Mayor Chris Coleman’s Remarks
As prepared for delivery on 12.1.2016
Good afternoon. Thank you for being here.
A huge thank you to the Lake Monster team, including Matt Zanetti, Matt Lange and Jeremy Maynor, for your hospitality and for the work that you—and hundreds like you—are doing to create jobs and rebuild communities in the heart of our city.
Eleven years ago, the morning after I was elected Mayor, I stood outside of City Hall greeting City employees as they came to work, thanking them for all they did for this great City. The warmth of Election Day had given way to a bone chilling wind out of the north. I laughed at the time, noting that while I promised the winds of change, I didn’t realize they would be so damn cold. Those winds have continued to blow over the last decade. And hot or cold, they have propelled Saint Paul forward. Today, Saint Paul is a stronger and more vibrant place to live and work than I have ever known it to be.
It’s hard not to reflect on my tenure as mayor without putting together a “greatest hits” list.
- The Green Line
- CHS Field
- Arlington Hills Community Center
- The redevelopment plans at the former Ford site
- Schmidt Artists’ Lofts
- The Penfield and Lunds downtown
- Our sustainability work – particularly the work we did with companies across the city to save money, expand operations and hire more employees by going green
- Our out-of-school-time network that provides important learning opportunities for children outside of classroom hours
- Our pursuit of equity
- The Promise Neighborhood initiative
- Record numbers of cops on the streets and firefighters and paramedics in the stations, ready to leap into battle at the sound of the alarm.
But what gets lost in lists are the people who drove those projects, made them happen or were touched by our collective efforts. The work we have done together over these last eleven years has been dedicated to building a community where all are valued, where all can thrive.
No leader succeeds alone. I have been blessed in this journey with countless hardworking:
- City employees
- Department directors
- Three fantastic deputy mayors
- Staff members in my office who have picked up every challenge before them – especially Chris Rider, who kept my life somewhat sane and balanced (though at times I wasn’t sure she wasn’t trying to kill me)
- My colleagues on the City Council, at the County Board, School Board and the State Legislature
- Community members who have led the charge on everything from bikes to recycling
- Business owners who have continued to invest in this city, bringing jobs and vitality to every corner of town.
There are so many stories that come to mind about the hard work of the last eleven years. There are too many people to mention by name. But one story comes to mind that reflects what this city is all about better than any other I can think of.
It seems a distant memory. But remember that starting in 2008, we went through the worst recession since the Great Depression. As we were about to launch investment strategies in every neighborhood in the City, we were hit by the mortgage foreclosure crisis. People across the city were losing their homes. Their mortgages had been sold two or three times. They had no idea who to call. So they called the City.
Staff from our Planning and Economic Development department worked day and night to assist homeowners seeking help. In the middle of the fight, one of those who led the effort—Michelle Vojacek—was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Despite being in the fight of her life, she never stopped helping others. Thank you, Michelle. You represent all of the great public employees I have been proud to work with over the years.
As we rebuilt Saint Paul, we remembered the stories of those who had gone before and we learned lessons from past mistakes. As we built the Green Line, the community demanded that the injustices that went into building I-94, including the devastation of the historic Rondo community, not be revisited upon them. The Stops for All campaign fought to change federal policy so that three additional stops could be built in the Frogtown and old Rondo neighborhoods – ensuring the line was connecting people rather than driving them apart. It was an example of a grassroots effort at its very best. And on the day the Green Line opened, Connie and I stood on the platform at Victoria, along with, Nick Khaliq, Floyd Smaller and Marvin Anderson—three sons of Rondo—and marveled that a small band of committed individuals had indeed changed the world.
We’ve made Saint Paul fun along the way, too, with Crashed Ice, the Jazz Fest, Music in Mears, a world class hall for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Beer Dabblers, new Brew Houses and Saints baseball. The Palace Theater is almost complete. And soon, Major League Soccer will find a new home in a beautiful stadium in the Midway.
