Remarks of Mayor Melvin Carter as Prepared for Delivery State of Our City

For Immediate Release
May 19, 2018
Contact:  Liz Xiong
liz.xiong@ci.stpaul.mn.us
651-357-8448

Remarks of Mayor Melvin Carter as Prepared
for Delivery 
State of Our City
May 19, 2018

 

For 138 days now, I have had the privilege and humbling honor, and the extreme challenge of serving as mayor of the most incredible city on the planet: Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I stand before you today to report on the State of Our City in three words: Saint Paul is STRONG. Saint Paul is DYNAMIC. And most importantly, Saint Paul is OURS.

The State of our City is Strong.

We are a growing, vibrant city with the wind in our sails and big opportunities ahead:

The former Ford Plant in Highland and the former Hillcrest Golf Course on the Eastside give us not one, but two iconic opportunities to design a 21st-century neighborhood from the ground up;

Big development opportunities like Midway Shopping Center, and Keg & Case on West 7th promise to significantly expand our tax base and create vibrant new destinations across our city;

Areas like Little Mekong, Little Africa, District del Sol, Selby Avenue, Payne-Phalen and Rice Street are redefining our city and leveraging our cultural diversity to create exciting job and business opportunities;

The Green Line on University Avenue, the promise of bus rapid transit on the Gold Line and a streetcar connection from downtown to the airport; and the vision of Union Depot as a vibrant multi-modal transit hub promise to better connect our residents and businesses to opportunity throughout the region.

The opening of Osborn370 as a professional maker space for innovators from around the world; and the opening of Treasure Island Center, complete with a top floor practice facility for the Minnesota Wild, are continuing to prove our momentum downtown; 

Our new Downtown Alliance, which I lead in close partnership with Securian CEO Chris Hilger, Ecolab CEO Doug Baker, and a number of downtown residents and business leaders, will help ensure that our downtown remains a vital core of commerce and culture, that connects to and offers opportunity for our entire city.

And our recent announcement that Techstars is planting their new Farm to Fork Accelerator here, bringing tech innovators and start-up leaders from around the globe to grow their business in Saint Paul, proves the world is taking notice.

Meanwhile, the Saint Paul Saints are preparing for their season opener, our Minnesota Wild made the playoffs for the 6th year in a row, Minnesota United will bring Major League Soccer to Midway starting next Spring, and the Gold Cup International Soccer Tournament will bring the US Men’s National Team – and the eyes of the world – to Saint Paul next summer.

I’m proud of this city, humbled by the opportunity to serve as your mayor, and incredibly proud of all the work we are doing together.

At my inauguration in January, I told you that the pillars of our work together are public safety, lifelong learning, and economic justice & inclusion.

We are rejecting the "us vs. them" approach to public safety that has failed our communities for far too long, and replacing it with our Community First public safety strategy – connecting children and families to opportunity; creating a safe, nurturing community for people returning from incarceration; and investing in the critical trust that flows between our police officers and our neighbors.

From day 1, we worked with Chief Axtell and his leadership team, as well as many of you, to review and rewrite the policies that govern when and how our officers are authorized to use force. I appreciate the Chief’s urgent attention, and his willingness to revise our policies through a public conversation – I’ve never seen any examples anywhere in the world where a police department engaged residents in an ongoing, two-month dialogue about what a proper use of force policy should look like. We worked together to ensure our new policy reflected both the experiences of police departments around the world AND the street-level expertise of local community members.

If you participated in that process, please stand or wave a hand and be recognized? Thank you for your work.

We launched a 0-3 initiative, leveraging our rec centers, libraries and even our water department to connect families with young children to the support resources our community has to offer.

And we are working hard to realize our vision of starting every child born in Saint Paul on the path to college with $50 in a College Savings Account. Research shows that children from low-income families who have even a small amount of money saved for college are 3x more likely to go. We plant a powerful seed when we tell our children we believe in them enough to invest in their future.

I deeply appreciate the way our local businesses, banks, colleges, foundations and nonprofit leaders have stepped forward to help with this exciting and transformational concept. Specifically, I’m excited about the incredible group of individuals who have stepped forward to serve on our CSA task force - led by co-chairs Ann Mulholland, Vice President of Community Impact at Minnesota Community Foundation and Nichol Beckstrand, President of Sunrise Banks – to develop over the next year a set of recommendations about how to design, implement, and fund Saint Paul’s College Savings Accounts plan.

Would any members of our CSA task force who are in the room please stand or wave a hand now, so we can recognize you? Thank you for your work.

