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Coleman takes over as mayor of St. Paul

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Chris Coleman takes the oath of office Tuesday as the new mayor of St. Paul. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Chris Coleman was sworn in Tuesday as the new mayor of St. Paul. Coleman ousted incumbent mayor Randy Kelly in the November election with 69 percent of the vote. In his first speech as mayor, Coleman emphasized the city's growing diversity and the need for citizen involvement and cooperation.

St. Paul, Minn. — Hundreds of city government workers and enthusiastic Chris Coleman supporters turned out for the inauguration ceremony at the Landmark Center downtown.

As the 45th mayor of St. Paul, Coleman is now responsible for overseeing all city services and departments, and managing a $500 million budget.

To move his policy agenda from campaign promises to reality, he'll be working with seven fellow Democrats who make up the city council. All but two supported Coleman's run for mayor.

Coleman's inaugural message emphasized cooperation between the city's people and their government, the shared responsibility among all residents, and a citywide respect of diversity and differences.

"Being inclusive, cooperating across cultural and economic divides, is no longer optional in the city of St. Paul," said Coleman. "We must practice inclusion not simply because it is morally right, but because it is good business. It is a practice deeply rooted in the history of St. Paul."

To illustrate his point, Coleman told of how a local water treatment company thrived and grew to become a part of 3M, helped by the contributions of Hmong employees.

Coleman also spoke of his two main policy priorities, creating more after-school programs for kids, and making University Ave. a light rail corridor linking St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"When completed, it will be a corridor of opportunity -- a bustling, colorful consortium of new housing, environmentally-friendly transportation, small and large businesses, and rich in diversity. We will be connected in a new way to our Twin City," said Coleman.

Coleman shaped his first speech as mayor with references to the city's geography. He spoke about how the Mississippi River, its bluffs, the city's hills and neighborhoods have all shaped St. Paul's identity.

The new mayor acknowledged the displacement and pain experienced by the city's largely African-American Rondo neighborhood. Decades ago, the community was destroyed to make way for Interstate 94.

Coleman says the light rail corridor will not turn out the same way. He says he promises to develop the corridor by bringing all affected interests to the table.

"We will build this corridor, but we will respect those whose are touched by this effort," he said.

Coleman urged St. Paulites not to be spectators of city government, but to get involved and take responsibility for its future.

St. Paul contractor Jose Verdeja attended the inauguration. He said he appreciates Coleman's references to the contributions of the city's diverse communities.

"Whenever you bring in all the new minorities coming in, they add to the tax rolls. That will allow you baby boomers to retire, so we don't go bankrupt at that level. Basically, I love his approach on diversity and inclusiveness," said Verdeja.

Also in the audience was Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who was sworn in earlier in the day to a second term with Coleman in attendance. Rybak and Coleman have both made a point of stressing their intentions to replace their cities' long-standing rivalry with cooperation.

St. Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry says Coleman will also find more cooperation with the council, following Randy Kelly's often testy relationship with council members.

"I think it's going to be a learning process, and I think that's so important. Because I think if we work together we can absolutely move his agenda forward," Lantry said.

One of the first highly visible changes that's likely to occur under the new administration is a new city-wide ban in smoking in all bars and restaurants. Coleman's predecessor vetoed a total ban twice, but Coleman says he will sign such a measure if it passes the council.

After the ceremony, Coleman took a few laps around the Landmark Center outdoor skating rink. When he got back to his new office in City Hall, about 100 school children were lined up outside. Coleman offered each of them a chance to sit in the mayor's chair.

Coleman says the invitation is symbolic of the tone he wants to bring to the job -- that St. Paul belongs to everybody.

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