despite business pressure, is a clear sign of where one falls on the political spectrum. It also reveals a lot about how frustrated a candidate is with status-quo top-down liberalism, versus a commitment to grassroots organizing tactics that build on incremental results.

In Minneapolis, minimum wage stances have been a big differentiatior for the different Council and Mayoral candidates. The same should be true in Saint Paul, though the vote has not yet come to a head.

#3: race and policing

[Philando demonstration chalk on Summit Avenue last year.]
This is also critical. We have for far-too-long ignored the festering collision of race and policing in our cities. Over the last few years, as more and more innocent people have been killed by police, the Black Lives Matter movement and the ability of public safety institutions to deal with accountability have come to define urban political movements in US cities. This issue is not going away.

Minneapolis might have it worse, but this is still a big deal in Saint Paul, and anyone who thinks that the SPPD is immune to these kinds of shootings or frustrations is kidding themselves. The next mayor will be at the center of these tensions. Will they be able to do anything to help resolve them?

#4: safe streets

[We need a mayor who will fight the angry fliers.]
Finally, the reason I've been blogging for 12 years. My central issue is making sure the city does as much as it can to change the culture of our streets. This is a complex issue because, on the surface, all the candidates (and Saint Paul official policy) already say the right things. Everyone believes in safe streets and bicycling and healthy transportation.

(Well, everyone but Tom Goldstein.)

But that’s not the real problem in Saint Paul. What we need in this city is actual leadership on safe streets, because simply having a plan isn’t good enough. The next mayor will need to dedicate funding to bike projects, and stand up to bike lash and backlash from drivers in negotiation with the county.

That takes spine, tough accounting, and an understanding of the nuance of design tradeoffs. Even if someone says all the right things, it’s not a given that they’ll be the kind of strong leader that will take some heat to create a safer city for everyone.

For example:

The next mayor will need to push for Maryland Avenue-style road diets on the East Side and North End, probably over the objections of other elected officials from those neighborhoods. The next mayor will need to be a strong advocate for transit and walkability on the Riverview corridor, probably over objections from elected officials or businesses. The next mayor will have to fight to get funding for the completion of the critical downtown bikeway, despite the logjam of other priorities and the objections of some businesses. The next mayor will have to appoint a public works director who believes in a multi-modal future instead of a car-dependent past. The next mayor will have to somehow get downtown property owners to work together on improving public space and streets, despite the fact that none of them can agree on anything.

Building safe streets isn't about saying the right thing, it’s about implementing the right things even when people are filling your ear with complaints about insoluble problems like traffic and parking. Who is the right person for that kind of leadership?

Anyway, that’s the landscape as I see it. And here’s my ranked list of the top five contenders for the job.

[in ranked order of preference.]

#5 (last place): Tom Goldstein

[Even his lawn signs are mansplain-y.]
I first encountered Tom Goldstein when he was running for City Council two years ago…

Actually, no. That’s wrong. I knew about Goldstein’s baseball card shop as a kid. I vaguely remember his publication the Elysian Fields Quarterly, and that he was part of some sort of secret baseball society in Saint Paul.

But that’s pre-politically active Goldstein. My first encounter with Goldstein-the-gadfly was when I witnessed him rally people against the proposed Cleveland Avenue bike lane. I was politically repulsed, in the true "Bill Hosko" sense of the term, and that feeling hasn’t left me in the years since.

Sure Goldstein makes an occasional good point about corporate subsidies, but on these and all issues, he epitomizes the proverbial “stopped clock that’s right twice a day.” Only, to correct the metaphor, Goldstein would have to be a stopped clock hanging from the side of a nearly-abandoned 1980s urban strip mall that hasn’t told the time correctly in at least five years.

Not only would he be a disaster for the city, but personally he’s a jerk. I hope this is the last we hear from him.

#4: Dai Thao

[Dai Thao's Ford flier is all kinds of wrong.]
At first, I liked Dai Thao running for mayor. I’ve had some good conversations with him as a Council Member, and have always been pleased when he’d sent his staff to street safety events or (much more occasionally) shown up himself to weigh in. During the last few years on the Council, he’s proven himself open to supporting bike and pedestrian safety projects. When he makes a mistake, as he did on the Idaho traffic circles, he comes around to correct it.