In a city that works for all of us, no one who works full time should ever be stuck raising children in poverty. I have been clear on minimum wage, and so have you: In our largest municipal election in over a decade, over 95% of Saint Paul voters cast their ballot for a candidate who supported raising the minimum wage to $15/ hour.
We have talked about raising wages long enough; it’s time for action. I am committed to working with our City Council to pass and sign an ordinance establishing a $15 minimum wage into law by the end of this year.

We have work to do to get there. In the coming months, we will work with our City Council, labor and business leaders, and all of you to fill in the specifics of our policy, including whether to make accommodations for small businesses and youth job training programs; how to best phase in the increase; and whether to allow employers to pay tipped workers a lower wage.

I have strong feelings about these questions and I know that many of you do too. We won’t always agree, and that’s a good thing – it means we can learn from each other. One thing we can agree on though is that our businesses and our workers are inseparable parts of one whole. For our families and workers to thrive, we need our businesses to succeed. For our businesses to thrive, we need our families and workers to succeed.

This is an opportunity for us to practice a skill that is all too rare in today’s political discourse: We will engage each other, we will listen and learn from each other’s perspective, and we will develop a course of action together, and we will move forward, together.

I appreciate the Citizen’s League stepping forward to convene a minimum wage study committee for us, to explore and bring recommendations about how to best craft a policy that works well for Saint Paul. Would the members of our Minimum Wage Study Committee please stand or wave and be recognized? Thank you for your work.
A safer city. A city that invests in the future of its children and a city that is committed to paying fair wages for hard work. That’s what’s happening right here, right now and that’s why Saint Paul is a Strong City.

Saint Paul is also a dynamic city.

We are a rapidly growing, rapidly changing community. If my great grandparents were here today, they would hardly recognize us as the small, quaint, Irish-Catholic town they knew, where the Cathedral stood as the tallest building in town.

This is not our great grandparent’s Saint Paul anymore. We are a thriving, diverse, international, multilingual city – our residents and business owners come from all over the globe, speak over 100 different languages at home, and practice countless different religions, cultures customs.

We are a growing city – our population has grown by 24,000 people in the last 8 years alone. We’re nearing an all-time high, and projected to keep on growing over at least the next 25 years.

That growth and change requires a dynamic city building strategy, to retool all of our neighborhoods for the future:

We’ll need more classrooms, more afterschool programs and library books, to connect our children and families to opportunity and a bright future;

We’ll need more paramedics, firefighters and police officers than ever before to keep our neighborhoods safe;

We’ll need more living wage, career ladder jobs that give our neighbors a chance to get ahead;

We’ll need to invest to ensure people can get around our city by transit, bicycle or on foot;

And every goal we have as a city will require us to build thousands of more units of housing that is affordable and accessible to people at every income level – especially for our lowest income residents. 

Because sustaining all of those critical public services will require investment, we’ll need a larger tax base. That’s why we have to meet our biggest opportunities with a big vision – we just can’t afford to short ourselves.

We also have to be willing to have tough conversations and tackle our biggest challenges head-on.

These past few months have been a lesson in challenges. We’ve had more snow emergencies in the months since I took office than in the past two years combined. A slope failure on the West Side dropped 30,000 pounds of rock onto Wabasha Avenue from the bluffs above. And just this week, we made the tough decision to temporarily close the RiverCentre Ramp, our largest downtown parking ramp, after a piece of ceiling concrete, approximately 2’ by 3’ in size, detached from the ceiling and damaged a car parked below.

We are facing all of these challenges. Our snow crew battled each snowfall heroically and are now working feverishly to repair our streets from this brutal winter. Our staff is managing the cleanup and working to stabilize the bluffs above Wabasha Avenue, and we have a strong proposal in front of the State Legislature right now to partner with us to rebuild our RiverCentre ramp, which serves over 2.1 million visitors to our city and helps produce over $12 million dollars in sales tax revenue each year. I appreciate the deep coalition of labor and business leaders, the strong support of our entire City Council and almost every member of the Saint Paul legislative delegation, and the bipartisan support this important project has received at the Capitol. We’ve learned tough and painful lessons about the importance of investing in to keep our infrastructure safe and reliable; rebuilding the RiverCentre Ramp is a chance for us to get it right.

Finally, we are also preparing for one of the toughest logistical challenges a city can take on, as we shift our city this Fall to an organized hauling system. We have talked for a long time about how important that is – to reduce wear and tear on our streets; to ensure a safer, cleaner city; and to reduce our carbon footprint. Please visit stpaul.gov/garbage to stay up to date on the latest information and updates about how we’re preparing for this major change, which will impact every household across our city.

I know these big changes on the horizon make many of us uncomfortable, and challenge our city in many ways. I also know that seeing change on the horizon, recognizing that change is inevitable, and retooling our community now for the changes ahead is the key to transforming challenges into opportunity for the future.
That brings me to my favorite part –

Finally, and most importantly Saint Paul is OUR City.