What I have loved the most about this journey is that we have never lost sight of what Saint Paul is. This scrappy Midwest town has emerged from the shadow of the big city to the West and become a true Twin of the Twin Cities by being true to itself. I grew up under the blinking lights of Schmidt Brewery. My neighbors’ parents worked there. They were cops and firefighters, union mechanics for Northwest Airlines. They earned good wages, raised their families and retired in comfort.
While it seems sometimes those jobs are rarer and rarer, we have fought hard to keep them here in Saint Paul.
Across the street, at RockTenn, 400 people go to work every day. A few years ago, that plant almost closed when their primary source of cheap power was going away. We sent a clear message that we wanted those jobs to stay, worked with the Port Authority and a community task force to explore alternative energy strategies and look at energy saving investments the plant could make. RockTenn made the decision to keep the plant open and keep those jobs here in Saint Paul. At J&J Distributing, at Pier Foundry, at Gerdau Steel, we have worked with our local employers to retain and grow good jobs in the City.
Though I am so proud of all the work we have done together, I know much more needs to be done. Too many of our families are struggling to make ends meet. Too many of our children either don’t graduate from high school, or do so unprepared to go to college or take their place in a 21st Century workforce.
In the future, it is clear that cities will have to lead on climate change in light of little hope for sweeping federal action. Saint Paul has been and will continue to be at the front lines of that battle. The Xcel Energy Center and River Centre complex is the greenest in the nation. Retro-fitting parking ramps with energy efficient lights is now cost effective. We reduce emissions and save money. It’s hard to beat that combination.
Cities will be the beacon of liberty for a new generation of immigrants who have come to America for the same reasons many of our ancestors came here. My grandmother fled a war-torn Ireland to find refuge and a future here in Saint Paul. Forty years after the first Hmong families came to Saint Paul, also fleeing a war-torn country, they have been woven into the fabric of our community.
Whether you are from East Africa, Central or South America, Asia or Europe, whether you are Dakota or Ojibwe, you are all the fabric of this community. We are a rich multi-cultural city and we will fight like hell against any effort to undermine this by shortsighted efforts of people who don’t even know their own histories.
Cities will still be a light of hope for people like my mother who grew up so poor she was lucky some nights to have a piece of white bread with lard on it for dinner. And yet she went on to college, raised six kids and got to see her son become the mayor of her hometown.
Every mayor I know – in office or out – will tell you that being mayor was the best job he or she ever had. Joe Riley, the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, became known as America’s mayor after serving for over four decades. Our great Mayor George Latimer served nearly 16 consecutive years in office. I will break neither of those records.
Today, I am announcing that I will not seek another term as Mayor of Saint Paul next year.
Through this journey, I have been blessed with support from my family. I was guided by mother Bridget and my Step-mom, Deborah, both of whom passed away nearly seven years ago. My mother-in-law, Jan, passed away in September. She gardened in our yard nearly every day because she thought the mayor’s yard should look nice and be a sanctuary for bees and butterflies. She also dragged along my father-in-law, Jim, every day to be her assistant. My brothers and sister and sisters-in-law have been steadfast in their support.
Through it all, by my side day and night, have been Connie, Molly and Aidan. Having your husband or dad be mayor is not easy. The schedule is brutal. People take their frustrations out on them when they can’t go directly to me. A little extra scrutiny gets paid to the kids of the mayor. But this journey has brought us closer together as a family. We have really enjoyed the ride through all the ups and downs. Thanks for going along with me.
Over the next year, I intend to continue to drive to the finish line. Soon, the Palace Theater will open. Construction on the new soccer stadium will commence. Ford will edge closer and closer to its rebirth. Our work on education will continue as the school board selects the new superintendent. Our work to make Saint Paul an equitable community for all will continue full speed ahead. And beyond the next year, I know the work will continue into the future because of all of you. You who love this City as much as I do. All of you who believe in this City as much as I do. You are what I am most proud of and I am so grateful for all we have accomplished together.
So I raise my glass and propose a toast: to Saint Paul, to its people, to its future. Cheers and thank you.