St. Paul likely to welcome historic all-women City Council after Tuesday’s election

An American flag and a sign that says voting
Voting was underway Tuesday morning at the Highland Park Community Center in St. Paul.
Peter Cox | MPR News

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With all precincts reporting, all three St. Paul City Council incumbents easily prevailed in their reelection campaigns, and the slate of three DFL-endorsed newcomers appeared to be doing well. 

If all leads hold, St. Paul will have its first all-woman City Council in the city’s history, with women of color making up the majority. 

Incumbents Mitra Jalali, Nelsie Yang, and Rebecca Noecker won reelection in their wards. Four of the seats are guaranteed to welcome newcomers.

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Voters chose between 30 candidates in St. Paul for the council’s seven seats. 

Although the races, which are all contested, are technically nonpartisan, the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party endorsed candidates in six wards. The DFL endorsed all three incumbents and newcomers Saura Jost, Hwa Jeong Kim, and Cheniqua Johnson.

Jost, Kim, and Johnson all garnered the most first-choice votes in their races, but did not all declare victory Tuesday. Second-choice and third-choice ballots haven’t been reported yet as of Tuesday night. Candidates who receive 50 percent of the vote or more on first-choice ballots are declared winners. 

Jost received about 49 percent of the first-choice votes in Ward 3. Kim received about 52 percent of the first-choice votes in Ward 5, and declared victory early in the evening.

Johnson received about 41 percent of the first-choice votes in Ward 7, and said it was too close to call her race Tuesday night. Challenger Pa Der Vang came in second to Johnson with about 36 percent of the first-choice votes.

“Right now, I’m just celebrating with folks in the ward, because they’ve worked really hard for this—for not only the campaign but for our communities,” Johnson said.

Ward 1 candidate Anika Bowie, who is not endorsed by the DFL but who has the support of three DFL-endorsed candidates, declared victory in her race.

Bowie ran against seven others, and lead with 40 percent of the vote, followed by James Lo with 20 percent.

“We cleaned up, we’re making it known right now that we don’t even have to wait, we got it. We worked hard and the people showed up so let’s get it, let’s celebrate,” Bowie said at her victory party at The Gnome Craft Pub.

The DFL did not endorse anyone in the race for Ward 1, which includes the Rondo and Frogtown neighborhoods, and parts of the North End and Summit-University neighborhoods. 

Bowie is supported by key progressive groups like TakeAction Minnesota and OutFront Minnesota, as well as public officials like Attorney General Keith Ellison and State Senator Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. 

She faced a strong challenge by Lo, who has raised twice as much money as Bowie, and boasts endorsements from several labor unions and public officials like State Senator Foung Hawj, DFL-St. Paul.

In Ward 3, Isaac Russell came in second to Jost with 30 to 48 percent of the first-choice votes. Russell outraised Jost and received endorsements from unions and State Senator Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis. Ward 3 includes the Macalester Groveland, Highland, and West Seventh neighborhoods. 

Before results came in, Jost said at her election watch party that she felt confident about her chances.  

“We’re already here,” Jost said.” I’m feeling really good; we worked so, so hard. I feel so great about the campaign that we built and just looking forward to tonight.”

During her victory speech, Kim made a nod to outgoing City Council President Amy Brendmoen. Kim is Brendmoen’s aide, and said that Brendmoen helped usher in the first woman-majority City Council in St. Paul’s history. 

“Now we are poised to bring forward the first woman-of-color majority in St. Paul,” Kim said. 

During the campaign, Kim handedly outraised opponents David Greenwood-Sanchez, who campaigned to be the first Latino St. Paul City Council member, and Pam Tollofsen. Ward 5 includes the Como neighborhood and parts of the North End.

Johnson ran to represent Ward 7, which includes St. Paul’s East Side.She raised $64,000 during the campaign, while Vang raised $35,000 and has endorsements from outgoing Ward 7 Council Member Jane Prince and former Council Member Dai Thao.

St. Paul residents approved raising the city’s sales tax from 9 percent to 10 percent, with 60 percent voting in favor of the ballot measure and 40 percent voting against it. 

Mayor Melvin Carter, who supported the proposal, has said the tax hike is necessary to guarantee basic city services like repairing the city’s arterial roads and funding for city park maintenance. 

Opponents of the proposal like outgoing Council Member Jane Prince argued that none of the new money would support maintenance for non-arterial streets and that the tax hike will make way for spending on controversial projects like the Summit Avenue redesign, which will create an elevated bike lane on the street. The ballot question read: Should the City of Saint Paul establish a one percent (1%) sales and use tax over the next 20 years to generate $738,000,000 to repair and improve streets and bridges, $246,000,000 to improve parks and recreation facilities, and associated bonding costs?