Election 2019: St. Paul City Council, Ward 6

This was supposed to be a race for an open seat, so there are a lot of candidates. Here’s the list:

Alexander Bourne
Kassim Busuri
Greg Copeland
Danielle Swift
Terri Thao
Nelsie Yang

Lots more info below.

Alexander Bourne

So the Pioneer Press ran an article in early October where they looked into the criminal and arrest records of everyone running for City Council. Most of what they found was pretty solidly in the “whatever, dude” category for me. I sincerely don’t care if someone was arrested for a DUI twenty years ago. But then there was Alexander Bourne. Apparently the criminal history that popped up right away was a theft charge that happened when he was living in Louisiana. He owned a shoe repair business, and a customer accused him of stealing her shoes after she left them at his store. He says that she was disgruntled because the repairs took longer than she expected and had him arrested; he blames the situation on corruption. Given that he wound up stuck in jail without bail for nine months over an allegation of shoe theft I’m actually inclined to believe him on this one. But. BUT. From the PiPress article (link goes to the databank at the St. Paul library, access it with your library card):

In 2016, he was charged in Ramsey County District Court with taking another person’s dog and selling it for profit. The case was dismissed. In 2017, he was charged in Ramsey County with second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and ordered to stay away from the alleged victims after allegedly entering his ex-girlfriend’s apartment complex and threatening to stab her and her brother with a knife. That case was also dismissed.

An ex-girlfriend obtained an order for protection against Bourne this year, claiming that on April 23, he arrived at her home, ripped her dress, put socks on his hands and punched her ears. In a May 7 incident, she told the court “he came over to my apartment drunk … refused to leave. He started pushing me, calling me names, threatened me and he called the police.”

She said Bourne returned May 22, pushed her and spit in her face three times until Eagan police escorted him out. She also said he threatened to hurt her or have someone hurt her.

In March, Bourne was arrested following a dispute with a recent girlfriend on Payne Avenue over a car they maintained in common. He was not charged in the incident.

In February of this year, Bourne accused a fellow city council candidate of assaulting him and demanded that St. Paul police arrest her. When they refused, he allegedly told them, “Guess what, if I have anything to do with the city council, you’re not gonna get more officers,” according to a police report. Police noted at the time that the dent on the driver’s-side door of Bourne’s car — which Bourne blamed on the woman — matched Bourne’s footprint in the snow.

[Shoe stuff deleted, since I covered that already]

As a college student, Bourne was arrested on Oct. 12, 2011, on suspicion of sexual assault, but prosecutors at the time declined to press charges in light of insufficient evidence.

“It was investigated and concluded in my favor,” Bourne said.

Shoe stuff: whatever, dude.

Repeated domestic violence charges: WHOA.

The February incident with a fellow candidate involved Danielle Swift, and there’s a much more detailed article about it that ran at the time. From the article:

Bourne said Monday that he “absolutely disagrees” with various parts of the police report and he would like to see the body camera footage.


Bourne said Monday that he has video and audio recording of “much of this incident with Danielle” and he attempted to give it to police, “but they wouldn’t view any of it.”

Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman, said Monday that if Bourne “wants to provide video evidence of an assault or any crime committed, he is free to do so.”

Just based on the experiences of friends, I would not rule out the possibility that the police did in fact refuse to review someone’s own footage of an incident — but Alexander also has not put it online as far as I could find.

Given all this, I don’t much care what his views are; I don’t want him on the City Council. Although I’ll note that I sent him an e-mail with my trash question before I ran across this particular bit of information and he replied to say that he thought the whole current agreement needed to be scrapped.

Kassim Busuri

When the old council rep Dan Bostrom retired abruptly at the end of December (not due to a scandal, but because he preferred not serving as a lame duck to actually discharging his obligations to constituents, the City Council appointed an interim representative. Because there’s an inherent advantage to campaigning as an incumbent, they specifically looked for someone who would commit to not run for the seat. Kassim Busuri made this commitment, was sworn in in February, and announced in May that he was going to run.

There are promises that people break that I am inclined to shrug off (“I won’t run against an endorsed candidate” is one I’ve quit worrying about) but in this scenario, I was kind of disgusted. Then a month after that, a bunch of homophobic social media posts from him popped up.

Solid nope from me. NOPE.

