Since its incorporation in 1854 the City of St. Paul has had 54 Mayors.
All of them men.
All of them white.
Across the river in Minneapolis the voters of that community have elected two women, including the city’s first African American Mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, as its 45th Mayor in 1993.
In 2018 the voters of St. Paul should usher in a new era for the City by electing a Mayor that is not another white guy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a white man. The current Mayor is a white man. I think he’s done a solid job leading the City since first being elected. I haven’t agreed with every decision he’s made or policy he has pursued or enacted. I don’t know that I’ve ever agreed with every decision or policy of any politician I have supported throughout my life.
I don’t think white men should forever be excluded from being elected Mayor of St. Paul.
In fact, I know of a few white men that would like to be the Mayor of St. Paul. I suspect any number of them could do a decent job of being the city’s next Mayor.
But, I also know a lot of qualified men and women of color that could be Mayor of St. Paul and I believe that any number of them would do an outstanding job of being the city’s next Mayor.
I don’t advocate the election of someone other than a white man as Mayor of St. Paul as some symbolic gesture.
Quite the contrary.
We live in a community that is as divided, as it is united, at any given time.
Recent peaceful protests – and the handful of violent riots – have underscored that racial discord has not lessened over the years. Nor has it dissipated as the result of the election of the nation’s first African American President.
Electing someone who is not a white male as the next Mayor doesn’t guarantee that there will be a sudden lessening of the racial divide that keeps far too many of us from working with one another to improve our community for everyone.
What it can do, however, is eliminate another barrier to political power and influence that is, I believe, at the core of what must be wielded to create sustainable and meaningful change in our society.
Political power always has been, is, will be and should be the tool and weapon of choice of any American who wants to see real, systemic and sustainable change.
Without political power the path to changing public policy is steep and difficult and time consuming.
And, let me be clear – political power is not just the right to vote – although the right to vote remains a powerful weapon in the arsenal of democracy.
St. Paul’s glass ceiling of political power needs to be shattered.
And, it seems that 160 years with only white men being elected Mayor of the state’s Capitol City is long enough for that glass ceiling to be holding back political power for others in our City.
St. Paul, despite the good work of our current Mayor, has significant challenges ahead of it.
One of those challenges is a barrier to political power for men and women of color in St. Paul.
Of the 7 members of the St. Paul City Council, only one is a person of color.
Of the St. Paul Legislative Delegation of 12, only three are people of color.
Of the 7 members of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, only two are people of color.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the important public service that has been provided by every single individual who has had the courage to seek and hold public office.
Regardless of one’s race, the decision to run for public office – and to be an elected official – is an act of personal commitment and sacrifice.
While it is an honor and privilege to serve it should not be ignored that is has become more difficult of a job than ever before.
I’ve found throughout my life and involvement in politics and public policy that is easy to stand up and call for progress. It is far more difficult to be willing to make it so.
For every Facebook post and every Tweet, I have read from my white friends calling themselves and others out for our white privilege there is another from someone else calling white privilege a myth.
Myth or not, this much is true: The single greatest way to eliminate white privilege in politics is not a post on social media – but removing the barrier to political power.
Societal change. Policy change. Cultural change.
All of these change over time because of changing perspectives, beliefs and demographics.
Generational change in America is as old as America itself.
The barriers to change are torn down in America in many ways, for different reasons, at different times.
In St. Paul, it is clear there is one major barrier to political power.
It’s the wall that has kept everyone, but white guys, from being elected to the office located on the 3rd Floor of City Hall.
St. Paul, tear down that wall.