St. Paul Mayoral Race, Final Days

The five viable candidates from before remain the five viable candidates:

Elizabeth Dickinson
Melvin Carter
Dai Thao
Tom Goldstein
Pat Harris

Last week there was some controversy over a mailing that did an excellent job of underscoring why I view the Police Union endorsement as a negative rather than a positive.

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Election 2017: Free Advice Offered Here

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman is not running for re-election (instead, he’s going to run for governor) so people are starting to announce that they’re running to replace him. I am paying  at least a little bit of attention because for one thing, although the election isn’t until next November, the St. Paul DFL caucuses are in April and the St. Paul City Convention is in June, and if I’m a delegate to the city convention I could help decide who (if anyone) gets the DFL endorsement.

I’ll note that the DFL has a lists of people who were delegates to conventions in the past, and during the race for State Rep four years ago, the people interested in the soon-to-be-open seat used this list to contact people who’d been delegates in the past to ask for their support. I got letters, phone calls, and personal visits. A legislative district is pretty small, and it’s harder to do that when you’re running for mayor, but still, much more achievable than individually contacting every individual resident of the city.

You can also buy a broader e-mail list and start e-mailing people, and if you do that, here is the free advice I promised up top: start by introducing yourself. Tell me who you are, what you stand for, what your experience is, and why you deserve my support.

This honestly seems pretty obvious.

And yet, the first contact I got from one candidate looked like this:

Naomi –

I hope this note finds you and your family well this holiday season!

As the year comes to a close, my campaign to be Saint Paul’s next mayor is really starting to heat up. Just a couple of weeks ago Mayor Coleman announced he is not running for reelection; he’s been a strong leader for our city and I look forward to building on his work.

I’m ready to lead our city, building on our growth and progress while making sure that every family in every Saint Paul community grows and prospers along with it.

And that means I need your help at our year-end deadline. We’re building a strong campaign, but we need the resources to keep growing and win. Please contribute today and help me become Saint Paul’s next mayor!

There is a lot at stake, and Saint Paul is at a turning point. Our next mayor will shape our city for decades to come. I am committed to making sure Saint Paul is a city that serves everyone.

Your help today is critical. At our year-end deadline we’ll report how much we’ve raised, and we need to show our campaign’s strength and viability. Will you help before 2016 ends by making a contribution today?

I’m looking forward to working with you in the coming year and beyond to make our city stronger, more prosperous, and more welcoming than ever.

Thank you,
Melvin

P.S. – Let’s give folks something to talk about. Chip in now to help us top our goal and report the strongest number we can at our deadline!

“I look forward to building on (Chris Coleman’s) work; I’m ready to lead our city” is not a useful introduction. “I need your help at our year-end deadline” is what you say to someone you already know is a supporter, not a person for whom this is your first attempt at contact. At this stage, you should be telling me who you are and what your experience is, not hitting me up for money. You should be inviting me to your meet-and-greet, not your fundraiser.

Someone named Chris Kluthe (his campaign chair? I don’t know, as he doesn’t introduce himself either) followed up later the same day with:

Naomi – I wanted to be sure you saw Melvin’s email. With our deadline less than 72 hours away, it’s critical that we end the year strong. Please, click here now to chip in and help make Melvin our next mayor! 

Is Melvin Carter III awesome? He might be awesome, I have no idea. Having looked him up, he’s apparently a former Council Rep for Ward 1 and quit midway through his second term to work for the Department of Education. He started running a year ago (because he guessed that Chris Coleman wouldn’t run again). He would be St. Paul’s first black mayor.

I got fundraising e-mails from Melvin Carter or Chris Kluthe on December 29th (twice), December 30th, December 31st (twice), and January 2nd. On the 30th I e-mailed a reply to the “it’s critical that we hit our goal before this deadline” message with, “Who even are you? Nonstop nagging me for donations is not how you introduce yourself to possible supporters!” to see if anyone would reply to me in a more personal way. Nope!

