Town Square Television West St. Paul candidate forum

2020 Candidate Forum Live Blog

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Tonight is the West St. Paul candidate forum from Town Square Television. You can watch it on cable channel 14, online, or on Facebook. We’re live blogging the forum as it happens. See our full 2020 election coverage for more.

Live Blogging

(Most recent updates first)

7:30 p.m. – And we’re done. That went quickly. It’s great that this forum includes all the candidates, but including all the races also means it doesn’t cover a lot of ground. Only four questions, plus an introduction and closing. Watch for the race-specific forums for a little more in-depth discussion.

But it is great to have an event like this that’s televised and widely available. Many thanks to Town Square Television for making it happen.

Here’s a quick, biased, and opinionated take on how the candidates in each race did:

  • Mayor:
    • While Napier is often a little awkward at the council table, he always comes off very comfortable in these forums. Johnson appeared nervous, especially at the start, but she did raise important issues the city needs to consider.
  • Ward 1:
    • Eastman made a strong case for doing her homework and showing up. Fact check: She absolutely does show up to every meeting and is usually the first one there. Pace let his record speak for itself, noting his championing of sidewalks and trails. I imagine his comment that he’s “thoroughly enjoyed” his time on Council will take some by surprise.
  • Ward 2:
    • Gulley also raised some important issues to consider, like the need to translate the city website. She also proposed a community center, and while everyone likes the idea I don’t know how the city would pay for it. Fernandez talked about making himself available, which is something he’s taken flak for not doing in the past. His comment about “continuity is crucial” felt like a good line, though probably not for those who have felt ignored by him.
  • Ward 3:
    • I’ve linked to it a couple times below, and I’ll do it again. This is why David Meisinger should not serve in public office ever again. That should be the end of the conversation, but we’d be remiss not to point out the way Eng-Sarne brings people together and brings knowledgable resources and connections to the table. If his past behavior isn’t enough, the fact that Meisinger has no online presence at all and Eng-Sarne is organizing an event for the public next week tells you all you need to know about who’s willing to serve Ward 3.

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7:15 p.m. – Closing remarks: Why should people vote for you?

Eastman: “I do the work necessary to get the job done.”

Pace: “I continue to support all avenues of funding for trails and sidewalks.” He notes changing the assessment process for new sidewalks.

Fernandez: “Continuity is crucial in uncertain times.”

Gulley: “If elected, I promise to use my position for public good. … I promise to represent you with honesty and transparency.”

Eng-Sarne: “Nobody can accomplish any of their ideas alone. So much of this job is collaboration.” She also plugs her upcoming Roll to the Polls event on Sept. 18 at Harmon Park.

Meisinger: Talks about his ability to solve problems. (Here are a few examples of how Meisinger hasn’t worked to solve problems with West St. Paul residents.)

Johnson: We need to move past being better, to being an awesome city. We need to go beyond change to be ahead of change.

Napier: Talks about his experience since 2013 and how much change there’s been, especially along Robert Street.

7:10: – Fourth Question: How will you promote diversity, inclusion, and equality?

Johnson notes that we don’t have an ASL interpreter. Gulley notes that our city website is only available in English (22% of the city is Latino).

Pace: “I invite more people of color to get involved.”

Fernandez: “I’m a product of diversity.” We talked with Fernandez about his role as the first person of color elected in West St. Paul.

Meisinger: “There’s been diversity in West St. Paul since it was founded, just a different kind.” He notes his family came here not speaking any English.

Eng-Sarne notes the Pride in the Park event.

6:59 p.m. – Third Question: What knowledge and experience to bring to oversight of the police department?

Meisinger said West St. Paul is very safe (last week’s news is less encouraging).

Johnson said our department is awesome, but emphasizes the need for racial justice and community connection. Gulley thanked police but noted residents of color don’t feel the same level of safety as white families.

Eastman said we need a community oversight board. Fernandez said we need a human rights commission (this is a proposal also put forward by Eng-Sarne and Wendy Berry).

The City Council reviewed the police department’s Use of Force policy earlier this summer.

6:50 p.m. – Second Question: How do we support people during the pandemic?