I was even somewhat willing to forgive him for his campaign manager getting semi-sort-of-caught aggressively asking for money from a well-connected Styrofoam lobbyist. On that one hand, the move does fit with Thao's aggressive M.O. On the other hand, raising money from well-connected folks is something that lots of the politicians do all the time. The only difference is that the established candidates are more subtle.

(That said, his subsequent vote against sustainable food packaging looks pretty bad given this incident, especially considering the fact that he had previously supported the ordinance change while he was running for office.)

Anyway, all my enthusiasm for Dai Thao’s mayoral campaign vanished during the last few weeks. His flip-flopping on the Ford Site was not only disappointing, it defied basic logic. Was he standing up for the wealthy homeowners upset about traffic? Or for people who need affordable housing?

It became pretty clear which was which after the Council actually passed his affordable housing amendment (on a close vote!) and then he went ahead and voted against the Ford site plan anyway on a flimsy process pretext. Well that and his campaign literature (seen above) which parrots the talking points of the Republican-lobbyist position.  The degree and speed at which Thao abandoned equity positions and began catering to privilege at the expense of future renters is the biggest disappointment of the campaign year.

#3: Elizabeth Dickinson

I like Elizabeth Dickinson. I also mirror much of what Naomi Kritzer says about Elizabeth Dickinson, that's her campaign weirdly seems like that of a "business-friendly liberal." Her wishy-washy stance on the Ford site — calling for more open space —  was a bit of a surprise to me. It's not really the kind of strong grassroots leadership I’m looking for in a left-of-center candidate.

But really, my basic concern is that she lacks experience, and that trumps the rest of it. At an early house party, she pretty much lost my support when she talked about her strong belief in life coaching, suggesting that that's what Saint Paul was missing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the life coaching model works for some people, and I don’t think she mentions it on the stump any more. It's not my thing though, especially in today’s political moment. I feel that we need firm leadership that can get disengaged people involved and excited about local politics, rather than a mediator approach. I think that the stakes for Saint Paul's next mayor are too high to take a chance on someone with no experience holding a political office.

On the other hand, I think she’d be make a great Council Member, where she was one of many people at the table offering input, with a small staff pushing a green agenda. (Like Goldstein, she previously ran for Council, but didn’t win.)

#2: Pat Harris

[Harris helping kids at a library.]
Harris seems like a nice and capable person, with deep ties in the city, but is clearly the conservative in the race. “Trust me, I’m a banker,” might seem comforting for people that are worried about Saint Paul’s fiscal future, but I’m not convinced that this is the kind of message that we need in the Trump era, when Saint Paul is in the midst of massively important political and demographic changes.

On the issues, Harris isn’t bad. But he consistently adopts the more conservative position than his primary rival, Melvin Carter.

On the Ford site, according to the official position, Harris supports “robust development.”  In political reality, Harris tried to have it both ways, somehow finesse-ing a position that allowed him to critique a plan that he also says he supports using a flimsy reasoning that, at least to me, does not hold much water.

(The irony there is that he was on the Council, and part of the process, when it began. If anyone should have led the way on supporting Ford, it should probably have been him.)

On the living wage, Harris hedges again, adopting a classic “yes, but…” answer that is chock full of bussiness-y buzzwords (scroll down to #5). It’s a pretty clear dodge, especially contrasted with the conversation in Minneapolis where there’s a consensus about how a tip credit / exception throws many workers under the wheels of the minimum-wage bus.

On policing, Harris is the one calling for hiring the most cops, and he's also supported by the Police Union. As Naomi Krister (again!) says, "I take the endorsement as an indication that this candidate is the one they [the Police Union] most expect will let them continue to act without accountability."

Even though Saint Paul is not as bad as Minneapolis (low bar!),  a endorsement by the Police union is a negative endorsement for me. I wish that systemic police violence wasn’t a thing, and that this issue didn’t matter so much. But it is, and it does, and it’s hard to see Harris making much progress on this front given his positions here.

Finally on safe streets, it’s a big question mark that leans positive. Given his willingness to parrot traffic and parking concerns about "extreme density" during the Ford site debate, I have reservations about whether he’d be a strong leader with making Saint Paul streets more walkable and bikeable. That said, Harris' streets.mn questionnaire was good. He clearly knows how to say the right things.