It’s maybe a little early to say that he’s lost my vote, because … maybe he’s awesome? But I find it obnoxious to be hit me up for money, six times in ten days, via a mailing list I did not sign up for, from someone I’d never heard of before he started asking me for money. (Should I have heard of him? Maybe? But remember, I only moved to St. Paul in 2012, and he quit his council job in 2013, and at that point I was still trying to remember the name of the rep from my own ward, let alone anyone else’s.)

I probably ought to unsubscribe from his e-list, but at this point I’m honestly curious how many times his campaign is going to ask me for money before reaching out to tell me anything about him.

Also, hey, if you live in either Minneapolis or St. Paul, both mayoral races are shaping up to be pretty interesting. Chris Coleman is not running again, and Betsy Hodges has a bunch of serious candidates running against her. You can go to your local caucus and become a delegate to your City Convention and help decide who gets the DFL endorsement! (Or, as has happened at many such conventions, help block the person you don’t like from getting the DFL endorsement! It’s exciting either way.)

 

 

 

Election 2016: Soil & Water District 3

(By request.)
There are two candidates in this race:

Mara Magnuson Humphery
Ianni Houmas

Neither has a website, at least that I found. Mara is endorsed by the DFL; Ianni is endorsed by the Greens.

I found a brief statement about Mara here (note that it’s from 2012):

Mara Magnuson Humphrey (Saint Paul) is endorsed by the DFL, PROGRESSPPAC, Senator Mee Moua, Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, Representative Tim Mahoney, and City Council Member Dan Bostrom. She was (is?) a registered lobbyist for the financial industry (per Fraters Libertas, 2008). She is a member of the Ramsey County Capital Improvement Program Advisory Committee; Board of Directors, Friends of Lake Phalen; Vice President—Governmental Affairs, Minnesota Credit Union Network. She was the past president of New Bridge Homeowners Association. She has a B.A. in Government, St. Lawrence University. She is married and has two children.

(That site also includes contact information that might or might not be current. Oh, hey, while hunting for something else I found her Twitter — looks like she still is a lobbyist, for credit unions, which are definitely part of the financial industry but we’re not talking a lobbyist for Wells Fargo here.)

Ianni is quoted talking about environmental issues in a 2009 MPR news article. I also tracked down his mostly-friendslocked Facebook. I was not impressed by his coherence in those posts I could see. (“Why has there not been talk of reparations, to the Indigenous of north america, by way of tabacco? States and health care did it for obvious reasons. It is an indigenous plant cultivated by the original people here. Just a thought. Maybe there has and im not aware.” — I’m not opposed to reparations, but I’m not even sure what he’s suggesting here and also he misspelled “tobacco.” I totally judge people running for office on incoherence and bad spelling.) He also appealed or sued (I’m not 100% clear) for unemployment coverage back in 2009 https://mn.gov/law-library-stat/archive/ctapun/0910/opa082283-1013.pdf — when Qwest fired him for cause. The “cause” was that he had a job that involved a lot of driving, was supposed to have a clean record and report any moving violations, and he racked up so many speeding tickets his Minnesota license got suspended. This did not impress me either.

Edited to add: someone on Twitter passed along this site, which includes a statement about Ianni’s candidacy:

IANNI HOUMAS – RAMSEY COUNTY SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION SUPERVISOR, DISTRICT 3

Ianni is an appointed member on the City of St. Paul’s Transportation Committee. Ian feels that devising better ways of moving people and goods around our metro area is important for the mitigation of highway gridlock and of fossil fuel emissions that negatively impact our climate.

Born and raised in Philadelphia and later on the South Shore of Lake Superior, Ianni came to St. Paul as a teen and eventually attended the University of Minnesota. To support his growing family, he chose to work in utilities, first for NSP, then for Qwest, where he acted for eight years as a CWA union steward.

After a layoff in 2008, Ianni refocused his life and began Adonis Eco-Housing, a non-profit with a mission to create affordable, sustainable housing in the midst of the housing crisis, and later started Midway Green and Granite.

