St. Paul mayoral hopefuls push transit, housing solutions

Tom Ford

St. Paul mayoral candidates focused at a youth forum Thursday night on how to improve the city’s transportation system.

Held at St. Paul’s Macalester College, the evening was organized by Minnesota YouthVote and Macalester’s Minnesota Public Interest Research Group chapter. It was held specifically for young adults and is part of several groups’ efforts to get students interested in local politics.

“We need a multi-modal transportation system in the 11-county metro area,” said candidate and Democratic state Sen. Randy Kelly.

He said St. Paul and the metro area need to continue plans connecting the region’s cities by commuter light rail and bus transit ways.

“We have among the worst mass transit systems in the nation,” said St. Paul City Council Member Jay Benanav, Kelly’s opponent.

While Benanav wants to construct an extensive rail system, he said the city also will need to focus on improving bike and pedestrian routes as well as St. Paul’s bus service.

Benanav said Kelly, as a 27-year Legislature veteran and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee for the last nine months, is partly to blame for the current situation.

“Randy had the ability to get it done and he hasn’t,” he said.

Kelly said as long as there is a Republican-controlled state House, light rail projects will not be fully funded.

In addition to transportation issues, the candidates also addressed Twin Cities affordable housing.

Both candidates said they agree housing in the metro is a crisis situation.

The mostly student crowd responded with widespread applause after Benanav, endorsed by the DFL, said he has pledged his support for Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D) re-election campaign.

Kelly, a lifelong DFLer, responded that the party is not tolerant of diverse ideas and, because of that, is becoming more marginalized.

Approximately 50 students from the University and several colleges in St. Paul attended the forum.

“It’s real easy on college campuses to get isolated from the politics in the surrounding community,” said Adria Fernandez, a Macalester student and MPIRG member.

She said she hoped Thursday’s forum would “fire up interest” among the attendees.

Michelle Rosier, MYV organizer, said events like Thursday’s allow students to be engaged in local elections by giving them the opportunity to meet with and ask questions of candidates.

Although MYV has been registering young voters almost nonstop for the past few weeks, Rosier said, the group still comes across students who aren’t aware of the election.

She said she fears the nations’s “war on terrorism” and the state workers strike – by grabbing the focus of college activists and local media – could impact voter turnout.

“Attention to local politics is probably pretty low,” Rosier said.

Since local elections and campaigns are not generally advertised on television, she said, a lack of coverage in newspapers keeps people, especially students, uninformed about local politics and issues.

A similar debate between Minneapolis mayoral candidates is scheduled for Oct. 17 at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

 

Tom Ford covers St. Paul and welcomes comments at [email protected]