  • Fernandez: “Really important to work on business retention.” He proposes a quarterly business round table.
  • Gulley: We have hidden home-based, small businesses that we need to better engage.
  • Eng-Sarne: Joined a committee with the League of Minnesota Cities to bring knowledge back to West St. Paul. The city implemented changes to help local restaurants.
  • Meisinger: Most businesses on Robert Street are family businesses. We’re doing OK. We have a problem with the lack of single family homes, too much focus on apartments. (So where would those single family homes go?)
  • Johnson: Need to communicate more, especially to renters. It’s hard to get information, unless you’re on social media.
  • Napier: Went around and talked to small business owners as soon as he learned they would need to shut down.
  • Eastman: Continue to share information about state and county programs—we can’t overshare this info. Food insecurity is also a growing problem.
  • Pace: Currently taking applications for the CARES Act for small businesses (I believe the deadline was Sept. 4). Grants for homeowners as well.

6:49 p.m. – This is the first time West St. Paul has ever had a woman running for every race on the ballot.

6:40 p.m. – First Question: What are the top issues the city is facing?

  • Pace: Mini budget crisis.
  • Eastman: Rental community.
  • Gulley: We need more community spaces.
  • Fernandez: Public safety, economic development, city infrastructure.
  • Meisinger: Budget and taxes.
  • Eng-Sarne: High quality city services, repair aging infrastructure, engage all residents to foster great inclusion.
  • Napier: Financial stability of the city.
  • Johnson: Community engagement.

6:39 p.m. – David Meisinger is a former Council member and mayor, serving on City Council from 1996 to 2000, as mayor from 2001 to 2002, then again on City Council from 2003 to 2004 before resigning, and most recently as mayor from 2015 to 2016. He also ran for City Council in 2018 and lost to Council Member Wendy Berry. “I’m running to ensure public safety is not decreased, if anything it should be increased. Ward 3 is not being represented by anyone who is tolerant of other views.” (Ironic given his caustic behavior to others.)

Here’s our recap of the January 27 city council meeting approving the Wakota expansion, including what Eng-Sarne said in her recusal.

It should be noted that I did a story during Meisinger’s 2018 campaign detailing behavior that should disqualify him for office. As near as I can tell, that behavior hasn’t changed.

6:38 p.m. – Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne was appointed to City Council in 2019 to fill Dave Napier’s seat. She previously ran for the Ward 3 seat in 2018, losing in the primary to Council Member Wendy Berry and Dave Meisinger. “These two years and particularly the last six months have show how necessary it is to have compassionate local government.”

6:38 p.m. – Robyn Gulley is on track to raise more money than any City Council campaign in recent history. Gulley is experimenting with new forms of campaigning during COVID-19, including yard hours. “We’re a union family, we believe that strong workers make strong communities.”

6:37 p.m. – Council Member Anthony Fernandez is the first person of color elected to municipal office in West St. Paul. He was first elected to City Council in 2016, defeating John Justen for an open seat (Justen won in 2018). “I want to keep the momentum going forward, we’ve done things that have been historic.”

6:36 p.m. – Council Member Bob Pace was first elected to City Council in 2016. At the time, he unseated one-term incumbent Pat Armon. “I’ve worked in the city for 40 years. That’s given me a really good pulse of what the city wants.”

6:35 p.m. – Julie Eastman is a City Council regular, attending nearly every meeting in person for the last several years. “I’ve read it all and done my own homework.”

6:35 p.m. – Mayor Dave Napier was first elected to City Council in 2012. At the time, he unseated two-term incumbent Darlene Lewis (she has endorsed his run for mayor). “I’ve given my adult life to the community… we have so much more to do.”

6:33 p.m. – Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson is the first Black candidate in West St. Paul history. She’s also a renter, a historically under-represented group in a city with a population that’s nearly half renters. “West St. Paul deserves a mayor who thinks different.”

6:31 p.m. – Here we go. Colleen Fuentes is the moderator. Questions were produced by Town Square with input from the community. Rules: All questions will be asked of all candidates. The order of candidates will alternate. Candidates get one minute to respond. No candidate-specific questions or debate.

6:25 p.m. – Due to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, the Town Square forum is being held in city hall instead of the Town Square studio. The forum is also not sponsored by the Dakota County Chamber of Commerce this year, a change that potentially makes the forum more non-partisan.

A word about our election coverage: West St. Paul Reader is not endorsing candidates, though we do accept advertising (which will be clearly labeled).

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