“When I take something on, I dedicate my life to it: to my family, to my alt energy non-profit, to my small business and to public service. Likewise I would dedicate myself to the duties and tasks of Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor.” –Ianni Houmas

So you know, if someone gets fired from a job because they racked up a bunch of speeding tickets, I don’t care. I was not impressed that he applied for unemployment, and appealed, despite the fact that he was terminated for cause, but it’s basically a “meh.”

If you got fired for cause but you say in your campaign materials that you were laid off, that’s a full-on lie. And given that this comes up when you Google his name, it’s a really stupid lie. I am even less impressed than I was before.

Conclusion: if this race is on your ballot, vote for Mara Magnuson Humphery.

Election 2016: St. Paul School Board

St. Paul is holding a Special Election for school board member at-large. This is to replace member Jean O’Connell, who resigned in protest after Superintendent Valeria Silva was fired. (The board appointed an interim person back in August, but Cedrick Baker is not running.)

On the ballot:

Eduardo Barrera
Tony Klehr
Cindy Kerr
Greg Copeland
Jeanelle Foster

Eduardo Barrera

Eduardo Barrera is an executive director at CLUES, a nonprofit that provides services and referrals to the Latino community. An article about the start times of St. Paul’s high schools mentioned him: “Eduardo Barrera, a parent of two elementary students who also sits on the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation board, said he had read up on the science before joining the steering committee. But, he said, like fellow committee members, he tries to keep an open mind.” (They didn’t end up moving start times later but it’s still under consideration.)

(Here’s the thing about later high school start times: they will improve learning outcomes, improve your graduation rate, lower teen pregnancy rates, and cut the death rate because of fewer people hit by sleepy teenage drivers. It is the winniest win/win of all win/wins, except for sports coaches, who like those early afternoon hours for practices.)

His website is pretty minimalist and includes the following platform: “Eliminate the persistent disparity in educational attainment; include voices of parents, teachers, and staff who support our children; ensure collaboration for the benefit of the district; increase enrollment levels and decrease classroom size; make every resident of Saint Paul proud of our public schools.”

That is the most boilerplate generic school board platform I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve sat through quite a few DFL endorsing conventions so I’ve heard a lot of generic boilerplate delivered out loud, fists raised, with cheering volunteers holding signs as backdrop.

That is really telling me less than nothing about what you will do with your seat.

He also tried for the interim position but not hard enough to show up on the day the school board made the selection (he had a meeting) and he didn’t try for DFL endorsement. He also didn’t turn in a website when he filled out his paperwork so there’s no link on the Secretary of State candidates list; I did find him when I googled, but it’s pretty far down the page. I’m a little dubious that he actually wants the job. Oh, there’s also no way to contact him from his campaign website. Hmm. Yeah. I’m increasingly skeptical. Next!

Tony Klehr

Okay, here’s what I was able to find out about Tony Klehr. He’s a teacher in the Stillwater Public Schools (a “Credit Recovery Teacher, Generalist,” which I’m guessing means he  works with students who’ve failed classes to make up the credits.) In the comments of a pissy Joe Soucheray column about the St. Paul school board, someone named Fred endorsed Tony and said he was a Republican. According to Tony’s mostly-private Facebook page, he graduated from Woodbury Senior High in 2004, and the U of M Duluth in 2010; also, it looks like he went to China in 2006, and it looks like it was with a student group. He has a selfie on the Great Wall that is captioned, “taken moments before i threw up all over the great wall. they may have a booming economy, but we have struck at the heart of their national diginity.”

Next!

Cindy Kerr

So, this is new: a GoFundMe page as a campaign website.

Cindy has two kids, both adopted from foster care. She pulled her son out of SPPS last year after what sounds like a very frustrating experience with the IEP process. When adopting from foster care, she had to take a bunch of training on fetal alcohol syndrome and other special needs; she clearly sees the lack of similar training in the Saint Paul Public Schools.

Other info I found: via LinkedIn, she’s a an “Engagement Manager” for a company called ClickSoft, and her employer and her job description are so absolutely saturated with buzzwords I have no earthly idea what she does. She’s on Twitter, but appears to use it mostly for her job. I also found her filing form. She also lives ridiculously close to me, like I could go knock on her door right now and ask her some questions. (She doesn’t have her campaign e-mail address on her GoFundMe but anyone who reads this and wants to follow up with her can try votecindykerr@gmail.com.)

