St. Paul Scrum

Categories: Politics

There won't be much political drama in 2007. With statewide elections just completed and the presidential sweepstakes still a year away from heating up, there's little to sate political junkies. But St. Paul's off-year city council races present a number of intriguing contests. Four races in particular bear watching.

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Ward One: Melvin Carter III is challenging one-term incumbent and retired cop Debbie Montgomery. Carter, who most recently worked as an aid to Mayor Chris Coleman, has the backing of ACORN, St. Paul Fire Fighters Local 21, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Montgomery has received the blessing of the St. Paul Police Federation, as well as the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council. This race also happens to feature the city's only two black candidates in a ward that has traditionally been represented by an African American. The Saint Paul branch of the NAACP will host a debate between the two contenders next Tuesday at St. Peter Claver Church at 7 p.m.

Ward Four: This is the only open seat, with Jay Benanav stepping down after a decade in office. Labor activist Bernie Hesse, Russ Stark, executive director of the Midway Transportation Management Organization, and veteran DFL operative Randy Schubring are running active campaigns. All three have agreed to abide by the DFL endorsement so this race will essentially be over after the April 14 ward convention. Hesse has so far dominated the endorsement sweepstakes, procuring support from ACORN, AFSCME, the firefighters union, and the St. Paul Area Trades and Labor Assembly.

Ward Five: David Haas, a financial planner (and the brother of former Randy Kelly staff-er Nancy Haas), is looking to unseat Lee Helgen after just one term. Helgen narrowly defeated Kris Reiter four years ago, following her incumbent father's death less than one month before the general election. Helgen is backed by AFSCME and the St. Paul Area Trades and Labor Assembly, while the police union is supporting Haas.

Ward Six: This is arguably the most intriguing contest of the bunch. Pakou Hang, who was the campaign manager for Mee Moua's successful state senate campaign in 2002 and has also worked as an organizer for Progressive Minnesota (now known as Take Action Minnesota), is challenging veteran council member Dan Bostrom. A retired cop, Bostrom has not faced a challenger in his last three re-election contests. Hang, who is Hmong, will look to capitalize on the ward's shifting demographics, with large increases in the East Side's Asian population. (See this interesting map posted at City Hall Scoop for an indication of how significant the Hmong vote will be.) The incumbent is supported by the police federation and the building trades; Hang has received the blessing of ACORN. Several groups, including AFSCME and the firefighters union, have so far declined to endorse either candidate.

Take Action Minnesota, which has established a redoubtable reputation in recent years for winning elections, will screen candidates on Monday evening. Of note: three of the city council aspirants--Carter, Hang, and Hesse--are former board members of the organization. Another potentially powerful player, the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, will begin interviewing candidates later this month.

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