Voters in St. Paul will choose a new Mayor Tuesday. With Norm Coleman not seeking a third term, the race to succeed him has been a hard fought contest between Randy Kelly and Jay Benanav. The candidates met at the Fitzgerald Theater Sunday for the final debate of the campaign.
The meeting clarified and highlighted some of the differences in philosophy between City Council member Jay Benanav and state Sen. Randy Kelly, both of whom are DFLers. Their debate capped a week in which Kelly had accused Benanav of negative campaigning. Kelly says ads sponsored by Benanav supporters distort Kelly's views on privatizing city services.
The question came up early at the Fitzgerald. Benanav cited the report of a 1998 task force on which Kelly served. The report said it's not necessary for the city to own and operate all the services it provides.
Benanav says Kelly is on record backing the sale of city resources. "There is nothing negative about talking about someone's record. If you tell the truth, there's nothing wrong with raising those issues. What I have done in the last few days, what some of my supporters have done in the last few days, is tell the truth. You can't run away from your record," he said.
Kelly says the group's report described a system of managed competition. He says they talked about taking bids from vendors to provide services such as animal control or tree trimming, but not paramedical services. "Never do we talk about, nor have I ever advocated the selling of essential city services, particularly in a time since Sept. 11 would we consider for a moment selling emergency medical services. It's nonsense. It's scare tactics," Kelly said.
An audience member asked about a comment from a previous debate in which Kelly suggested St. Paul provide fire safety services to nearby suburbs for a fee. Kelly explained that St. Paul already provides protection to the 3M campus and Fort Snelling, which are outside the city limits. He thinks there's merit in letting more jurisdictions hire St. Paul's safety personnel.
"That's entrepreneurship," Kelly said. "Because of the talent that we have in this city, we can do that. We receive money for it and it's a way we develop revenue streams so that we can have an even stronger fire and police department. That's entrepreneurship."
Benanav does not like the idea of St. Paul safety officers working for other cities. "I think our first priority is to St. Paul residents. I think we have difficulty as it is providing the protection we need to our citizens. We've done a good job with the fiscal constraints we have. But I think we ought to focus on what's most important to the citizens of St. Paul when it comes to public safety," Benanav said.
Benanav says a housing shortage is one of the most important issues confronting the city. He wants to maximize library hours and rec center services and rules out a city funding package for a baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins. "The vision for St. Paul should not be subsidized housing for the Twins, but should be housing for all people in St. Paul, for our libraries, for our neighborhoods. That's where our focus ought to be and that's what I would be doing as mayor of St. Paul," he said.
Kelly says if Major League Baseball reorganizes its finances in a way that includes salary caps and more revenue sharing among teams, then he would consider putting city funds toward a new stadium. "I would sit down with the Twins, I would sit down with the business community, with the stakeholders in St. Paul. If there was a way that you could put together a common sense plan to get the Twins to St. Paul , you bet. Any leader would be stupid not to try that," Kelly said.
Even the loser of the mayoral election will continue serving St. Paul. Kelly and Benanav each have two years left in their state Senate and City Council terms, respectively. Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.