My thoughts here: it sounds like she has some personal experience in a very specific area that would be useful, but it’s a really narrow experience, specific to her children. That’s where most of us start, actually, but for school board I like to see people who’ve got some broader experience, either via working or volunteering. It’s also clear that political campaigns are an opaque black box to her — a GoFundMe page is better than no website at all but she’s gotten exactly one donor since putting it up.

Cindy, if you’re reading this, I would encourage you to join the St. Paul Special Education Advisory Council. Volunteer for the campaign of a politician you like (maybe not this season, when you’re campaigning yourself, but next year or the year after). Attend your DFL precinct caucus and become a delegate to the City Convention. You’ll have the opportunity to see how campaigns work and if this is something you’d like to pursue, you’ll have a better base of knowledge (and connections) to go forward.

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a loud Republican, a perennial candidate, and the former extremely incompetent Maplewood city manager. He ran for school board two years ago, partly on the platform of firing Silva, and has not updated his website since Silva was fired. He’d like to see ward-based school board representation, like Minneapolis has — I tend to think this is a good idea, FWIW.

On his Biography page, he talks about how  every student should have an IEP created in consultation with parents, teachers, and guidance counselors. IEPs right now are created for special needs students and spell out goals and services. I’ve been through this process: it’s time-consuming. Doing this for every student would require a whole new layer of school bureaucracy. Of course, elsewhere he says that more money should go to teaching, and not to bureaucracy. To be fair, he doesn’t seem to consider guidance counselors to be the bureaucracy; he notes that the American School Counselor Association suggests that schools employ one guidance counselor for every 250 students, and the St. Paul schools have 435:1. (It’s not that I’m opposed to guidance counselors in the schools but asking the American School Counselor Association how many guidance counselors a school needs seems a little like asking a cosmetology school whether it’s really necessary to license hairdressers. This guy is solidly Republican so why guidance counselors, specifically, are the one form of non-teacher bureaucracy he thinks are awesome is something I’m kind of curious about.)

Anyway, it sounds ot me like his vision of the every-student-gets-an-IEP is that the process is less intensive than the current IEP process used for special needs students, but more intensive than parent-teacher conferences. He wants teachers, parents, and guidance counselors to set academic goals and address gaps with tutoring and other interventions. You know what, fundamentally I think this is a pretty good idea but it would cost a lot of money, and eliminating “failed, costly Silva era programs such as those operated by the Pacific Education Group” is going to round up relative pocket change. (He also suggests the technology levy funds be redirected. I am skeptical that this would work. On one hand, they’re spending money on iPads maintenance and so on but on the other hand, there are other things they were able to not spend money on like printed copies of a whole bunch of textbooks. I’m not saying that the iPads weren’t a stupid use of money — I’m saying, at this point, dumping them won’t save you much.) He then goes on to say in bold face font that no new funds or property tax levies will be required, because of course he does, he’s a Republican. This is bullshit.

I mean, okay. He says there are currently 85 counselors, and this is 1:435 and he wants 1:250 so let’s say we’re going to hire 75. That might be do-able with the money we’d otherwise be spending on stuff like PEC, maybe, but here’s the thing: the 1:250 is assuming the normal set of Guidance Counselor tasks. If you’re going to say that every student in St. Paul now gets an IEP, you’re going to need a lot more. If you’re going to say that students who’ve fallen behind will get tutoring or other interventions, you’re also going to need to hire an army of reading and math specialists who will do that tutoring. (They actually have a bunch of these people now, but that’s part of where some of that money that’s not going to classroom teachers and guidance counselors is going to.)

He says he wants to spend the maximum amount possible in the classroom, and says that he’d start budget cuts with the central administration, followed by an examination of School Support Services budget and the District-Wide Support Services budget.

