Election 2015: St. Paul City Council Ward Five

I have no council race in my own ward — Chris Tolbert, who pronounces his last name toll-bert and not like Stephen Colbert’s last name but with a T, is running unopposed. Given the complete and utter mess that was this summer’s road construction projects, I find that a little surprising. Possibly it was such a hassle to get out of our neighborhood that possible opponents couldn’t get down to City Hall to file?

Anyway, there are other wards that have interesting races in various ways and let me see if I can get through any of them before election day, which is Tuesday of this coming week.

Ward 5 has the following candidates:

Amy Brendmoen (incumbent)
David Glass
David Sullivan-Nightengale (endorsed by the Independence Party)

This is mostly a race between Amy Brendmoen and David Glass. Which is mostly a furious vendetta on the part of David Glass because he blames Amy Brendmoen for the loss of his business. Not entirely unreasonably, except that if anyone ever deserved to lose their business… maybe I should back up.

St. Paul has a lot of lovely parks, and one of the nicest is Como, which has the zoo, the conservatory, and a lovely tiny lake with a pavilion next to it. Some years back, David Glass moved his coffee and sandwich shop to the Como Pavilion. He paid about $25,000 annually in rent, often paying late, and was making about $250,000 annually in revenue.

Let me just reiterate a few things about this pavilion. It’s big, first of all. It is right by the water, with both indoor and outdoor seating available, and it’s right in a park, but also right off of Lexington Avenue, so it’s easy to get to. It’s got parking. You can also park in the neighborhood and walk to the pavilion without a lot of trouble. The lake itself has a beautiful little one-mile path going around it and lots of the people in the neighborhood go for walks on that path daily. You could not custom-design a more perfect location for a restaurant. And in this location, they were selling coffee and stale baked goods.

I’ve eaten there, FTR. Every time I went inside it was empty or nearly empty. Because seriously, the baked goods were TERRIBLE. I don’t remember ever eating the sandwiches, but they definitely didn’t have a panini maker or any of the setup that would let you make really good sandwiches.

Over in Minneapolis, there are two parks that have in-park restaurants where they just rented the space out to vendors: Minnehaha Falls has Sea Salt, which is freaking amazing, at least if you like fish (and if you don’t, well, they also have excellent ice cream sold out of a separate window so you won’t have to stand in the huge line that forms for the restaurant on nice days…) and Lake Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska has Tin Fish, which isn’t as good but rakes in just as much money because that is one of the busiest park locations in the city. At some point, St. Paul park officials found out how much money Minneapolis was getting in revenue sharing from the restaurants in its parks, and choked.

So St. Paul went back to Black Bear Crossing and said, hey, you know, you’re really underusing this space. Why don’t you look at what some of those restaurants are doing in Minneapolis? He wasn’t interested. And then they said, You know what? If you want to stay in this space, we want you to partner with Sea Salt. NOPE. So then they refused to renew his lease, and he sued for breach of contract, and they settled. Whether they actually had a good reason to settle or not, I’m not sure (sometimes cities just pay out because fighting it in the courts is also expensive and much less certain) but OH MY GOD, given that the new restaurant earned 1.02 million dollars in revenue between May and August (of which the city got a share), it was TOTALLY WORTH IT.

If in fact Amy Brendmoen is personally responsible for removing an underperforming coffee and sandwich shop that was always empty and survived only because it was allowed to pay vastly below the market rate in rent, and replacing it with a restaurant that is holding interesting new events, serving food people want to eat, employing 79 people, renting boats and bikes, and in general using a publicly-owned pavilion in ways that benefit the public in many ways, then that all by itself is an excellent reason to vote for her.

Whoever negotiated a contract that said “David Glass can just keep renewing his lease forever and we will never raise his rent or make any other demands on him and if we terminate his lease because we want some other business in that lease, he can totally sue us” should lose their job, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Amy, since she’s a first term Council member.

I will admit that this cute little “checking in with the newbie!” article did not fill me with confidence about her (“Who knew that we get our water from the Mississippi river?” — wait, there are people who don’t know that? Maybe I overestimate the state of civic knowledge. FYI, we get our water from the Mississippi river. Then we treat it. Then we use it. Then we treat it again, and we put it back in the river when we’re done with it. This is part of why the cities are so strict about not wanting rain water dumped in our sanitary sewers, because anything that goes into the sanitary sewer has to be treated, whereas rain water can just be allowed to run straight into the river.) (Possibly I find water systems more interesting than most people?) But her website gives you a cute map and you can see all the stuff she’s done so far and hey: it doesn’t even list the improvements to the Como Pavilion.

David Glass also hates bike lanes and he’s endorsed by the Police Federation, which I count as a strike against him.

The third candidate, David Sullivan-Nightengale, is endorsed by the Independence Party. He has sort of a half-assed website with minimal information, and a Facebook page. Scrolling through his Facebook page is a little unnerving as it alternates between perfectly reasonable stuff (“let’s make naloxone more widely available”), pieces that start out with legit complaints that veer into religion (he links to an article about a small businessman having hassles with St. Paul regulations and then extensively quotes Samuel), a rant about robot armies (“Already we’ve seen armed civilian robots. Like the Cylons of science fiction, there are few rules which regulate the arming of robots. Asimov’s Laws of Robotics is certainly a starting point for humanity to regulate the rise of the machines”)…

He’s a safety engineer so a lot of stuff goes through that particular lens. Some of which is super legit, like concerns about oil trains running through the city and paid sick time. Some of which just makes him sound kind of nuts. (Robot armies and his rant about China.)

If you really loathe Amy Brendmoen, I guess you can pick between the resentful failed businessman and the slightly paranoid safety engineer for your 1st and 2nd choice. (St. Paul has ranked-choice voting, so you can order them by preference, you don’t have to pick just one.)

Otherwise, vote for Amy.


1 thought on “Election 2015: St. Paul City Council Ward Five

  1. Naomi

    I wanted to personally thank you for this entry in your blog. I’m a Como resident and was frustrated with David Glass and his campaign for public office. I too visited Black Bear Crossing with my wife on many occasions and was always perplexed at how it remained open. We both have lots of restaurant experience (her family ran a successful supper club for 25 years) and BBC had us stumped. Nothing was done right. Nothing.

    So when David Glass sued the city of Saint Paul we were baffled. Because he couldn’t figure out how to effectively monetize the incredible resources available to him on that site, Saint Paul taxpayers would need to fund his retirement? This really stuck in my craw.

    And then came the announcement that he wanted a job with the people he’d just sued. That was just plain offensive. And then there was the flood of flyers, postcards and fake newspapers. Every few days in the run up to Election Day I’d receive little notices from his campaign in my mailbox with the words “successful businessman” listed as one of his great assets. And every time I read those words I got a little more sour on Mr. Glass.

    Was he thinking that by getting those words in front of voters we’d forget what just happened? Talk about cynicism…. (FTR, my wife and I run what most would call “successful businesses” so we know a little on the subject). I just prayed that my neighbors would see this man for what he was; a bitter, failed businessman using our money to run a political campaign.

    With Election Day come and gone, it looks David will have to find a new line of work. I for one couldn’t be happier. Thank you again for your story. It really rang true for me.

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