Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Kelly, Coleman square off in St. Paul mayoral debate

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St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly and Chris Coleman held their first mayoral debate since the primary election last month. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
The two candidates for St. Paul mayor each tried to persuade St. Paul's business leaders that they're the most business-friendly candidate on Tuesday. Incumbent Randy Kelly and challenger Chris Coleman made their cases at a forum sponsored by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

St. Paul, Minn. — Kelly and Coleman haven't held a debate since the primary. Coleman finished first in that contest with 52 percent of the vote. Kelly came in second with 27 percent. Turnout was low, at 16 percent.

Since then Kelly has claimed he enjoys being the underdog in the race. But Kelly is no underdog with business leaders.

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed Kelly. And at the chamber's forum, the mayor did his best to remind the audience of what he's done for the city over the past four years. He says he has kept every promise that he made as a candidate.

"We have kept a rein on spending and taxes in this city and we have maintained high quality services. We have lowered crime over the past four years. This year we will add 2,300 additional jobs, many more corporate headquarters will be calling St. Paul their home," according to Kelly.

Kelly says he has managed the city well even though he had to deal with $56 million in cuts in state aid. Kelly made it clear he thinks Coleman would align himself with people who would push for higher taxes.

"Who would Chris Coleman surround himself with, and who would he be following in terms of the direction for the city? Now is it Progressive Minnesota? Is it the Green Party, who wants to impose income tax over here in the city of St. Paul? Is that who you want to turn the city back over to?" Kelly asked.

Progressive Minnesota has endorsed Coleman, but Coleman says the mayor is stretching the facts.

"I know we're close to Halloween, but I didn't realize that the Green Party was replacing ghosts and goblins. I'm not a member of the Green Party, but apparently the mayor thinks I am. You know, just throwing people's names out or organizational names out and then somehow it's supposed to scare you all into thinking that I'm the anti-business candidate, or I'm the person that's going to destroy business. That's just silly," he said.

Coleman says his record on the City Council from 1997 to 2003 speaks to his support for business.

"You know that I worked side-by-side with the business community to develop housing on the upper landing, to bring the U.S. Bank building to the West side flats, to work with businesses across the city. I'm not saying that we're always going to agree on everything, but the fact of the matter is: I'm going to work with you, we're going to get things done, we're going to make a strong economy for the city of St. Paul," Coleman said.

Responding to questions form the audience, Kelly said he believes if Coleman becomes mayor, he would pass a living-wage ordinance that would drive business away from St. Paul. A living wage ordinance would require employers who receive city subsidies to pay wages above minimum wage.

"I'll ask you folks, you're in business. Do you think you ought to pay an intern maybe, for example, 17- or 18-year-old intern $12.34 cents an hour? If you think that is going to encourage, Chris, any business from doing that, think again," Kelly said.

Coleman says Kelly doesn't understand what the living wage proposal stands for.

"I do support a living-wage ordinance. And I think it's an appropriate thing to do. To say that the kind of jobs that we want to attract to the city of St. Paul are jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour, or provide health care and benefits for their employees," he said.

The candidates will have several more opportunities to distinguish themselves from one another. There are 12 more mayoral debates scheduled before the Nov. 8 general election.