Interview with Dai Thao, candidate for Saint Paul City Council, Ward 1

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Hmong Pages: There has been some controversy about having two Hmong candidates in the race. It seems that other communities do not have the same controversy. What do you think is the reason for that difference?

Dai Thao: I think the fact that we have two Hmong American candidates shows the strength of our community. In the past we struggled just to find a single Hmong candidate to run so that we could have a voice. The Hmong community have grown, and I anticipate that we will continue to grow to the point that having multiple candidates in any given race will become the norm. Fortunately, this year we have Ranked Choice Voting, which means that voters can vote for both Kazoua and I by making us your first and second choice candidates. This avoids diluting the voting power of our community.

Hmong Pages: The DFL Ward 1 Convention did not endorse either one of you and left the decision to the voters. You have publicly claimed that you were the winner at the convention, yet despite the best showing, you did not win the party endorsement. Some people say you had to win to have a chance. What do you say to that?

Dai Thao: To be fair, I never publicly claimed to have been the “winner,” though I did say I came out of the convention in the lead. But I will say this now: We did win in terms of having secured more delegates and ballots than any of the other candidates, and we had the strongest showing of volunteers. The endorsement isn’t the only win coming out of a convention. Fortunately, this year we have Ranked Choice Voting, which means that voters can vote for both Kazoua and I by making us your first and second choice candidates. This avoids diluting the voting power of our community.

Hmong Pages: Regardless of the controversy, most mainstream voters are more interested in what motivates you to enter this race. In a few sentences, can you tell them why you are running?

Dai Thao: Ward 1 is at a crossroads between the status quo and a prosperous, equitable future. For too long, unjust structures have divided people by difference and driven development through the community, while routing opportunity and prosperity around it. I will leverage community power, forge alliances, and use every tool inside City Hall to change those structures so that all of us in Ward 1 enjoy the full benefits created by new development and our own determined, hard work. I also invite your readers to visit www.daithao.org for more information on my campaign.

Hmong Pages: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing Ward 1? How do you plan on tackling them when elected?

Dai Thao: 1. Jobs. I will use every available policy tool to ensure that jobs created by new development on the Green Line pay good wages, provide healthcare, employ union labor, and benefit Ward 1 residents and workers. Our ward faces an exciting opportunity, but also a shrinking window. The Green Line will create new development and draw new consumers to University Avenue. Businesses will follow. If the city can get out ahead of this development and set the rules before it really takes off, then we can change the community’s fortunes from the beginning.

2. Equitable Resources. I will ensure that Ward 1 receives equitable public safety and neighborhood development resources. For example, I will ensure the city keeps its promise to provide additional resources to the fire department so it can provide both emergency fire and emergency medical service to Ward 1 residents. Currently, the department can only provide one or the other at any given time. This is despite the fact that Ward 1 suffers more fire fatalities than any other ward in the city. If there’s a more blatant example of inequity than failing to provide sufficient resources to save lives during a fire, I don’t know what it is. The city promised firefighters they would fix this and I’ll make sure they keep that promise.

3. Housing. I will protect homeowners and renters from foreclosures, property tax hikes, and speculators, and require new housing developments to include affordable housing. I would take up Councilmember Carter’s call for an underwater home buyback/Sellback program, which would use privately matched, public funds to buy qualifying homeowners’ underwater mortgages, and then sell them back to the homeowner at current market rates. This would stabilize communities, protect families, and provide a firm foundation for recovery in Ward 1 and the city.

Hmong Pages: What do you bring to the table that makes you qualified to represent the people in Ward 1?

Dai Thao: The most valuable asset I bring to the table is my experience as a community organizer especially in this Ward for the last decade. I want to help the communities of Ward 1 connect and build power to make change to get there. There are more policy goals at stake for our ward than can be accomplished by a single City Councilmember alone. To paraphrase the U.S. President (also a community organizer): Change doesn’t come from City Hall; it comes to City Hall. Helping to build a stronger community that is empowered to call its own shots would be the best accomplishment of all and that’s what community organizing can do.

Hmong Pages: Ward 1 has probably one of the most diverse populations in the city. How does that impact your campaign?

Dai Thao: I’ve been proudly endorsed by St. Paul Firefighters Local 21, TakeAction Minnesota, SEIU MN State Council, Stonewall DFL, and the Hmong American Leaders Council. I believe our diversity is our strength. This belief is very exciting for me. I know from my community organizing with TakeAction and ISAIAH, that despite our differences, our destinies are linked; that the quality of life for my children depend on the quality of my neighbors and their children. That is why I will drive hard bargains and ensure the development of Ward 1 is enjoyed by the people of Ward 1.