Benanav, Kelly win, advance to St. Paul’s general election

by Tom Ford

St. Paul City Council member Jay Benanav and state Sen. Randy Kelly came out on top in Tuesday’s St. Paul mayoral primary and will now move to November’s general election.

But Tuesday’s terrorist attacks across the country altered some candidates’ plans and gave the election – for candidates and some voters – a subdued atmosphere.

Benanav, the DFL-endorsed candidate and 4th Ward city councilman, which includes parts of the St. Paul campus, finished first with 30.4 percent of the vote.

Behind Benanav was Kelly, an 11-year DFL state senator who represents St. Paul’s east side and received 26.6 percent of the vote.

Benanav said that while he now wants to “move forward” with his message of investing in people and neighborhoods, Tuesday’s attacks “affected the mood of the entire country.”

“Today’s obviously been a surreal day,” Benanav said. “We ought to be respectful of what’s happened.”

The events of the day caused candidate Bob Kessler, who received 5.8 percent of the vote, to cancel all his campaign activities for Tuesday.

Kessler, a longtime employee of the City of St. Paul who resigned to run for mayor, canceled an election party for Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn East and instead organized a smaller, more informal gathering at his house.

“I just didn’t think it was appropriate to have a party,” said Kessler. “(We’re) still sort of reeling.”

Kessler said he questioned why the elections were not delayed, which “seemed to be an option to discuss.”

“I would have much preferred that the state would have postponed (the election),” Kessler said.

Kessler said the attacks likely did affect voters.

While it was feared fewer voters would come to the polls Tuesday, several St. Anthony Park voters were not kept away because of the day’s events.

For Dan Buechler, Tuesday’s attacks had absolutely no effect on his voting.

He said he has voted in every election for about the last 27 years and local elections are particularly important to him.

Tuesday’s attacks did not affect Kevin Bevis either.

“I can’t imagine why (the attacks) would affect local
elections,” Bevis said.

He said he was surprised with the high number of voters he saw at the St. Anthony Park Elementary School where he voted.

Yet other St. Anthony Park residents felt emboldened to vote in light of the attacks.

“I felt with all the insanity we ought to be acting as reasonably and responsibly as we can,” said Joyce Tester.

She said she wanted to “surround herself with people who were doing good things.”

“I think we need to be more tenacious than ever about our privileges as a democracy,” Tester said.

Former St. Paul City Councilman Bob Long finished in third with 17.1 percent of the vote. Behind Long was Jerry Blakey, the Republican-endorsed candidate and First Ward St. Paul city councilman, who received 12.1 percent of the vote.