Hotly contested race in First Ward

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Incumbent Debbie Montgomery and challenger Melvin Carter III square off.

St. Paul’s Ward One city council race this fall should be one of the more interesting races in that city. With about 30 ethnic groups speaking about 27 different languages, as well as both high income and low income residents, Ward One is one of the most—if not the most—diverse locations in the Twin Cities.

With its western border on Snelling Avenue, Ward One extends southward to the north side os Summit Avenue, and east to I-35E, with a zig-zag northern boundary that encompasses long segments of University, Front and Lexington Avenues.

The ward’s current council member, Debbie Montgomery, is running for re-election to a second term. Montgomery, a Democrat, faces a challenge from fellow Democrat, Melvin Carter III, a political newcomer who snagged the DFL endorsement.

Montgomery said she intends that her second term would continue to focus on the issues she emphasized in her first term: economic and job development; quality mixed-income and affordable housing and opportunities for youth and seniors.

“I made a commitment to this ward [during her 2003 campaign] that I would bring in 1,000 jobs in four years,” Montgomery said. “As of December 2006, I have brought in over 1258 new jobs and I’m still bringing in jobs.” She says those jobs were created on her watch with the construction or expansion of businesses like the Super Target store on University Avenue, Dale Street Business Center and Shaw Lumber.

As evidence of her commitment to bringing affordable housing to her ward, Montgomery points to the new Rondo Community Outreach Housing development, the Carty Heights senior-living apartments, LaDey Commons townhomes, and other projects.

An achievement Montgomery is particularly proud of is the Jimmy Lee youth recreational facility at Lexington and Iglehart, now under construction and scheduled to open in the spring of 2008. Montgomery hopes that center’s four gyms will attract to the area some basketball tournaments that are currently held in suburban gyms. The recreational facility will also contain what Montgomery said will be “the city’s only indoor water park.”

The proposed University Avenue light rail line has Montgomery’s support, but only if there is a provision to preserve the view for area residents. Anticipating that the rail line will make University Avenue more attractive to business development, Montgomery said that, “I made an amendment to the legislation that building heights couldn’t be above three stories in the middle of the block and four stories on the corner. The people that live there want to be able to see the sun and the stars.”

When asked why she should retain her city council seat, Montgomery answered, “I think experience and leadership. I’ve worked for the city for over 40 years. If there’s anybody that understands and knows the city and the processes, it’s me. But more importantly, I was born and raised here in this neighborhood. I grew up here, I went to school here, I’ve raised my family here. I am committed to this ward and to this city. My commitment has never wavered.”

Although Melvin Carter III, Montgomery’s opponent, has no legislative experience, he boasts a long list of endorsements. In addition to the DFL, he has been endoresed by AFSCME, St. Paul Firefighters, SEIU, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum.

Carter sees three major priorities in Ward One:

• Public safety: “We need a more comprehensive approach which does not just rest on locking people up, but relies on creating opportunities in the community for people to basically feel hopeful about the future that they see for themselves.”

• Affordable housing: “When my wife and I were ready to buy our first home, we were two people with three college degrees between the two of us and working full time. We couldn’t afford to buy a home here. That’s a problem because we’re losing a lot of young families that would love to be here and should be in this community.

• Economic opportunity: “I think, as many people in the ward do, that all the options, all the resources the Central corridor and light rail transit is going to create, should be created for us and not just by us.”

If elected to the city council, Carter plans to take advantage of his previous experience doing community organizing and to make use of the connections he made working on other political campaigns. Carter says he will use those resources, along with extensive ties to all the communities in his ward, to focus resources toward the betterment of all ward residents. “I think that community power, more than any one specific policy position, is my vision for our ward,” he said.

When asked about his goals and why he is running, Carter maintained that, “’As one, we win’ is our strategy, it’s our motto, it’s our goal, it’s our campaign plan; it’s just bringing people together. It’s a matter of bringing people together around the hope for the kind of community we expect to leave our children and grandchildren.”

Isaac Peterson is a free-lance writer living in St. Paul.