St. Paul welcomed its new mayor today Friday. A full roster of St. Paul political leaders were on hand as Randy Kelly was sworn in as the city's first mayor to hail from its East Side.
He was born in North Dakota, but Randy Kelly moved to St. Paul as a child. His Irish Catholic, East Side roots shone during his mayoral inauguration. He entered the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts to the drone of bagpipes, and an Irish air was among the subsequent music performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Gov. Jesse Ventura had some opening remarks. Soon after his own inauguration, Ventura complained on national television about the dificulties navigating St. Paul's serpentine streets, suggesting the city's Irish founders had been into their cups. But on this day, the governor had only good tidings for the capital city and its new leader.
"Rest assured, I won't be asking you to straighten out the streets of St. Paul. I can find my way around a whole lot better now," Ventura said.
Kelly's predecessor, Norm Coleman, enjoyed overwhelming voter support in each of his two mayoral victories. Kelly used Coleman's endorsement prominently in his campaign, but defeated City Council member Jay Benanav by just 403 votes last fall. Kelly described the need to maintain the momentum of the Coleman years, while also charting his own course as mayor.
"I'm prepared to lead our administration into the next phase of our renaissance - mindful of the past eight years but also very much committed. Committed to establish our own vision of accomplishment for the next eight years. My friends, it is morning again in St. Paul."
In his last inaugural speech, Norm Coleman quoted Winston Churchill and Colin Powell, among others. Kelly, in reflecting on his East Side roots, borrowed words from Garrison Keillor and from St. Paul the Apostle. Kelly remembered a Keillor broadcast in which the Prairie Home Companion host commended the people of Grand Forks, N.D., for their resilience after flood and fire.
"And he said, 'It is a tribute to just the sheer stubbornness and human will that Grand Forks is what it is today. That it refuses to die and go under.' And that's the spirit of the East Side. But it's truly the spirit of St. Paul," Kelly said.
It's hard to explain why - until now - St. Paul has never had an East Sider as mayor. Geographically, the area covers about one-third of the city. It has produced prominent citizens, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Warren Berger and Harry Blackmun. City Council member Kathy Lantry, who represents the southern part of the East Side, suspects the blue collar mentality may be a factor.
"East Siders quietly put their nose to the grindstone, do their work. There are a ton of famous East Siders, we just don't go around chatting them up," Lantry said.
City Council President Dan Bostrom represents the northeast part of St. Paul. Bostrom says a few neighborhoods on the western end of town traditionally produced most of the city's political activists, especially when city council members were elected on an at-large basis, rather than by district.
"Up until we went to the ward system about 20 years ago, if you put a pin down at Lexington and Grand and then drew a string out one mile and go around in a circle, you'd find that most of your elected officials came from within that circle," Bostrom said.
While Kelly paid tribute to his home neighborhood, he also emphasized his readiness to bring together all the people of the city.
"You are my partners, my friends, my neighbors, my family. You are St. Paul. And each and every day in this city your mayor will awake ready to do good deeds, to work with good people, to call forth good works. Together, we will make a great city even better. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless St. Paul."
Kelly said public safety, housing, transportation, and education will be priorities for his administration.