Thursday, June 27, 2019


Text of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's speech

Here is the text of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's inauguration speech.

St. Paul, Minn. —

I want to begin by thanking my wife Connie, and our children, Molly and Aidan, and each and every one of you who have been a part of bringing us to this day.

It is my special honor to have been sworn in by Doris Huspeni, for whom I clerked on the Court of Appeals.

I want to thank, my friends and mentors, George and Nancy Latimer.

And, on behalf of all of us, I extend a heartfelt thank you to Mayor Randy Kelly for his many years of dedicated service to the citizens of St. Paul.

Many years ago, perhaps in this very building, Hannah Kennedy, a young Irish immigrant, raised her right hand and swore allegiance to her new country. Today, as her grandson, I raise my right hand for a different purpose, to swear allegiance to this city, to its people and to the responsibilities of this office. For generations, St. Paul has been the city my family has called home.

I am proud. I am humbled. I am very grateful.

There are many ways to describe this city. A city of neighborhoods. An historic city. A city of hills.

From those hills, we can see many things -- fireworks at Taste of Minnesota; Aztec dancers during Cinco de Mayo; the carousel at Como Park; our many colleges and universities. We see the great and growing cultural diversity of our city.

We can also see our history. From Cap Wigginton's water tower in Highland Park to this beautiful building, we are reminded of the wonders of St. Paul's past and mindful of how it shapes our future.

And from those hills, we see that a river runs through it. But the great Mississippi is not merely a body of water. As it carved its way through St. Paul, the landscape it left behind literally shaped what St. Paul was to become and how we define ourselves as a community.

The stories of the men and women that lived on the Flats, the levee or in Swede Hollow are the stories of the creation of this city. They are colorful. They are powerful. And they are still present.

I have a drawing, given to me by my brother Nick, of the first bridge across the Mississippi, connecting downtown to the West Side. Bridges are a frequent and strong metaphor. But they do more than connect one side of the river to the other.

They connect us to each other. They connect us to the future. They connect us to our hopes, our potential, and our power.

There is no greater bridge than the bridge of opportunity. An opportunity is the bridge between where you are, and where you want to go. While many of us already have walked across this bridge, there are too many of us who cannot yet even dream of crossing it. If we are to be the city that we all want St. Paul to be, this is the bridge we must begin building today.

Ours is a city built on opportunities seized, promises realized, and dreams turned into reality.

But now, we as a country are immersed in a climate of fear -- fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of people different from ourselves. This fear is the enemy of our natural cooperative spirit because it drains away hope, saps energy, and builds suspicion and distrust.

Long ago, Archimedes, the inventor of the lever, said this: "Give me a place to stand and I will move the world." As we seek to move St. Paul forward to create opportunity for all citizens, and to replace fear with cooperation, the fulcrum upon which we initiate change must be built of three core values: Cooperation, responsibility and respect.

Cooperation is necessary to create and sustain opportunity. In St. Paul's past, we have seen many instances of cooperation across cultural and economic lines.

In the '30s, when Minneapolis faced great labor unrest, there was an understanding between business owner and worker that cooperation between employer and employee was the St. Paul way.

While in other cities, people were denied membership in clubs and organizations based on race or religion, St. Paul was a more inclusive city. In our own past, we can see that cooperation beats fear.

After World War II, John Nasseff, the son of poor Lebanese immigrants who lived on the West Side flats, got a job on the loading docks at West Publishing. He developed an idea to improve shipping procedures, and boldly marched into the CEO's office and told him about it. The CEO liked it, and worked with John to implement it.

That collaboration was good for West Publishing and good for John Nassef, who eventually rose into the ranks of St. Paul's most prominent citizens.

More recently, a local company called WTC (Water Treatment Company) struggled to stay open. The company began producing filtration equipment to go into refrigerators, and landed contracts with Maytag, Amana and eventually, General Electric. Their contract with GE called for higher standards of precision, quality and expertise.

The task of meeting these standards fell to a group of Hmong employees, many of whom spoke little English. Their work had to be both fast and perfect. It was, and the orders rolled in. As the company's success grew, more Hmong workers were hired.

But the leaders of the company did not want an all-white front office and an all-Asian work force, so they began to promote Hmong workers into positions of management. With this new partnership, the company flourished and eventually became a part of 3M.

