Editor’s Note: 2020 is the first year West St. Paul Reader has done election coverage. From the start, I explained how our election coverage would work and noted that I would not be endorsing candidates. In my communication with candidates, I said the exception is unacceptable candidate behavior. We’re seeing that in the Ward 3 race, so I’m making an endorsement.
Endorsing Lisa Eng-Sarne
After running for City Council in 2018 and losing in the primary, Lisa Eng-Sarne was unanimously appointed to fill the City Council seat vacated when Dave Napier became mayor in January 2019. I supported Eng-Sarne’s appointment then and I support her candidacy now.
Who Is Lisa Eng-Sarne?
First, let’s talk about the kind of person Lisa Eng-Sarne is.
Eng-Sarne has 11 years of experience on the roller derby track, which means she’s tough and determined, with a lot of heart. She traded the track for the council table in 2019, but that spirit lives on.
Here are just three examples of the kind of ethic Eng-Sarne brings to City Council:
Eng-Sarne does her homework. Fellow Council Member Dick Vitelli has said that Eng-Sarne “has been the most prepared council member I have ever had the opportunity to serve with,” and Vitelli has served on City Council for nearly 20 years going back to 1989 (non-consecutive years).
Eng-Sarne does the research, asks the questions, and comes prepared.
2. Across the Aisle
While City Council is a nonpartisan position, we’re all pretty partisan. But Eng-Sarne reaches out. She doesn’t just represent those who agree with her. She’s incredibly responsive and willing to go to bat for residents. She’s earned the support of Council Member Bob Pace and Planning Commission Member Morgan Kavanaugh, who both supported Eng-Sarne’s opponent in the past.
While campaigning, Eng-Sarne came across a neighbor with yard signs showing a clear partisan bent opposed to Eng-Sarne’s personal beliefs. She feared it wouldn’t be a productive conversation, but she’d been spotted and the neighbor wanted to talk. The neighbor grilled her on every divisive issue, and while Eng-Sarne tried to deflect to the local issues City Council actually deals with, this person wasn’t having it. Eng-Sarne shared her views despite the many disagreements (and a few they actually agreed on). She walked away feeling like she’d bombed the conversation. But later that night she received a kind email from this constituent, who appreciated the conversation and said it gave them hope. They said it was refreshing to know that local leaders are willing to engage with others who may share different political beliefs.
This resident still isn’t likely to vote for Eng-Sarne, but it is an example of her willingness to talk to and engage people she disagrees with. She serves to represent all her constituents.
It reminds me of this quote from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Eng-Sarne embodies this spirit.
3. There for People
It’s not just attending, Eng-Sarne makes things happen. She helped organize the inaugural Pride in the Park picnic and the wildly successful Skate Against Hate event. Eng-Sarne even put together a Roll to the Polls campaign event that showcased a better way for politicians to reach residents.
Even more importantly, Eng-Sarne literally stands with her constituents to be their voice.
At the March 9, 2020 City Council meeting, resident Connye LaCombe spoke during citizen comments urging the Council to pass a ban on conversion therapy (which they did in August). While sharing a story about her late husband, LaCombe became choked up and couldn’t continue. Lisa Eng-Sarne asked if she could help and came down from the Council table to offer LaCombe support and read her statement for her. At the end of the statement, Eng-Sarne gave LaCombe a hug as the room applauded.
It’s incredible to see that kind of compassion and empathy in our elected officials. I couldn’t have been more proud to be represented by Eng-Sarne in that moment.
Right on the Issues
So Eng-Sarne has the right approach, temperament, and commitment to the job. But where does she stand on the issues?
