Benanav calls for focus on neighborhood development

by Tom Ford

St. Paul mayoral candidate Jay Benanav declared Thursday it’s time for the city to focus on neighborhood development.

Speaking to a gathering of College Democrats at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs, Benanav, the DFL-endorsed candidate, outlined his major policies and said this race will have national political implications.

“It’s time to shift the economic pendulum of priorities to our neighborhoods,” he said.

Over the past four years, he said, the city spent about $500 million on downtown development and only $76 million in neighborhoods, despite the fact most people don’t live or work downtown.

He said the number one issue in this race is affordable housing.

University student Robert Cook, a five-year St. Paul resident who attended the meeting, agreed. He said if his rent increases much more, he’ll probably be forced to move.

Randy Kelly, also a Democrat and Benanav’s opponent, said the most important duty of municipal government is public safety.

“All other issues pale in comparison,” he said.

Kelly is a DFL state senator, but is not endorsed by the party in the upcoming election.

Benanav also said the winner of the St. Paul race could factor into next year’s U.S. Senate races.

He said he is committed to supporting Paul Wellstone’s re-election campaign. Kelly has not offered his endorsement.

“The last thing we need is the mayor of St. Paul who is not supporting the DFL candidates or DFL senators,” Benanav said.

The balance of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate, he said, is too tenuous to jeopardize.

Kelly said he will not allow this race to become a “sideshow” for next year’s Senate races. He said he has not declared his endorsements because this election is about “the future of the city.”

While Andy Pomroy, co-chairman of the College Democrats, said he hoped this event would introduce members to candidates, Thursday’s meeting drew only five attendees.

Pomroy said since most of the St. Paul campus isn’t actually in the city limits, student turnout for St. Paul races is typically low.

Student political involvement in most local elections is low, he said, because they often don’t connect issues they care about with voting for a candidate who would support their positions.

But the group will continue efforts to get students involved, he said.

It is co-sponsoring an Oct. 23 concert and rally at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Along with MN Youth Vote, they are also organizing an Oct. 11 debate at Macalester College between the St. Paul candidates.

The College Democrats will host similar forums for Minneapolis mayoral candidates Sharon Sayles Belton on Oct. 11 and R.T. Rybak on Oct. 18.

Benanav finished as the top vote-getter in the Sept. 11 primary, receiving 37 percent of the vote.

He has been a City Council member for the past four years, representing the 4th Ward, which includes neighborhoods surrounding the St. Paul campus.