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

While cooperation is central to our future, we cannot move our community forward unless we all acknowledge the responsibility that we share. As mayor, I will lead our efforts, but I cannot move this city forward unless all of you are prepared to stand with me in this effort.

Whether it is reversing the growing disparity in graduation rates between white kids and kids of color, haves and have-nots; or getting to work on the extensive planning that must occur to make the Central Corridor a success; or tackling important issues like global climate change, we must all examine the roles that we will play.

The importance of education cannot be overstated. The greatest gift we can give to the young people of St. Paul is the ability to see a successful future, a future unburdened by apathy and despair, but rich in opportunity and hope.

And yet far too many children are not getting the education they need to reach their full potential. Our schools and teachers struggle to meet this challenge. We must step up and play our part as a community.

That is why, on Dec. 10, over 300 people gathered with me at John A. Johnson School to participate in the Second Shift Summit.

And that is also why I look forward to the upcoming announcement of a program called "The Power of You" -- a collaborative initiative between our community colleges and the Minnesota Business Partnership -- that aims to increase high school graduation rates for students of color and allow students to attend the first two years of college, free of charge.

Together, we have accepted responsibility and we will make a difference.

The late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan remarked that "the stakes are too high now for government to be a spectator sport." That is clearly true today more than ever. The city that I lead and the thousands of dedicated public employees will work tirelessly to make sure that opportunity is created for all in this community.

But government cannot do it alone. All of us have a role to play, whether it be for a small business to grow larger, a working family to buy a home, or a young child to reach her potential. We cannot be spectators.

The value that will make all of this possible is respect. It begins with a spirit of graciousness, fairness, patience, and civility in our daily life. Without these things, all manner of opportunity is undermined.

Respect is shown not always by what we do. Rather, it is shown in how we do things.

A half-century ago, bulldozers leveled one of the most vibrant communities in St. Paul, home to a majority of our African-American residents. In 1927, civil rights leader Roy Wilkins wrote this of his native Rondo.

"The colored people of St. Paul live in one of the city's best locations. It is near the downtown shopping area, it is convenient to both cities..It has streets well-lined with beautiful trees...It has excellent transportation which makes it ideal for business."

"Rondo Avenue itself," he added, is "a riot of warm colors, feelings and sounds....Music is in abundance from victrolas, saxophones, player pianos and hurry-up orchestras....It seethes with the pulsating beauty of the lives of its people."

When we built the freeway through this community, it was done without respect for the people that built Rondo and called it home.

It is obvious that the freeway had to go somewhere. It is hard to imagine the city without it. But imagine what might have been had we respected the strength and history of Rondo. What could we have created if, while building the freeway, we sought to strengthen all parts of the city -- not just some at the expense of others?

Perhaps that riot of warm colors, feelings and sounds could still be with us. Perhaps those who were displaced and still feel the pain would understand that they live in a community that truly values them.

As we build new roads or buildings, let us respect those whose lives we affect by such decisions. Though the citizens of Rondo did not have a voice in the decision to put a freeway through their neighborhood, those impacted by the creation of Light Rail in the Central Corridor will have a seat at the table. We will build this corridor, but we will respect those whose are touched by this effort.

The developers, the big business owners, the small merchants, leaders from the faith community, educators, and people who simply love their neighborhood will be included. They will be listened to and heard, with patience and respect.

There is perhaps no greater opportunity in St. Paul then the development of the central corridor. Nearly $1 billion of private and public money will go into this project over the next decade.

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.

The connection between Minneapolis and St. Paul must grow. The challenges we face are no longer confined to one city or the other. Affordable housing, transportation, environmental concerns and economic development must be viewed from a more comprehensive perspective. I welcome the opportunity to work with Mayor Rybak to help our entire community grow together.

St. Paul will be strengthened by this relationship, not diminished. And though we must be sure that St. Paul is strong, we will get there through cooperation, not competition.

As I stand here today, my thoughts return to the great river that runs below the bluffs of St. Paul. Norman MacLean, in his story "A River Runs Through It," connects the Blackfoot River in Montana to his history and his family. He writes:

"The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops, and under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs."

Here in St. Paul, the words to be said and the deeds to be done on the banks of this river are ours now -- they will be words and deeds marked by cooperation, responsibility and respect.

Where some see problems, we will see possibilities. We will align our policies with our values, and transform our challenges into opportunities.

Our city will be worthy of the love we feel for it.

This has been the story of St. Paul's past, it is our story today, and it is a story we will carry proudly into the future.