In 2017, after 12 years in office, Chris Coleman declined to run for a fourth term as mayor of St. Paul, opting instead for a short-term bid to become the governor of Minnesota.
Until then, Coleman had one hit after another at the ballot box. He won his first mayoral election in 2005 with 68 percent of the vote. Re-elected in 2009 (again) with 68 percent of the vote; and his last term in 2013 with 78 percent of the first-choice vote (2013 was the city’s first ordinal election).
Coleman’s tenure as president of St. Paul was the longest since George Latimer, who was mayor from 1976 to 1990. But these long distances tend to mask how rare the incumbent is in the office. Since 1950, only two other mayors have won re-election in St. Paul: George Favolis and Norm Coleman (who has nothing to do with Chris).
However, as St. Paul’s current Melvin Carter heads for re-election this year, some see the kind of broad support that has carried the likes of Latimer and Coleman to multiple terms. “George, Chris Coleman, and Melvin are charismatic,” former St. Paul Mayor Jim Schieble said. “People love hearing them talk. They add excitement and can be inspiring…I think they all have that in common.”
During his first run to replace Coleman in 2017, Carter surprised many by winning the election in the first round of the first-choice vote, totaling 50.9 percent of the first-choice vote over former Councilman Pat Harris, who had 24 percent of the first-choice. votes, and current board member Amber 1 Dai Thao, who received 12 percent.
Now, with Carter’s first term coming to an end, he faces little serious competition in his bid for re-election. In the heavily democratic St. Paul, Carter faced no challengers to endorse the German Football League, which he won 89% of the votes cast During the party’s endorsement conference this summer. Both Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and First Lieutenant Peggy Flanagan endorsed him, as did most of the city’s labor organizations, including St. AFSCME 5 Council and the Minnesota Building and Construction Council.
“During his four years in office, he has done a really good job guiding our city through very difficult times with the pandemic and the consequences of the killing of George Floyd,” said John Welch of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
Carter has many other strengths that are likely to intimidate competitors. Bruce Currie, an economist and associate vice president for government and community relations at Concordia University who previously served as Carter’s director of planning and economic development, said Carter’s supporters see the mayor as a “son of Rondo” — someone with deep roots in the community. At the same time, Corey said, Carter also represents something new for the city. “There was a rich history of exclusion” in St. Paul, Carter said, “someone who could take that aspiration from the people … to help create this city in a different light.”
Or, as Leslie Lavery, associate professor and chair of political science at Macalister College, put it: “He is a young black man in a diverse city,” “Will we elect another old white man now? Unless he gives us a reason to. It is his loss.”
sense of timing
Schieble nicknamed St. Paul the “City of the Neighborhoods,” as he enjoyed his representation as a city councilman for eight years and knocked on the door on his way to winning the city’s 1989 mayoral election. Schieble noted that outreach to residents at the neighborhood level is the key to winning the city, Which he believes Carter shares with Latimer and Coleman.
Now a professor at Hamline University Business School, Schieble also noted something else the three men shared: a focus on meeting the needs of voters. “I had Chris [Coleman] I asked him in my class recently, ‘Well, what are you really proud of? What have you done?’ He said it was St. Paul’s spruce [after-school] Youth programme. …I asked George Latimer this question. Did you know what he was saying was the best thing he did as mayor? He supported the Labor Corps.”
For Carter, this focus may be best represented by College Bound St. Paul, who puts $50 into a college savings account for every child born in the city. “People in St. Paul love these kinds of agendas and are willing to give people another term,” Schieble said.
At least one observer says there is one more thing the three mayors have in common: a sense of timing. “His leadership, for this time, I believe, is a mission for St. Paul,” said Tony Carter, chair of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, which—as the mayor’s mother—is not entirely impartial. “I think leaders certainly bring talent, skills, insight, and energy to work, but I also believe that where, when, and a community’s willingness to embrace that leadership is important.”
She believes this is true for the current mayor, but also “that the same was true of Coleman and Latimer – their unique skills met the need at the time.”