Election 2019: Saint Paul City Council, Ward 5

Here’s who’s running in Ward 5:

Bob Blake
Amy Brendmoen (incumbent)
Jamie Hendricks
Suyapa Miranda

Bob Blake

When I visited Bob Blake’s issues page, curious what he stood for, I found a list:

WORKFORCE TRAINING CENTER
LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
RENEWABLE ENERGY
ENVIRONMENT
HOUSING DISPLACEMENT PREVENTION
INFRASTRUCTURE
PUBLIC SAFETY

I confidently clicked on “Public Safety,” expecting it to be a link to some information about what he was planning to do — hire more police officers? hire fewer police officers and put together a mental health crisis response team? encourage neighborhood watch groups? increase speed limit and crosswalk enforcement? …anyway, it wasn’t a link. None of these were links. He has no information about what he wants to do other than this list of issues he considers important.

His “About” page has marginally more useful information. He’s a member of Red Lake Nation and he has a solar panel installation company.

Next!

Amy Brendmoen (incumbent)

Amy Brendmoen is one of those Council Reps I generally think of as OK. The most controversial thing I know she was involved in was that she let the German Immersion school tear down that historic church. (Link goes to the PiPress databank at the St. Paul library, accessible with a SPPL card.) There was a time I might have been really outraged about that? But I know more about the inner workings of religious communities than I used to and here’s a fun fact: there are some extremely pretty church buildings that are absolute architectural nightmares. When a church closes down, and no other religious community shows up interested in the building, it’s often because there’s no way to put in an elevator, or the water management is so shockingly bad there are sections of the building that flood out every spring, or it’s a firetrap. The German School bought it because no one else wanted it, and what they really needed was the land it was sitting on, and that’s just how it goes sometimes. If you disagree with me on this, you’ve probably already decided you’re not voting for Amy.

My father lives in Ward 5; his big issue with Amy is that he wrote to her about something and didn’t get a response. I consider that a significant flaw in a City Council rep — like, I don’t expect to necessarily get results from writing in but I do at least expect an answer, even if it’s just “this must be very frustrating to you, we’re so sorry for the inconvenience.” Interestingly, Amy’s Issues page starts off with talking about how great she is at engagement and constituent service: “Excellence in constituent service has been a cornerstone of Amy’s time in office. Her priority is that each call, conversation, email and letter that comes in is answered in a timely fashion and that each person feels heard and well-served.” I don’t know what to make of that — if she’s bragging about something she’s actually lousy at, or if my father was the odd exception. (Even if you’re generally very good at returning e-mails, some will inevitably slip through the cracks.) (I do not claim to be very good at returning e-mails, if you’re wondering.)

(ETA: after this went up, I got an e-mail from Amy asking about my father’s message. I supplied his e-mail address and she checked her messages, including the spam filter, didn’t find it anywhere, and asked if I could have him re-send it because she really wanted him to get a reply. I’m going to say based on this that his experience was probably a fluke, and also, if you send an e-mail and don’t get a response you should have gotten, sometimes it’s because it vanished into the ether.)

Her web site also highlights her work on housing, the environment, and public safety. She also brings up trash and the German Immersion school thing — it’s unusual that a candidate highlights controversial and unpopular decisions, so I’ll give her credit for that.

I got a prompt response to my question about trash. (I e-mailed most of the serious-sounding candidates to ask them what they’d prioritize when renegotiating the contract in three years. It’s a five-year contract, we’re one year in, so.) She thinks that next time around, it’ll go out as a Request For Proposals (I think that’s probably true, and I think that’s going to result in a much better contract than the one with the Hauler Consortium.) Also: “I care about curbside composting a lot so I will make sure that’s a priority as we move ahead. I’d like to see a shared option for people who produce little waste. I’d like to see a bigger subsidy for lowest volume users. I’d like the haulers to start at 7am not 6am as they are currently allowed. I’d like condo associations, no matter what size building configuration, be allowed to opt in or out. We probably should re-imagine bulky pick up, too, as it is not being utilized.” (Her campaign website, under trash, reminds everyone to use their bulky item pick-ups, instead of forgetting that it’s an option.)