So okay, the School Support Services budget is where you pay for those reading and math specialists who do the tutoring that kids needs to bring them up to speed. I imagine this is also where they pay for behavior specialists who deal with the kids who unruly and seriously disruptive, so that the teachers can teach rather than spending long periods of time dealing with kids who are being disruptive. The district-wide support services is where you get the people who go from school to school providing OT or PT or other services that a small number of students need. Do you want every child to be able to write and thus take the MCAs? Some students need OT and PT in order to be able to hold a pencil and make words on a page.

I mean, I could be making the wrong assumptions about how the money is allocated and who pays for what.

When I look back at our (frustrating) experiences in Minneapolis, there were absolutely staff members that I don’t know what the hell they did all day. In some cases they were definitely doing stuff, it just didn’t seem to bear any real relationship to what their job title suggested they might be doing. And I seriously don’t know what some of the central people were doing: not calling my kid’s teacher back ever, would be what one of them did all day, as far as I could tell. But there are also the people who test all the 3 and 4-year-olds for Kindergarten Readiness; there are the people who manage the central food services and the central transportation services. There are people who run community education, who investigate civil rights complaints, who help families who are experiencing homelessness, who make sure everyone’s checks get auto-deposited on schedule. Sure, some of the people in these offices are undoubtedy useless, lazy assholes like the person who never called my kid’s teacher back ever. Others are doing super useful work. I do not remotely trust Greg Copeland to be able to tell the difference.

On his main page he has a blog where he suggests that we should institute middle-school testing to sort all our kids into college-bound and vocational tracks, complains about “transgenders” using the bathroom, and advocates for vouchers.

Anyway, this guy is not my candidate.

Jeanelle Foster

Jeanelle (“Jeanie”) Foster was endorsed by the DFL at a tiny City Convention held a few months ago. (I got a phone call about it, I think even from Jeanie’s campaign, but was out of town that day.) According to her biography, she is a former teen mother who pulled herself out of poverty using the power of education and went on to become a teacher, then work at the Wilder Child Development Center to help struggling families get their kids through the system. Now she works as a Head Start administrator.

Her platform is another absolutely boilerplate set of goals: “Bring staff together and improve relationships with administration; Keep children and equity at the center of our decision-making and help the system to be more responsive; Increase parent and family engagement so kids and families can better navigate the system to find success.” Her background at least suggests she has experience with these specific things. (Increasing parent and family engagement was a component of her job at Wilder, I think.)

She’s my pick, and I’ll admit it’s heavily for her past experience. I have friends who went to college as single mothers, and they’re all frankly pretty amazing. The fact that she got a Master’s degree (!!!) after having a child at 16 shows that she’s someone who can work really hard and who knows to an intimate degree the transformational power of education.

If (like Greg) you’re suspicious enough of the central offices that you’d be hesitant enough to vote for anyone who’s worked there, I guess in that case I’d go for Eduardo Barrera. He’s been heavily engaged with the public schools in the past as a parent and citizen. I’m going to say that Tony Klehr is a flake, and Cindy Kerr is well-meaning but too inexperienced to jump into this particular job. Greg Copeland is the GOP equivalent of the socialists who want to fund things with gold pooped out by magical unicorns. (The GOP version of this is when you’re convinced that you can just check the trash cans for all the gold people are mindlessly throwing away because cut waste is the answer to everything, and the possibility that St. Paul spends a lot of money because it gets a lot of kids whose needs are more extreme than, say, Wayzata does, has not occurred to him.)

 

 

 

Election 2014 already

Apparently it’s election season again ALREADY.

Over on my old blog, I conscientiously and obsessively blogged about the Minneapolis mayoral race.  (It was an interesting year.)  The election came and went, they counted (which took a few days) and I hung up my political-blogging hat thinking, “done with THAT for a while.”

Picture of the Minnesota State Capitol dome.

Minnesota State Capitol. (From http://www.flickr.com/photos/mulad/)

But…it turns out that here in my new district in St. Paul, our State Rep, Michael Paymar, is retiring.  (He’s represented this district since 1996. So — for a while, although our State Senator, Dick Cohen, has been representing District 64 since 1986.)  The caucuses are in February (February 4th, I think; I wrote it down on the calendar) and the Senate District Convention is in March (late March, thank goodness! it shouldn’t interfere with MarsCon). And if things in this district run like things in my old district, odds are excellent that it’s the Senate District Convention that will effectively pick our next State Rep.

