St. Paul City Council incumbents win; Second Ward goes to runoff

 

Tight race for Second Ward seat will go to county to sort out ranked choices. 

By Kevin Duchschere Star Tribune

November 3, 2015

While all of St. Paul’s City Council incumbents easily won re-election Tuesday, a tight race to fill the open Second Ward seat is headed to the county elections bureau Monday for final resolution.

The results mean that the seven-member council will have no more than two new members to fill open seats when it takes office in 2016, which some will read as a mark of satisfaction with the city’s performance and others as a disappointing failure by citizens to clean house after recent controversies over policies and accountability.

Incumbents Dai Thao, Dan Bostrom and Russ Stark — of the First, Sixth and Fourth wards, respectively — rolled up landslide margins against their challengers, while Fifth Ward incumbent Amy Brendmoen won a solid victory over her main opponent, David Glass, a businessman who won an $800,000 settlement from the city in a contract dispute for which he partly blamed her.

Chris Tolbert, the Third Ward incumbent, and Seventh Ward candidate Jane Prince had no opponents on the ballot and captured upward of 90 percent of the vote in their respective districts.

The only close race was in the Second Ward, where nonprofit official Rebecca Noecker wound up 3 percentage points in front of Ramsey County Board aide Darren Tobolt. Because neither could claim more than 50 percent of first-place votes cast, a runoff will be held Monday under the rules of St. Paul’s ranked-choice voting system.

Tobolt said Tuesday night that he wasn’t surprised the race was so tight.

 

“The last time this seat was open it was decided by 80 votes, so we completely expected to go to Monday,” he said. “We’ll see what happens next.”

    Under ranked-choice voting, the candidates receiving the fewest votes are dropped and their second-place votes are reallocated to the remaining candidates.

    The process continues until one of the candidates gets more than 50 percent, or more votes than the other remaining contender.

    City, stadium issues

    Next year’s council will tackle the standard issues — rising taxes and fees, service cuts and deteriorating streets — while also hammering out the city’s development role around a new Major League Soccer stadium in the Midway district and trying to close the accountability gap between citizens and City Hall laid bare in the recent Grand Avenue parking-meter flap.

    Several incumbents had faced citizen challengers who vigorously argued that fresh ideas were needed at City Hall.

    Three of the challengers — Glass, Kevin Bradley and Tom Goldstein — were among the first to promise transparency and accountability along the lines set out by an ad hoc group of community leaders called St. Paul STRONG.

    Most of the 18 candidates on the ballot either had DFL Party backing or professed DFL allegiance, including both Noecker and Tobolt. Tobolt is a longtime insider with strong ties to local government officials and the party, while Noecker is a relatively new figure with an education background who sits on the city’s Planning Commission.

     

    The other candidates included two who have run before, Sharon Anderson and Bill Hosko, and two other novice candidates, Patrick Fearing and Michael C. Johnson.

    In the First Ward, Thao easily won his first full term in office after winning a special election two years ago. Thao proved to be an effective fundraiser and skillful at uniting the ward’s diverse communities behind his candidacy.

    His opponent, Green Party endorsee Trahern Crews, had said he was better connected to the ward and the concerns of its residents.

    Stark, who became City Council president this year, was challenged by Goldstein, an attorney and former St. Paul school board member who vocally opposed the city’s role in building the new Saints ballpark and raised questions about the recent soccer stadium deal.

    Stark supports the soccer stadium as long as it is privately built and generates development for the surrounding area.

    Brendmoen, who chairs the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and Glass waged something of a grudge match because of the dispute over his former Como Park cafe, but he said the main reason he was running was to restore the council’s independence and reconnect with residents.

    For her part, Brendmoen pledged to direct more city resources to ward neighborhoods. A third candidate, safety engineer David Sullivan-Nightengale, was endorsed by the Independence Party.

    Bostrom, a former police sergeant and school board member who has served on the council since 1996, easily defeated Bradley, a counselor and chaplain, and teacher and community activist Edward Davis.