And again, on the one hand, he’s a member of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, a group which has never seen a parking lot it didn’t like. On the other other hand, Harris seems like a strong supporter of Riverview, which (not coincidentally) goes right to the airport.

All in all, I don’t think Harris would be a bad mayor. Personally, I like him. He might be a good mayor. Some of my friends support him, and if he was elected, I’d have an open mind and hope for the best.

But to me, the entire campaign seems backward-looking. I don’t like his positions or rhetorical direction nearly as much as the next guy on this list…

#1: Melvin Carter

I am not that into family political dynasties, but at least the Carters have an interesting one. Carter’s mother is a long-time County Commissioner, and (more to my interests) his grandfather played in a jazz band that backed Dizzy, Miles Davis, and Coltrane back when they toured through Rondo. (Not really important now, but still!)

The point is that, initially, I was skeptical about Carter’s candidacy, especially given how he failed to finish his second Council term (leaving for a job at the Governor’s office). But the more I’ve seen Carter in action, the more I’ve liked him. That’s true both personally, and in his positions on the key issues in Saint Paul.

Firstly, Carter was the only candidate to straight-up support the city’s plans for the Ford site. Given how much heat there was on that issue, that’s a big spine check. And given how much evidence and process there had been supporting the plan, that’s a big endorsement from the all-important sustainability-and-reality lobby.

On living wage, Carter has (eventually) become a no-reservations supporter of the $15 now campaign. That’s a big deal, and offers a clear difference with Harris.

On race and policing, Carter is very interesting. Back during the Philando Castile demonstrations, I was frustrated by Carter’s seeming lack of a strong position. Despite the fact that Carter's dad was a cop, and that he went to high school with Castile himself (killed by suburban police on the Saint Paul border), Carter’s public statement was very cautious. Perhaps entirely understandably...

Since then, Carter offered an intriguing vision for how policing would be changed under his administration, bringing together the former police chief and the family of Philando Castile around a platform of police reform. (Maybe it’s just a photo-op, but that is really hard to do!) There is a chance that Carter’s administration could be a national leader on addressing police violence and systemic racism.

On safe streets, again there’s not much way to know. Like Harris, his streets.mn / SPBC / TLC questionnaire is solid and says all the right things. But the devil is in the details of city budgets and administrative finagling. Personally, I think Carter’s “safety” message is more effective at building coalitions of support for street design changes.

Tl; dr

[80% of Saint Paul's seniors are white.]
Carter is 38 and Harris is 51, and they’re both well-connected former City Council Members running well-funded campaigns.

Despite all that, they seem farther apart in age. To me, the choice between Harris and Carter mirrors Saint Paul’s huge generational divide that, I fear, could be a thorn in the city’s side.

Here's the dilemma. The vast majority of Saint Paul’s seniors (and especially voters!) are white. They’ve spent most of their lives in a quiet sorta-homogeneous city that was somewhat in decline, where driving and parking has always been relatively easy and things changed slowly, if at all.

Meanwhile, the city has changed a lot. Today, Saint Paul is almost 50% people of color, and the vast majority of them are younger and have different needs than prior generations. By itself, that poses critical problems around race, culture, and who has access to resources or political speech. It leads to situations where where you have old, traditional white politicians (e.g. Janice Rettman or Phyllis Kahn) representing areas of the city that are full of young people of color, and especially new immigrants. Addressing those looming racial and age divides are daunting tasks not made easier by a lack of political representation.

On top of that, finally Saint Paul is starting to see growth and change in ways that challenge the low-density status quo. That means handling development, population growth, and the need for more and better housing in smart ways. It also means re-thinking our streets, sidewalks, and public spaces in ways that ruffle the drive-always status quo. Those changes will require leadership and tough trade-offs that challenge some of Saint Paul's traditional ways.

This summer, I was legitimately undecided for a long time. I'm glad that the DFL convention did not endorse anyone, and that we finally got to see a competitive mayor’s race in Saint Paul.

But since then, Melvin Carter III has won my vote with his stated commitment to thinking about the city’s future. In the end, it wasn’t even close, and I think he could be a great mayor of Saint Paul.