I mean, officially there is a primary, and there’s an election.  But the DFL endorsement holds an awful lot of weight in these races, and the DFL-endorsed candidate has a definite edge in the primary. And come the general election, well, I expect that a Republican will run, but I would be pretty shocked if they won.

(DFL = “Democratic-Farmer-Labor.”  It’s just the Minnesota name for the Democratic Party.)

Anyway. I feel much less well-informed in St. Paul, mostly because I have less of a sense of who the jerks are.  In Minneapolis, there are certain endorsements that people will put in their materials that will cause me to write them off unless they are also endorsed by the people I know I like, to balance them out.  I’m sure St. Paul has a similar crowd of People I Would Hate, If I Knew Who They Were, but I don’t know who they are yet.  (Does that mean I pay more attention to who you know, than what you believe?  Well, not exactly.  It’s more that I pay more attention to who your buddies are, than I pay to what you say you believe.)

This is all preamble to note that I got a phone call this evening from Matt Freeman, a candidate to replace Michael Paymar.  He gets points for being the first candidate to call me, although mid-December is honestly a point at which even I do not really want to be thinking about elections.  We chatted a little (I told him I’d moved last year from Jim Davnie’s district; he wanted to know why I moved, and it wasn’t until I was telling him my answer that it occurred to me that I might be tipping my hand about how best he could craft his pitch.  I don’t think he did, though.)  I wrote down the caucus date and his name and then told him to go ahead and give me his pitch.

The two big issues he talked about were (1) raising the minimum wage, and (2) improving the opportunity gap with Early Childhood education.

Having listened to that amazing This American Life episode about free universal preschool as well as having read about studies, I’m on board with Early Childhood education funding as a potential panacea for the opportunity gap.  I’m also a fan of raising the minimum wage, although I was curious what he wanted to raise it to.   Matt said he thought $9.50 was achievable although he would prefer $10.50; he also wants to peg it to inflation and to work for mandatory sick leave and parental leave.  (Universal paid sick leave is one of those “everybody wins” sorts of ideas.  Totally aside from the fact that letting sick people stay home is the humane and reasonable thing to do, I do not want people with the stomach flu handling my food.)

I asked him about his stance on gun control (which has been one of Michael Paymar’s signature issues, not that he’s had much success with it.)  He talked about background checks and mental health screenings, which is actually a huge red flag for me because what exactly does that mean? Does this mean that people who seek help for mental illnesses are going to go into a database accessible to gun salespeople? Because no. I’m a big fan of medical privacy, particularly regarding mental health records.  He backpedaled when I asked for details and it was clear he hadn’t thought about this much.

One thing he had thought about was that we needed to work harder to figure out how to sell gun control to outstate Minnesotans.  And he’s right about that. Minnesota has a strong hunting culture in the rural parts of the state, and guns just have a different place in people’s lives when they live in the country as opposed to the city.

(My friend Elizabeth, who is a Quaker and a committed pacifist, bought a gun when she moved to the country, because they were raising chickens and were troubled with possums. In the city, if a possum moves into your garage, you can call Animal Control.  In the country, you have to deal with this stuff yourself, and that means either owning a gun, or having a neighbor with a gun.)

Anyway. He does not have a smooth, polished political pitch down yet, and I’m wondering now how long he’s been making these calls.  You would think people would start with the people who’ve been to caucuses in the past, but we haven’t been to a caucus in this district yet so presumably he got my number off the voter registration records and that suggests he’s cold-calling registered voters.  Seems impractical, but what do I know about this stuff?  (He was Chris Coleman’s campaign manager so I expect he knows what he’s doing.)

There are currently seven people running for this seat, I think. (All of them Democrats.) In looking for information, I discovered that someone else is already obsessively blogging about this race, relieving me of the responsibility: http://www.theracefor64b.com/  I’ll probably write about it anyway, though.