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St. Paul DFLers fall short of picking a favorite for mayor

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Mayoral candidates address DFL delegates in St. Paul.
Mayoral candidates, left to right, Pat Harris, Dai Thao, Tom Goldstein and Melvin Carter address DFL delegates in St. Paul during their citywide endorsing convention on June 17, 2017.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

St. Paul's DFL party won't have an official candidate on the ballot for mayor this fall.

The party adjourned its city convention Saturday night after a 5-ballot battle failed to give any of the four contenders the 60-percent support the party required to endorse a candidate for mayor.

It's a historic result: the party has picked a candidate for decades, even after grueling political combat that once stretched into the early hours of weekend endorsing conventions. The most recent open mayoral seats in St. Paul, in 2001 and 1993, took no less than 11 ballots to decide a candidate.

Mayoral candidates Dai Thao, Pat Harris, Melvin Carter and Tom Goldstein
St. Paul mayoral candidates Dai Thao, Pat Harris, Melvin Carter and Tom Goldstein
Evan Frost | MPR News

Former city council member Melvin Carter led the voting all day Saturday, winning an early rules battle that would have adjourned the 540 delegates at 5 p.m. He also topped 50 percent after the first ballot, and at one point doubled his closest rivals, city council member Dai Thao and former city council member Pat Harris.

But Carter couldn't close the deal as a mandatory adjournment neared at 7 p.m., inching up fewer than 30 votes over the course of the day-long DFL gathering at Washington Technology Magnet school in Rice Street.

"We knew coming in, we knew at the beginning of the year that getting the DFL endorsement was going to be hard," Carter said after thanking his delegates and volunteers. "Honestly, to get that close, to spend all day above 50 percent citywide, it's a real stamp of viability for our campaign."

Rival Dai Thao called the convention a success — although it took some unexpected turns. Asked if he would suspend his campaign if he didn't get the DFL nod, he said no during a Q&A session on the convention floor. That was a change from his previous strategy.

Tellers counted a round of ballots at the St. Paul DFL party convention.
Tellers counted a round of ballots at the St. Paul DFL party convention at Washington Technology Magnet school on June 17, 2017.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Thao said his second place finish was proof that the city's dominant party isn't concerned about bribery allegations leveled against his campaign and under investigation by the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

"They know when I'm telling them the truth. It's from my heart," Thao said as the convention wrapped up. "They know I know how to get things done... and we're going to take our message of inclusion of equity for everybody across this city."

The other major contender, Pat Harris, never topped 25 percent, but said he didn't think the party convention will reflect his support across the city. "We feel really positive about the broad support we have across the city. This is a Saturday in June... in no way do any percentages here reflect the broader community."

St. Paul mayoral contender Melvin Carter speaks to the citywide convention.
DFL St. Paul mayoral contender Melvin Carter speaks to the party's citywide convention at Washington Technology Magnet school on June 17, 2017. Candidates Tom Goldstein, Dai Thao and Pat Harris joined him in a question and answer session at the convention.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Former school board member Tom Goldstein, the fourth candidate running for the endorsement, never got out of single digit support in percentage terms, but signaled he, too, wasn't walking away from the race. "We've been having a great conversation here," he told the delegates. "I hope that will continue and not end today."

That could set up a six-way race on the November ballot. Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson and one-time contender Tim Holden have also announced runs for the city's highest office.