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Campaign Profile: Randy Kelly
By William Wilcoxen
Minnesota Public Radio
November 1, 2001
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Voters in St. Paul choose a new mayor on Tuesday. State Sen. Randy Kelly and City Council member Jay Benanav have had plenty of chances to debate each other, and those meetings have clarified the candidates' differences. Kelly, who has been endorsed by outgoing Mayor Norm Coleman, says he will continue down the path Coleman has set for the city.

St. Paul mayoral candidate Randy Kelly works the phones on primary election night, Sept. 11. He faces Jay Benanav in the November 6 election to succeed Norm Coleman as mayor.
(Photo courtesy of the Kelly campaign)

Randy Kelly has not changed his campaign priorities since September 11. But he has become more forceful about emphasizing the one at the top of the list.

"Let me be perfectly clear. The number one priority of government under a Randy Kelly administration will be public safety. We know that the challenges that lie before us are many. But so, too, are the opportunities. What we can ill afford today, in my opinion, is to take a radically different path to the future. We must have a steady hand on the helm," Kelly says.

In campaign appearances and debates, Kelly reminds audiences that Benanav has been a critic of outgoing Mayor Norm Coleman. Kelly says St. Paul has blossomed in eight years under Coleman, and he wants to continue that work.

"I want to build on the great progress that we've made over the last several years," Kelly says. "I've been proud to be a part of the team that has helped to propel St. Paul forward. I think we need to continue to build on the momentum."

Kelly's admirers include some of those who've worked with him at the Capitol during his 27 years as a legislator. He's gained a reputation as a dealmaker adept at forging compromises.

"He is tanacious - he will take risks," says state Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, a former St. Paul city official who supports Kelly. "He knows how to work with people with different perspectives, and reach some consensus to get something important done for the pepole who live here. He's not always pleasant about it. I've seen him when he's angry, and God love him for that. You want somebody that has some passion and is committed to getting something done."

Outgoing mayor Norm Coleman (left) has endorsed Randy Kelly (right) in the race. Kelly has also been endorsed by the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. His opponent, Jay Benanav, has the endorsement of the DFL Party.
(MPR file photo)

Kelly's opponent complains that people with little political power get left out of the senator's negotiating sessions. Jay Benanav says the city council made a point of including the NAACP in talks leading to an anti-racial profiling policy, and invited Fort Road area residents to talks about how to put a busway through their neighborhood. Benanav says those groups were left out of similar discussions Kelly organized at the Capitol. Benanav says a mayor should include all affected parties when brokering a deal.

"The way to do it is to sit down with people, understand their issues, and move forward - not to do it in the back rooms - whether it's City Hall or the Capitol."

Benanav criticizes Kelly for clinging to the past accomplishments of the Coleman administration, instead of charting his own course for the future. Kelly responds that he knows the world has changed recently. He says he wants to reassure St. Paulites by providing consistent leadership.

"We can't forget that everything today is about the economy. The business community, investors, residents will continue to invest in this city if they have hope and confidence," says Kelly. "And as mayor, I will do nothing to undermine the hope that has been created in this city over the past eight years."

Kelly brought his guitar to several campaign events this summer, but has cut down on his personal appearances in recent weeks. His campaign is focusing on contacting voters by telephone and through the mail. Kelly staff say strong voter turnout would benefit their candidate.

Some analysts theorize that Benanav, who is endorsed by the DFL Party, will have the support of many regular voters. Kelly, on the other hand, may get more of his support from the ranks of occasional voters.

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