The 7 Mayors of St. Paul: When 7 is less than 1


I truly believe that the most important public office in America is the position of Mayor.

I don’t care how big your town or city is in this country.  The Mayor is the difference between a City that is moving forward or a City that is standing still.

The Mayor sets the tone.  Even in weak Mayor systems like Minneapolis the Mayor is the heart and soul of the City.  Mayor R.T. Rybak had little true power in Minneapolis. But, he had the bully pulpit.  He used it.  And, for the time he served as Mayor of Minneapolis there was no question who led that City.

The City’s current Mayor may hold the title but she doesn’t hold the prestige or the power that Rybak held during his time in Office.  Former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton not only held the title but it was abundantly clear that she led the state’s largest City.

In St. Paul today, a City with a strong Mayor system, there is a vacuum.  While I have voted for Chris Coleman in the past, and I believe that Chris did a good job as Mayor, his campaign for Governor clearly is distracting him from that job.

In the vacuum is a 7-member City Council who all think they are Mayor.  Much like the United States Senate in which 100 members of the body think they are President, or should be President, the St. Paul City Council is now calling the shots for the direction of our Capitol City.

Sadly, this didn’t begin when the current Mayor announced his candidacy.  It began long before his official announcement as his planning and preparation for his candidacy began.

Which may have been shortly before or shortly after being re-elected to his current term of office.

While simple math might suggest that 7 is better than 1 when it comes to leading St. Paul it is not.

In fact, it is downright terrifying.

Imagine 7 City Councilmembers, all far left of center, deciding that their ideology and priorities should be the future of St. Paul.

You don’t have to imagine it.  It has been happening for some time now.

The Ford Plant development scheme?  It has been advanced by my own City Councilmember – who, I have voted for – in a way that would suggest that he believes provides him an opportunity to be the Mayor of the Ford Plant.

Which, under his vision and those City Planners pursuing their own vision, might actually be what is created in that space:  The City of Ford Plant.


Then there’s the Ward Two Councilmember and others with her vision that believe that West 7th Street should look like a Rice-a-Roni Commercial.

For those of us old enough to remember those it involved a San Francisco Streetcar with some odd screed that Rice-a-Roni was the “San Francisco Treat.”

I’ve had Rice-a-Roni and if that is what they consider a treat in San Francisco I would encourage us all to join others in the West 7th Street neighborhood in opposing streetcars.

Or the Ward Four Councilmember who has created a power center that is all his own.  He wields that power in ways that result in bike lanes in nearly every corner of the City.

There’s no strategy behind that vision.  There is, however, an agenda.  That would be his.  And, his agenda is to be the Mayor of the City of Bike Lanes.

The Ward One City Councilmember’s agenda is pretty clear.  He wants to be the Mayor of St. Paul.

He is best known for bashing the men and women of the St. Paul Police Department and our Police Chief. I don’t know what else he stands for.  But what he is best known for thus far should be a clue to how he intends to lead the City.

The Ward 7 Councilmember, will in time, find her own voice of Ward Mayoralism.  I know that’s not technically a word.  But, she is technically not the Mayor.  It won’t stop her from soon believing she is equally empowered as the Mayor.  She just won’t feel like she has to be the Mayor.

The Ward 5 Councilmember is an intriguing sort of person.  To be honest I thought she already would be a candidate for Mayor.  I know there are those who are disappointed that she is not.  I also know there are those who supported her initial candidacy that are disappointed she hasn’t stood with them in the way she said she would.

Perhaps as a Mayor she could do more than be one of the 7 Mayors of the City Council and demonstrate her promise as a leader.  That, however, appears unlikely as the campaign for Mayor drags on through the month of April.

Then there is the Ward 6 Councilmember.  You know, the one who walked out of a meeting when community “activists” were attacking the men and women of the St. Paul Police Department.  Yes, that one.

The guy who, when asked about it afterwards, disappointed anybody who believed it was an act of courage and simply said, “The meeting was done.  There’s was nothing left to talk about.”

These 7 are now are de facto Mayors of St. Paul.

When a new Mayor is elected will he or she have the courage, the ability or the inclination to challenge the 7 Mayors of the St. Paul City Council?

It would be important and necessary for us to know that during this campaign for Mayor.

At the moment none of those candidates running have addressed the power vacuum in City Hall.  I suspect a large reason for this is out of respect for the current occupant of the Office.

I presume that at least some of those candidates are still hoping for the current occupant to bless them with his endorsement.  Even though he clings fast to the public statement that he is neutral.

I would assume, and I could be wrong, that his neutrality will soon be overwhelmed by his desire to secure the support of those who are leading the campaign of the current frontrunner for Mayor.

For their support for his own campaign for Governor is going to be critical and essential as more candidates like Tim Walz and others begin to enter what promises to be a gubernatorial free-for-all.

As a professed and forever non-candidate for Mayor, ever, I’m still struggling with my choice for Mayor in this election.  I want to find my passion for one of them.

So far I am seeing in my City’s future a lot of Mayors of St. Paul.

And, not one of them will sitting in the office in Suite 390 of City Hall.

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