St. Paul mayoral candidates debate for the first time

Three St. Paul mayoral candidates hope to unseat incumbent Chris Coleman.

Alexi Gusso

Four St. Paul mayoral candidates, including two-term DFL incumbent Chris Coleman, discussed public transit, economic development and other city issues Thursday at a casual public forum.

Mayoral candidates Sharon Anderson, Tim Holden, Kurt Dornfeld and Coleman answered audience-submitted questions on diversity, budget strategies and education for the race’s first debate of the election season.

At the event, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters, Coleman talked about his career since becoming St. Paul’s mayor in 2005. He said he has made several accomplishments, including spearheading the Central Corridor light-rail project and managing the city’s budget during tough economic times.

“I think over the past eight years we’ve accomplished a lot together,” Coleman said at the forum.

His challengers felt differently, however, and voiced their opposition.

Holden, a small business owner and the candidate who is running the most active campaign of the challengers, said Coleman is inaccessible and unresponsive to meeting citizens’ needs.

He also disagreed with Coleman’s public spending strategy, specifically the $63 million project for the St. Paul Saints ballpark project downtown.

“The people were never given a vote,” Holden said at the debate. “This was the mayor’s pet project.”

Dornfeld, a city street maintenance worker who’s running for a political office for the first time, said he would offer a “perspective that best represents all of the people of St. Paul” if he was elected.

He said his priorities as mayor are unclear. Still, Dornfeld said he’d give the mayor’s office “a fresh set of eyes.”

Anderson, a Republican candidate who has run for various public offices for decades, spoke candidly at the forum, drawing colorful comparisons from pop culture and history.

Like Minneapolis, St. Paul will test the ranked-choice voting method, where voters will be able to list their top three choices for mayor on the ballot.