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5 questions for St. Paul's new Mayor Melvin Carter

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St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter speaks with supporters
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter speaks with supporters after delivering his inaugural address inside of Central High School in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

St. Paul's new Mayor Melvin Carter says inequality will be a major focus of his administration. 

In his inaugural speech on Tuesday he laid out plans for a $15 an hour minimum wage and a $50 college savings account for children born in St. Paul. He also wants a review of the St. Paul Police Department's use of force policies. 

Carter spoke with MPR's Phil Picardi at the end of his first week as mayor about his policy goals and how his administration will be different than his predecessors. 

Comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

You've promised to work with Police Chief Todd Axtell to change the department's procedures around use of force. Which policies need to be updated?

We've had a lot of concern in our city over the past year over a spike in shots fired that we've seen. The first thing I believe that we have to do to keep our city safe is ensure that we all know that our officers and our neighbors are on the same team all the time. I'm looking forward to working with our police chief to revise and refresh our use of force policies. 

I think it's important that we lay out a difference between people who are passively resisting versus people who are acting aggressively toward the St. Paul police. 

I think we need to address situations in which officers are drawing a firearm a little bit differently. I think anytime an officer drives a firearm that means there's a deadly situation. 

And I think I'd like to see us elevate the role and stature of our civilian review process so that we know that we are rebuilding trust. 

How will the review of the department be conducted?

In partnership with our police chief. Our chief is a great leader  for our city. And I've said all along that he's the right chief to do this work with. We've got rank-and-file officers all over the city who are from St. Paul who serve this city greatly every single day. And I think they know as well. I hear a lot of support from them to say "we want to have better relationships, we want to make sure that we're working well with neighbors." 

I think our police and our neighborhoods are all safer if we accomplish that goal. 

You are also proposing to fund a $50 college savings account for every child born in St. Paul. How will that work?

This is one of the most exciting things that we can do. Cities like San Francisco and St. Louis have established these college savings funds. 

The program would be a partnership with our private sector and foundations and even local and higher education institutions to raise money that would provide $50 in college savings to get every child born in St. Paul a start toward college. These initiatives have been shown to increase by three times the likelihood of low- and moderate-income children to go to college. I don't see how we can afford not to do something like that. 

Other cities have looked at and developed programs to incentivize families to save. It's an education initiative, it's an early childhood initiative and it's also a financial empowerment initiative that would connect families to financial institutions that aren't charging 200 to 300 percent interest. 

How do you see a proposed $15 an hour minimum wage moving forward in St. Paul?

If you add up the votes from the St. Paul voters this past year, over 95 percent of voters supported a candidate who pledged to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. So I see it moving forward with urgency because our voters have said very clearly that this is something that they support and want to see happen. 

I believe the question of if we raise the minimum wage and same point has already been settled. What remains to be asked is how exactly to restructure it and when we do it. 

You've also asked residents and community leaders to help you pick your Cabinet. How will you involve the community in decisions now that you are in office?

We're really excited to do this community hiring process through which over 100 city residents got involved and looked at resumes and interviewed candidates and sent me a slate of recommendations and notes that I used very heavily in developing who our Cabinet was. 

Our goal is going to be to leverage our residents, leverage the expertise that exists all across the city every chance we get. That's going to be inviting people to keep building the vision with us to keep advocating at City Hall and at the state Capitol with us to just stay plugged in every chance that we can. 

Click on the audio player above to hear the interview.