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Election Post-Mortem in the case of Randy Kelly 

The voters of St. Paul spoke on November 8, 2005. Incumbent mayor Randy Kelly was defeated by the challenger, Chris Coleman. Coleman received 40,601 votes, or 69% of the total while Kelly, with 31% of the total, received 18,203 votes. It was the first defeat of an incumbent St. Paul mayor in 33 years and the worst margin of defeat for an incumbent in the city’s history.

What went wrong for Mayor Kelly? The immediate answer was Kelly’s endorsement of George W. Bush in the 2005 presidential election. St. Paul is a DFL stronghold and DFL voters do not take kindly to candidates who support a Republican President. One should recall, however, that Norm Coleman was reelected mayor in the same city after he officially became a Republican. If Kelly hoped to follow that act, he was rudely disappointed.

Randy Kelly ran as a pro-business candidate, receiving the support of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. He might have fared better had he rigorously stuck with that position. Undercutting Kelly’s credibility was his administration’s relentless attacks on the city’s small property owners - both homeowners and landlords - through the inspections process.

In the months preceding the 2005 election, the Watchdog newspaper ran a series of articles documenting inspections abuse at the hands of Kelly and his housing czar, Andy Dawkins. A notable issue featured Mr. Dawkins as a Dracula-like figure hovering over the corpse of an elderly St. Paul woman whose home had been condemned. This woman, Betty Speaker, received this bad news from the city as she lay in a hospital bed in a serious condition.

An ad hoc committee of landlords and homeowners picketed St. Paul city hall on the afternoon of August 17th. This group of 30 to 40 protesters carried picket signs at the Kellogg Boulevard entrance to city hall, sang satyrical songs, and shouted with a bullhorn that Mayor Kelly had to go. The two-hour event was repeated on October 19th after the primary.

Kelly tried to patch up his tarnished image by arranging a meeting with Betty Speaker’s son, Joe LeVasseur. Not wanting to be part of a campaign Photo Op, LeVasseur politely declined the invitation.

In any event, Mayor Kelly is now history. And the St. Paul property owners have made their point. Even though the mainstream media generally shunned their activities, those inside City Hall knew of the picketing events as did hundreds of motorists and pedestrians outside the building who witnessed the protest firsthand. They, in turn, let many others know.

Typically, property owners are an independent bunch who tend to their business and try to maintain a low profile with the city. All this has changed. The two events send a message to politicians in St. Paul and other metro communities that police and inspections abuse has political consequences. The lowly property owners are not powerless. Mess with these people and you may find a large group of protesters picketing you. It’s a new factor that needs to become part of the political equation in the 21st century.

In 2001, protesting property owners were instrumental in dumping Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and half of the City Council, including its president Jackie Cherryhomes. R.T. Rybak (who attended their monthly meeting three times before the election) capitalized on that situation. This year, most of the Minneapolis group supported Mayor Rybak’s reelection; he won by a comfortable margin over the challenger, Peter McLaughlin.

In 2005, St. Paul landlords played an unrecognized but important role in dumping Mayor Kelly. If the new mayor, Coleman, calls off the city’s vendetta against small property owners, he, too, could win support from this group and, like Rybak, win reelection in 2009 should he choose to run again. If not, the property owners would not be afraid to make their displeasure known in a direct and conspicous way.

The mainstream media still don’t get it. Beneath their radar screen, city inspectors directed by politicians have harassed and exploited many people. However, word-of -mouth is a potent communication device. More potent is it when this force is augmented by a small free-circulation newspaper such as The Watchdog which trains its sights on bullying city officials.

You really need to know the city’s housing practices on a personal level to appreciate its corruption. Read about how St. Paul housing inspectors and police relentlessly harassed 68-year-old Betty Speaker before condemning her home and how a St. Paul housing inspector tried to force Nancy Osterman to sell her home to his friend for well below fair market value, threatening condemnation and demolition of the building if she refused to comply.

Former state representative and attorney, Andy Dawkins, a long-term opponent of rental-property owners, was then the director of St. Paul’s housing-inspections program. It is believed that he and Mayor Kelly orchestrated the campaign against the city’s less affluent property owners.

 
 

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