Back in high school, I once made the mistake of asking my dad if I could borrow the car. Dad’s response: “There’s no such thing as the car, you’re asking to borrow MY car!”

The most incredible, most exciting thing about Saint Paul is that OUR city is in OUR hands. Saint Paul isn’t “the” city. Saint Paul isn’t my city or any Mayor’s city. This is OUR city.

Crafting solutions to OUR challenges, preparing OUR children for the future and keeping OUR neighbors safe, will all require all of us to build the vision and do the work together.

That’s why we invited you in, right from the beginning.

We needed your help to hire staff for an Administration that reflects Saint Paul’s diversity and leverages community expertise… and over 100 of you spent three days reading resumes, interviewing candidates and sending me recommendations. Because of your help, we hired a talented and diverse team who has hit the ground running.

We needed your help to rewrite the policies that govern when and how officers are - and are not - authorized to use force... and hundreds of you brought your ideas and concerns forward in an unprecedented public conversation.

I’ve heard from many of you who are excited about the invitation to a renewed relationship with your city; and I’ve also heard from some who are concerned about our approach: one person even told me right from the beginning, “the problem is we’re not used to seeing things done this way.” But doing things differently isn’t our problem, it’s our promise!

Building a city that works for all of us will require more than new laws and programs, it will require us to completely rethink the way we run our city.

Building a city that works for all of us requires a dynamic approach to city building, an approach that feels new but traces its roots all the way back to the opening paragraphs of our country’s Declaration of Independence.

Right after “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, our founding leaders made an even more transformative, even more revolutionary declaration, one whose implications we almost never explore:

Governments derive their “just powers” from the “consent of the governed.”

Historians interpret this statement to mean that your Mayor, your governor, your president’s legitimate and moral right to power stems only from the consent of the people who fall under that power.

Whether the topic is minimum wage, police reform, bike lanes, density, or just what celebrations we can have in our local schools, or national issues like gun violence prevention and immigration, most of the toughest choices we face center around our struggle with consent: Whose voices count? Whose opinions matter?

These are important questions, with a simple answer:

Governments derive their “just powers” from the “consent of the governed.”

That clear promise calls us to go beyond the loudest voices, the people already in the room, and our own privilege to listen and learn from all of our neighbors, all of our families, all of our children.

Immigrants and refugees who came here from different countries; student leaders who are still too young to vote; and our neighbors who’ve reentered our community from incarceration all have one thing in common: We are all the governed. All of our voices matter.

I’m Saint Paul’s first mayor of color.

And we have some of the worst disparities in the nation.

We know those two things well. What amazes me is how often we disconnect the two. Our disparities aren’t coincidental to the fact that no person of color has ever before held this job, they’re the direct result of the exclusive processes through which we too often make decisions.

That’s why this has to be a summit, not just a speech – our engagement is the only way we can truly lead this city forward in a way that best serves all of our communities and families, and best prepares all of our children for success.

We have to reimagine Saint Paul, and truly make it OUR city, together.

I know many of you know that, and I’m inspired by your energy. Sakeena & I can’t walk through the grocery store without someone stopping us to ask how they can help. I’ve heard you loud and clear: you have more to offer. You don’t just want me to do good things from behind the City Hall curtain, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and jump in.

That’s our biggest challenge: harnessing the incredible people power alive in this city. From our Mayor’s Office staff and city, to residents in every neighborhood, ordinary people all over this city are working together to do extraordinary things every day. You are what’s most beautiful about Saint Paul.

A year ago, I met an incredible couple named Wade & Julia Burgess. They told me all about their beautiful daughter Vivienne – her infectious joyful smile; her love for the playground near their house; and how on November 12, 2016, they found Vivie unresponsive in her bed, just hours after celebrating her third birthday.

I can’t imagine the trauma they experienced, nor the strength it must have taken to channel their pain into Vivienne’s Joy - the foundation they established to bring awareness to Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood, and to share Vivienne’s Joy with other children by raising money to transform Vivie’s Playground at Boyd Park into a destination play space that encourages active, outdoor and imaginative play.

Wade & Julia are here with us today – thank you for keeping Vivienne’s Joy alive in Saint Paul.

Saint Paul Police Officers Annie Baumgart & Phoung Chung are here today too. A School Resource Officer and a member of our Police Athletic League, they work to keep our city safe by building meaningful connections with the students they serve. Earlier this school year, they worked together to start an empowerment & leadership group for 7th-grade girls at Washington Technology Magnet. The girls they serve talk, go on fun field trips, learn valuable skills, and volunteer together.

