When a City Councilmember named Chris stood up against Corporate America: Will a Mayor named Chris do it again with Ford Motor Company?


In 1998 then Mayor Norm Coleman, along with leaders of St. Paul Companies, had worked out a development agreement to expand the existing footprint of St. Paul Companies.

As envisioned, when completed, the project would have added nearly 1,000 new employees, a new office tower and a parking ramp across St. Peter Street from its downtown headquarters.

Standing in the way of this project was a hot dog.

Or, more specifically, a building owned by a family that had a restaurant that used to make hot dogs:  The Coney Island.

Then City Councilmember Chris Coleman lead the fight to stop the project.

In doing so he railed against the interests of corporate America against those of the people.

He sided with local preservationists who insisted that the building was a historic landmark and the family that owned the building.

In the end it was the people, and not the big corporations, that won the day as City Councilmember Chris Coleman bested Mayor Norm Coleman and the project was shelved.

Nearly 20 years later it is Mayor Chris Coleman who is standing on the side of corporate America against the people.

This time, however, there is no City Councilmember with the first name “Chris” standing up against a Mayor Coleman or corporate America.

This time the Councilmember with the first name “Chris” as in Chris Tolbert is standing with corporate America to roll over tens of thousands of neighbors who are objecting to the Ford site zoning plan.

By now you have heard the story.  This plan will not just add 10,000 more people to a plot of land that is less than 130 acres in size.

It will add up to 30,000 new vehicle trips a day to neighborhood streets.

It will remove recreational fields.  It fails to dramatically increase greenspace.

Ten story high-rises will blanket the site and block the view of the Mississippi River viewscape.

It will take, by some accounts, $275 million in taxpayer subsidies and put it in the pockets of private developers.

Worse, because of the City’s claims that it is effectively being held hostage by Ford Motor Company, it will reward that same company with an indemnification that means any future claims for pollution will be the responsibility of taxpayers – not Ford Motor Company.

That indemnification is called the Ford Site Public Realm Master Plan.

Time and time again the City (lead by Mayor Chris Coleman) and those advocating the hardest for this plan (lead by City Councilmember Chris Tolbert) have insisted their hands are tied when it comes to negotiating with Ford about what a potential developer may, in the future, be able to build on the site.

Which is remarkable that both politicians, Chris and Chris, are unwilling to stand up to these type of bullying tactics.

Especially when being bullied by corporate America.

In his campaign for Governor the current Mayor takes great pride in his City – and he should.  He has done many great things for it as both a Councilmember and a Mayor.

He has built an impressive resume and a solid argument for why he could be a successful Governor for our state.

Yet, he is quiet on the impact of corporate America on tens of thousands of residents in his City.

There is no mention of his hands being tied by corporate interests headquartered in Detroit that will result in a zoning plan that will destroy the lives of thousands of residents living in his City – St. Paul.

Where is that populist rhetoric that tells Ford Motor Company, “My City’s interests, not yours, are what I represent.”

I remember the days when Councilmember Chris Coleman took the battle to a powerful Mayor and powerful corporate interests – and won.

He angered a lot of powerful people in St. Paul.  So many that people wondered whether he had much of a political future after that.

Yet, he stood up for the little guy nearly 20 years ago in stopping what many conceived was a badly conceived plan – despite the risk to his political future.

Today, there is no Councilmember Chris standing up for the little guy.

The question is, will Mayor Chris do it for him?

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