Randy Kelly claimed a narrow victory over Jay Benanav in the St. Paul mayor's race. Unofficial final returns show Kelly winning by 403 votes out of more than 60,000 ballots cast. Kelly was endorsed by outgoing Mayor Norm Coleman. He says his win shows Saint Paul residents want a continuation of Coleman's leadership style.
The ballot counting went late into the night in Minnesota's capital city. By the end of a long day at the end of a long campaign, Randy Kelly's parting words to his supporters did not come easily. "Let us rejoice in democracy this evening. Let us join with one another to make a great city even better," he said.
While Minneapolis residents voted for change, Kelly says St. Paulites voted for more of the same. Of course, some change became inevitable once Norm Coleman decided not to seek a third term as mayor.
But while City Council member Jay Benanav argued that changing times call for new directions from new leadership, state Sen. Kelly campaigned on Coleman's record as much as his own. Kelly told supporters he'll do his best to carry on Coleman's work in City Hall. "I said before - throughout this campaign - that now is not the time to radically change direction and we won't. We will build upon the progress of the last eight years and we will do so with your energy, your vision, and your commitment," he said.
Citing the extremely close outcome, Benanav said good night to his supporters without conceding defeat. "I told you earlier we were in the bottom of the ninth inning. Well, we may be going into extra innings. Our plan now is to wait until the morning, see the official figures, analyze them, and then see what the next step will be," he said.
One St. Paul precinct ran out of ballots and resorted to giving voters photocopied ballots, which then had to be counted by hand rather than with an optical scanner.
Since the margin of victory is more than 100 votes, a recount is not automatic. That means if Benanav asks for a recount, he would be billed for its cost.
If Kelly's victory is certified, it will mark the third straight St. Paul mayoral election in which the DFL-endorsed candidate has been defeated. But Kelly, a DFLer himself, says that should not weaken the city's reputation as a Democratic stronghold. Instead, he says, it should be a signal to the party leadership. "The message I would say it has to send to the DFL is that they have to be less concerned about ideology and less concerned about political correctness and a lot more concerned about putting out candidates that resonate with a message to the average person out there on the main street," Kelly said.
In his campaign, Kelly consistently called public safety his number one priority. Benanav maintains a housing crunch is St. Paul's most pressing issue. To outgoing Mayor Coleman another concern rises above both. "The most pressing issue is the economy. It's jobs. We've had a terrible impact of Sept. 11 - recreation, the hotels, the motels, tourism - and it impacts some of our major companies; the 3M's, the Ecolabs, the St. Paul Companies. So the next mayor is going to have to work closely with the business community to keep job growth in this community. That is the major issue," Coleman said.
Kelly says he foresees no difficulties working with a city council that includes Benanav. Benanav and Council member Kathy Lantry, one of his campaign co-chairs, have complained during the past few years that Coleman has done a poor job of including the council in important decisions. Lantry expects the council-mayor relationship will improve.
"Jay's leadership on some of the projects the mayor's presented to us. He's asked a lot of tough questions and the deals have gotten better. That kind of work will continue. And all of us want to have a good working relationship with the administration," said Lantry.
Saint Paul's City Council wasn't up for election this year, so Benanav retains his council seat. Kelly assumes the mayor's office in January. A special election will be needed to fill his seat in the state Senate.