Officers Baumgart & Chung represent the Saint Paul Police Department well – they’re providing an invaluable experience to girls at a critical age, providing a new image of who a police officer is, and encouraging students to give back. They’re here today too; please join me in honoring their service as well.

As excited as I am about the Saint Paul of TODAY, our youth and student leaders make me even MORE hopeful about our future.

That’s why this summit today is a tribute to student leadership – from our youth hosts from Saint Paul Youth Services, to the ChaChangs who graced us with that amazing rendition of our National Anthem, to the Johnson High School JROTC Honor Guard, to DJ Mickey Breeze, who will keep us moving to the beat during our Summit later this morning.

Today is a tribute to student leadership because our students are leading. After the shooting that left 17 students dead at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School this Spring, students all over the country stepped forward with a simple message: Enough.

I’ve heard that message from third-graders who wanted to know why their tallest classmates have to worry about covering the windows in an active shooter situation, and from their teacher, who suffers nightmares about whether or not to unlock the classroom door to rescue a student she allowed out to use the restroom. Enough.

I heard that message from the students who testified powerfully at our State Capitol when Rep. Dave Pinto forced a hearing on mandatory background checks and gun violence restraining orders. Enough.

And I heard it loud and clear from the hundreds of students who walked out at Harding High School on March 14th, with signs that read Books not Bullets. I spent an hour with the student leadership team that organized that walkout. Like all of us, they have had – enough – of the mass shootings that have plagued our country again and again, and they asked me what I think is powerful enough to make this time different. A few of those Harding students are here today too, and I have an answer for you: YOU are the difference!

I could go on and on - every day, I see ordinary people all over this city working together to do extraordinary things.

Even on one of my toughest nights yet as Mayor, when blizzard conditions left some of our students at stuck at school past 10 pm, I saw teachers and parents; EAs and TAs; plow drivers, bus drivers, and neighbors with shovels pitched in together, cheerfully, to get our students home. That night was beautiful because it was so challenging.

I can see our vision for our city every day in the artwork that hangs on the wall just outside my office in City Hall – for 3 months last year, residents of all ages and backgrounds, who live in different corners of this city, practice different cultures and religions and speak different languages at home took broken pieces of tile and glued them together into a vivid mosaic that reads, “A Saint Paul for All of Us”.

That’s our vision and our challenge: All of us, working together, to build a city, that works for all of us.

My highest hope is to harness the people power in this city and weave it into our dynamic city building strategy – not just once, not just this year, and not just while I’m mayor, but to weave it into the way we govern, lead and budget; in the way we program our rec centers and libraries; into the way we build our local economy and prepare our children for the future.

At my inauguration, I said “don’t clap if you’re not going to help”, and you clapped anyways. So today we’re launching our Serve Saint Paul platform, to invite you to build sweat equity in our city through service.

We need your help: building the vision; advancing our big vision through policy and funding proposals; serving on task forces, commissions, district councils and nonprofit boards; and as volunteers in our schools, libraries, and rec centers.

Building a city that works for all of us will require all of us to do the work. Sign up at stpaul.gov/serve if you’re ready to help.

Saint Paul is a STRONG city, with every competitive advantage to emerge and thrive in the future. Saint Paul is a DYNAMIC city, changing and growing in exciting ways that give us opportunity, and Saint Paul is OUR city – to govern together and to equip for the dynamic future ahead of us.

Now is a critical time in our city, state, country, and the world. The voices that urge us to hate and fear each other seem louder than ever. We turn on the news each day to more and more dire news of another school shooting, another scandal, another heartbreaking quote or tweet from a President who still hasn’t learned that our people – all of our people – ARE what’s great about America.

Sometimes the challenge ahead seems too great to bear.

Two weeks ago, I got to spend time with Kofi Annan, a Macalester College alumnus who went on to serve as Secretary-General of the United Nations and win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. To paraphrase, I heard him tell a group of students: you can change the world by changing your school. Your community. Your city.

That powerful, empowering message is the way forward.

157 years ago almost to the day, facing the most volatile, divisive and deadly chapter in our country’s history, President Abraham Lincoln sent out a call for volunteers to save our country.

Within weeks, over 1,000 Minnesotans enlisted call, including a small company called the Saint Paul Volunteers. That First Minnesota Regiment was one of the first to answer President Lincoln’s call, and they went on to serve valiantly in some of the Civil War’s most critical battles.

If a small group of Saint Paul volunteers, 157 years ago, could lead and save our Union, imagine what we can do together today.

We CAN eliminate disparities and build a city that works for all of us.

We CAN set our children on the path to college and a bright future.

We can, and we will.

Because we won’t stop pushing until we do.

Thank you.

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