Jamie Hendricks

Jamie Hendricks is one of the vehement anti-coordinated-trash people. From her issues page: “I believe we, as citizens, have the right to hire our own trash collection service.” She wants cameras placed in high-crime areas. She has somewhat lengthy essays on some issues, but then she has an Environment section with the single sentence, “We must take notice of the issues that involve climate change and clean energy.” She has nothing to say about transit, bike safety, or pedestrian safety, although potholes are a major concern for her.

Soooooooo yeah, that’s a NOPE.

Suyapa Miranda

Suyapa’s Vision Page emphasizes housing, small business development, public safety, and transit. She strikes me as a viable alternative to Amy if you’re looking for one. I sent my trash question to Suyapa (via Twitter DM, because there wasn’t any way to contact her on her website) and got a prompt but somewhat incoherent response from her. I’m going to actually C&P what I wrote, because possibly it’s more unclear than I thought?

Hi, I have a question about coordinated trash (and couldn’t find an e-mail contact on your website?) We’re one year into a five-year contract, which will presumably be hitting the “negotiate the next one” point while you’re still in office. What sorts of things will you prioritize? Do you have a plan for holding haulers accountable for service problems? (Or are you hoping to toss the whole thing, like some of the people running for city council?)

Her response was about her priorities more generally (affordable housing, transportation options, small business development, reducing health disparities, community safety). She then addressed trash in a broad way: “Please know that I felt some of the same levels of frustrations of our current trash system. Many times I’ve seen my trash bin in the streets I’m not understanding why it’s there although, I’ve called customer service many times I haven’t got a response back in the last three weeks obviously The customer service experience is nonexistent. I am a strong believer that we have the ability to amend the current policy. there’s no policy that’s in place that we haven’t been able to modify but it’s the sheer unwillingness the current Council to try to find a resolution with our constituents.”

I pulled up the Ward 5 candidate forum (I feel like I should give a specific shout-out to the League of Women Voters, which runs all these forums, and the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, which makes video, edits it, and puts them online! I’m pretty sure they’re both looking for volunteers to do some of this stuff, if any of my readers have time to get more involved) and watched it. (This is a rough one to watch in places because something went horribly wrong with one of the mics. Everyone did their best to handle it.) There were two things about Suyapa that struck me. One was that when road diets came up, she was clearly not a fan. (Amy definitely was.) The other was that a lot of her answers felt kind of generic. This was particularly surprising to me when a question about historic preservation came up — this was so clearly a question about the church, and Suyapa seemed to kind of miss that cue, or if she picked up on it, she wasn’t really prepared to respond.

Watching the forum also made me rather more impressed with Bob Blake; if you’re a hard-core environmentalist he might be a good first choice for you.

Suyapa’s endorsements include one from Andrea Jenkins (Minneapolis City Council rep) who mentioned her work in St. Anthony Park. She might be someone who’d be very competent in the actual job, but just isn’t great at running for it. I don’t know. I tend to really like road diets (although there are roads where it definitely wouldn’t work).

My conclusion was that Suyapa wouldn’t be terrible in the job, but I didn’t find myself thinking she’d be an improvement over Amy Brendmoen overall. If you’re dissatisfied with Amy she might be a good candidate for you, though.

If I lived in the district, I’d vote:

  1. Amy Brendmoen
  2. Suyapa Miranda
  3. Bob Blake

If you’re finding these useful and would like to make sure I know how much you value my work to help keep me motivated, I have two options for you this year. I have a novel coming out in November, CATFISHING ON CATNET, which you can pre-order. Also, you may remember that last year I linked people to a couple of fundraisers on DonorsChoose for Minneapolis teachers — there was one, in particular, who was raising money to take fifth-grade students at Green Central Park School to Wolf Ridge Environmental Center. My readers really came through for her, and her students were able to make the trip, which is amazing. She has another class of fifth graders, and is fundraising again for another trip. It would make me very happy if my readers supported this project.

2 thoughts on “Election 2019: Saint Paul City Council, Ward 5

  1. Do you have a shorter “cheat sheet” I can take with me to the polls? Last time, I made it myself based on this, but I thought I’d ask before I do that again.
    -Ben
    PS–to make this comment, it insisted. I put in a website address. I don’t have a current one so I put it my old URL. You might want to take out this requirement.

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