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a Republican and a perennial candidate. Usually he runs for the school board. Every time I’ve analyzed him I’ve come to the same conclusion: don’t vote for him. Here’s my post from the 2016 school board race (a special election). Here’s the one from 2015And from 2013.

Another nope, no way.

Danielle Swift

Danielle Swift is a community organizer who works in housing. Her website’s main page has what looks like links (I mean, the dots over them move, like they’re going to do something?) saying “Advancement of Youth and Young Adults,” “Economic Development,” and “Environmental Wellness,” but none of them are actually links. She also has a page called “More On Housing” that is actually a separate page and says, “Danielle Swift is a housing advocate and actively working towards organizing communities and shaping policy to address the housing crisis that is plaguing the twin cities. Believing there should be more policies that define what it means for housing to be affordable and that affordability levels should be based on cost burden — the percentage of income used on housing — rather than area median income.”

She also has a Facebook page but there’s not a lot more information over there.

Mostly because I wanted to know more about Nelsie Yang and Terri Thao (who I haven’t gotten to yet), I watched video of a Ward 6 forum at which all the candidates appeared. Danielle struck me as progressive and committed, but not-super-well-informed about the issues. She’s planning to vote no on the trash referendum but didn’t appear to have a sense of how that might affect renters.

She would not be my first choice, but if you want an anti-coordinated-trash candidate who’s not a Republican, not a homophobe, and hasn’t faced domestic violence charges, she should definitely be yours!

Terri Thao

Terri is the daughter of Hmong refugees and has spent a number of years working in policy: she’s served on the Planning Commission, on the board of multiple local organizations, and on a statewide housing board she was appointed to by Governor Dayton.

I am impressed by the experience she’d bring to the position and during the forum (linked above) she seemed to have a good handle on the many approaches out there to various issues. One of the things that struck me was that her background gives her some grounding in the Law of Unintended Consequences, and that showed in some of her answers.

She replied promptly to my e-mail about the next trash contract and said her priorities were holding fees stable (or reducing them), adding a cart-sharing option for duplex and triplex units, and asking haulers to do more local hiring. She added, “And absolutely I hold haulers accountable for service. In fact, I would push for a system to that ties some payment to customer satisfaction rates. This would incentivize them to respond faster to service calls and also make it more transparent on how this is being completed.”

Her endorsements include Stonewall DFL and MN House Rep Kaoly Her. (The DFL deadlocked at the ward convention and did not endorse.)

Nelsie Yang

Nelsie Yang is also the daughter of Hmong refugees who came to the US. Somewhere in her materials, Terri mentioned she was her parents’ oldest daughter; Nelsie mentions somewhere that she’s her parents’ youngest daughter. I’m not sure how old Terri is (my guess would be 40s). Nelsie is very young for a serious political candidate: she’s 23.

Despite being really young, Nelsie has a compelling personal story: her family was foreclosed on the day before her high school graduation, and while she was in college she had the opportunity to visit Laos and see her parents’ old village. On returning home, she got involved in politics, first as a campaign organizer, later for Take Action Minnesota. (I wonder if we crossed paths when I did GOTV volunteering in 2018? I was in and out of the St. Paul Take Action MN headquarters a lot.) She has some impressive endorsements, including Mitra Jalali Nelson and OutFront Minnesota. (She was in the lead at the DFL ward convention, but Terri had enough support to block endorsement.)

The thing that’s most striking to me is that Nelsie seems to excite people; she inspires them and fires them up. When I watched the forum, I liked her. I liked Terri, too. They both struck me as genuinely terrific people and candidates.

One of the issues where Nelsie did herself no favors was the trash, Y/N question, which came up at two forums. In early October, she shocked people (and annoyed a lot of her allies) by saying she was undecided and leaning no. By the time of the forum I watched (held October 23) she had moved to a yes. (Terri seized the opportunity for a mild jab on that one, pointing out that she had always been a yes.) I did not hear back from her campaign on my what-would-you-prioritize-for-the-next-contract question.

I think if I were living in Ward 6, I would rank my ballot as follows:

  1. Terri Thao
  2. Nelsie Yang
  3. Danielle Swift

This is a hard one, as I really like both Terri and Nelsie, and I think either would do a good job for the ward.

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: St. Paul City Council, Ward 6

  1. As a Maplewood resident, I respect and agree with the immediate dismissal of Copeland.


    I feel like his jaw dropping incompetence while managing my city merits direct mention every single time his name is on a ballot.

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