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St. Paul candidates make last push for votes

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St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly is in the fight of his political life in his race for reelection. Many city voters say they're angry he endorsed Republican President George Bush in 2004. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
In St. Paul, Mayor Randy Kelly's support for President Bush has been a dominant issue in his campaign for reelection. The DFL mayor's endorsement of the Republican president in 2004 has hurt Kelly badly, in a city that's a Democratic stronghold. After facing off in their final debate on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program, Kelly and challenger Chris Coleman headed out for some final campaigning.

St. Paul, Minn. — Mayor Kelly and his campaign took a whirlwind tour through four senior living highrises Monday afternoon.

Lois Vogel, 78, met the mayor at the Iowa Street Tower community room. She says she's not sure who she'll vote for, but she's leaning toward Randy Kelly.

"I like him personally. You can ask him direct questions and get direct answers," she says.

Vogel says she liked Kelly's answer about why he endorsed George W. Bush for president in August 2004.

"I wanted an explanation on that, and I got it. He said it was like a partnership, where he wanted to go in and ask for more money, and he got it," says Vogel.

Kelly has said his relationship with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty helped get the city $7.5 million in state aid for the 2006 budget.

Vogel says she thinks the media has overplayed Kelly's endorsement.

Still, recent polls show 6 out of 10 voters are choosing challenger Chris Coleman over Kelly. And many say the Bush endorsement is what's leading them away from Kelly.

At midafternoon, Chris Coleman was campaigning on St. Paul's east side, stopping at restaurants and businesses on Payne Ave.

Mike Horsh shook hands and chatted with Coleman in Magnolia's restaurant. Horsh is a taxi driver and says he talks to people all day. He considers Coleman a shoo-in for mayor.

Horsh says people in St. Paul are not satisfied with Randy Kelly and are angry about the mayor's endorsement of President Bush last year.

"Very much so. Very, very, very much so. That was one of the major things they were talking about just behind the restaurant the other night," says Horsh.

As the final hours tick by in the campaign, it's apparent the Bush endorsement will haunt Kelly all the way into Election Day.

In the final debate, the first question Kelly faced was whether the Bush endorsement should be a major factor in the election.

"Well, I guess that's up to the people of St. Paul," Kelly responded. "I made a decision last year based on principle. I stand by that. If people of St. Paul want to disregard a record of four years of accomplishment, and not look at the vision that I've laid out for the city of St. Paul, obviously that's up to them."

Kelly said if voters judged him on his record, they would see that he's held the line on taxes. Kelly did propose raising the property taxes 3 percent for the upcoming 2006 budget. He says the money will be used for additional police and firefighter staffing.

Kelly said he has done a good job as mayor under difficult budget circumstances, and he deserves a second term.

"St. Paul's prospering. It's well-run, it's lean. It's an efficient city. We're keeping a check on taxes and spending. It's one of the safest cities in our nation. We're building 5,000 quality housing in this city," said Kelly.

Coleman agreed the city is headed in an "OK" direction. But, he said St. Paul can do better. He said his experience as a public defender, prosecutor and St. Paul city council member for six years means that he's the candidate who can move the city in an even better direction.

"The city of St. Paul works best when we have leadership that listens to people, that works with them, that understands the need to work in collaboration and cooperation with the people across the city of St. Paul," said Coleman.

The centerpiece of Coleman's campaign is to create a "second shift" in libraries and recreation centers across the city, to provide after-school activities for children. He said that program would not necessarily cost the city extra money.

Coleman said as mayor he would be willing to raise taxes for public safety. He is proposing an $8 million property tax increase over the next four years. But he says that increase would kick in only if state and federal dollars are scarce.

"I think that we can, working in partnership with people that understand what's happening in cities, get additional resources, and not have that burden go to homeowners," said Coleman.

On the eve of the election, it looks like the race is Coleman's to lose. Recent polls show him leading Kelly by more than 30 percentage points.

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