ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With the election just 12 days away the mayoral race in the Capital City is still too hard to call, and there's still no public polling yet to help pundits predict the outcome.
The office on the third floor of City Hall is up for grabs because the popular incumbent, Mayor Chris Coleman, decided not to seek a fourth term. In fact, this is the first time since 2001 that St. Paul voters won't find an incumbent's name on the mayoral ballot.
"The house is on fire in Saint Paul," Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs told KARE.
"We’ve got two well-organized, well-funded candidates in Carter and Harris. They’ve each got strong constituencies, but this is a race that’s going to be difficult to call."
There are ten names on the ballot this year, but the five candidates that have emerged as the strongest in field are former St. Paul City Council members Melvin Carter III and Pat Harris, current City Council member Dai Thao, Green Party endorsed candidate Elizabeth Dickinson and former school board member Tom Goldstein.
Carter and Harris have, thus far, led in the fundraising battle. But with Ranked Choice Voting, 2nd and 3rd choices could come into play.
"This could be the kind of tight race where it’s not only who you voted for as your favorite candidate, but who you vote for as the second, or even third-ranked candidate," Jacobs asserted.
Saint Paul is the state's second largest city and has an annual budget of roughly $500 million.
"As mayor you're you’ve got everything from police, to fire, libraries, rec centers and filling pot holes," Erin Dady, a former chief of staff for Mayor Chris Coleman, told KARE.
"So it takes a really diverse skill set to do this job well."
The city's leader also must manage a budget that fluctuates based on the whims of state lawmakers who set appropriations for state aid to cities. It was traditionally thought of a way to reimburse cities for part of the tax revenue they send to the State's coffers, but more recently has been treated more as discretionary spending.
"I think mayor of the City of Saint Paul is one of the most important executive positions in the entire state of Minnesota," Dady remarked. "And that’s because it’s a strong mayor system with a large budget."
Melvin Carter III served six years on the City Council, before leaving to take a job as executive director of Gov. Mark Dayton's Children's Cabinet. He's part of a family with deep St. Paul roots. His father Melvin Carter Jr. was a St. Paul police officer for 30 years, and his mother Toni Carter is a Ramsey County Commissioner.
Elizabeth Dickinson is a long-time clean energy and environmental advocate, who served as community affairs manager for the MN AIDS Project. She's currently working as a life coach, speaker and writer. If she were to win the election, Dickinson would be the first female mayor in St. Paul's 159-year history.
Dai Thao joined the City Council in 2013 in a special election in 2013, then won a full term in 2015. He came to Minnesota from Laos at the age of 8 back in 1983 as part of a wave of Hmong migration to the state. Thao worked as an IT consultant and community organizer for Take Action Minnesota and ISAIAH before becoming a council member.
Pat Harris spent 12 years on the St. Paul City Council, and is currently serving on the Metropolitan Airports Commission. The St. Paul native works at BMO Harris Bank as a public finance banker, dealing with finance for local municipalities and school districts.
Tom Goldstein has become known as an ardent opponent of publicly subsidized big ticket sports venues such as the CHS stadium in Lowertown St. Paul, as well as MLS soccer stadium planned for the Midway area. Goldstein was on the St. Paul School Board for one term, and ran for City Council in 2015.
Candidate Profiles: For complete profiles of all the candidates, go to this link on the KARE politics page.