- Policing: In light of George Floyd’s murder, Eng-Sarne has been among the first to ask hard, necessary questions about policing and racism in our community. But she’s also supported the West St. Paul Police Department and lauded them as an example, encouraging more funding for existing programs addressing mental health and domestic violence. “No one here has talked about gutting any budget,” Eng-Sarne said during the Town Square forum. “I’m very confident in our police force.” Read Eng-Sarne’s response >>
- Budget: In short, the city has a plan to reduce debt and is working hard to maximize tax dollars. Eng-Sarne supports those efforts, as well as getting creative to find other revenue options. It’s worth noting that the property tax increases during Eng-Sarne’s term have been lower than previous years. Read Eng-Sarne’s response >>
- Housing: “It has been critical to say yes to a mix of developments to meet the housing needs of different and changing demographics.” Read Eng-Sarne’s full response >>
- Trails & sidewalks: “This is a priority and will continue to stay a priority in the coming years, and we will be as ambitious as possible in closing sidewalk and trail gaps, while also tracking with the city budget.” Read Eng-Sarne’s full response >>
Unacceptable Candidate Behavior
Eng-Sarne is running against David Meisinger, a former mayor and Council Member who most recently lost his run for mayor in 2016 and his run for Council in 2018. So what’s the unacceptable behavior from Meisinger that prompted this endorsement?
First, let’s be clear that unacceptable behavior from Meisinger existed long before the 2020 campaign. Rather than go into detail, I’ll just point to the 2018 article I wrote outlining three public examples of Meisinger’s bullying, intimidating, and mean-spirited behavior. That should have been enough to trigger an endorsement this year, but I figured I’d see how the campaign played out and give Meisinger a chance to make amends.
That did not happen.
In addition to the behavior outlined in 2018, Meisinger’s campaign in 2020 includes a number of false statements:
- Policing: Meisinger said “our police remain under attack from candidates running for city council.” Not true. Not a single candidate running in West St. Paul has attacked the police or argued to defund the police. Police Chief Brian Sturgeon has said he doesn’t feel like any of the candidates are attacking the police. Here’s what the candidates had to say about policing.
- Economic development: Meisinger said Robert Street development is “interrupted.” It’s not. It’s booming.
- Representation: Finally, Meisinger argues that “it’s time to be represented by someone who speaks for you—not someone who interjects their personal ideology/politics.” This appears to be an oblique reference to Eng-Sarne’s actions during the Wakota debate. Regardless of your feelings on that project, Eng-Sarne actually kept personal ideology out of it by recusing herself on the advice of the city attorney and the League of Minnesota Cities.
(These claims can be found in Meisinger’s campaign mailer.)
In the 2000 mayoral campaign, Meisinger was the sole candidate with a website, making an effort to communicate and connect with residents. But 20 years later, he has zero online campaign presence. In and of itself that isn’t a bad thing, but in this case it’s a pattern of avoiding public engagement and transparency. Meisinger only showed up to one candidate forum and skipped virtually all other opportunities to answer questions or engage with the voting public.
Breaking No Endorsement Policy
For these reasons, I’ve decided to break my no endorsement policy and endorse Lisa Eng-Sarne for Ward 3 City Council.
Politics is often divisive and people will disagree. There are plenty of disagreements among the candidates in the other races in West St. Paul, yet those races are still cordial and no one is lying or misleading. We may debate one another hard, but we can still be decent to each other.
That’s what West St. Paul expects from its public officials—at a bare minimum, decency. The possibility that West St. Paul could elect someone who lies and bullies, banking on an uninformed electorate, is simply unacceptable.
Compassionate Local Government
Earlier this year I wrote a book about better politics, and I think Eng-Sarne embodies the spirit of that book. Multiple times during her campaign she’s talked about the importance of compassionate local government. It’s the kind of person Eng-Sarne is and the way she’s served as an elected official.
Given all the demands of City Council, you might ask why Eng-Sarne does it. Here’s why:
“I just got off the phone with a constituent who asked that question, and it’s because I feel like West St. Paul needs me and people like me to step up and make what we can make better, better. And we need it right now. I don’t have any personal business interests in town, my intention is very clear—I want to provide good service to constituents and build a stronger community. We have something special in these five square miles, let’s take the opportunity to help it shine!”
Vote for Lisa Eng-Sarne for West St. Paul Ward 3 City Council.