Noel Nix is the sixth candidate answering a standard list of questions for all the candidates of Ward 1 for St Paul City Council. I requested brief answers, no more than 300 words. I like his focus on foreclosure. Hopefully, this first answer will entice you to read more.
1) What do you think the job of city council person should accomplish?
A city council member should be a champion for community voice and an effective advocate for the goals and interests of the communities he or she represents. He or she should be a community partner that works with residents, business owners, and workers to advance local projects that will make our neighborhoods better. As one vote among seven, the city council member should also have good working relationships with his or her fellow council members and the mayor’s office, as well as be a creative problem solver that can identify opportunities to bring together government agencies, non-profits, and for-profits to work together. An effective council member should also work to help constituents understand how their city government works and push to ensure that government is effectively addressing issues like public safety that impact quality of life. This requires that a council member have a good understanding of the concerns and hopes of residents, business owners, and workers from all parts of the ward he or she represents. The council member should also have good relationships with city staff and understand how the city can be a resource for constituents.
A council member can accomplish this by regularly making an effort to hear from individual members of the community, working closely with district councils and other community-based organizations, and building good working relationships with city staff. This is the approach I have taken to my work as the legislative aide in the Ward 1 office and would continue as the council member.
2) What is your background? How does this background make you the better choice for city council person?
Most recently I have worked as the Legislative Aide to former City Council member Melvin Carter III and to Council member Nathaniel Khaliq. I am working on community initiatives on the council office’s behalf. These include the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, a collaborative effort with Saint Paul Public Schools and other partners to close the achievement gap. I have been working closely with community organizations on economic development strategies for creating new local businesses and jobs on University Avenue and Selby Avenue as well as addressing housing issues in Frogtown and Summit-University. I also work on solving problems constituents have with city services, participated with neighborhood groups in developing their plans as they related to city services, played neutral mediator in many disputes between constituents and their government or sometimes among different groups of constituents.
I have learned a lot about the City of Saint Paul, about the great employees we have working here, about the inspiring diversity of Ward 1’s constituents, and about the truly amazing work many neighborhood nonprofits are doing on a shoestring. I have a degree in business, and worked for several years as a property manager. This has equipped me to advocate for constituents who are locked in tenant/landlord disputes. I also have a fairly good understanding of the forces that brought on the mortgage foreclosure crisis and want to work to prevent another one. In fact, it was my dismay at seeing good people lose their homes to foreclosure that led me to enroll at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School where I earned a master’s degree in urban planning. There I gained a wealth of knowledge and experience with housing policy, zoning, and other subject areas that are central to running a city and using government as a platform for advancing positive community change.
3) What are the unique characteristics of your city council area?
Ward 1 is the most diverse neighborhood in the City of Saint Paul and has been so for almost 150 years. The ward includes residents that are facing challenges related to poverty and social injustice as well as residents that have fared well but want to see our neighborhoods become stronger and the doors to economic opportunity opened wider. The ward includes families that have lived in Saint Paul and Ward 1 neighborhoods for several generations as well as new immigrants from East Africa, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world who are working to build a new home and a new life right here. It’s also home to the historic Rondo Neighborhood, one of the strongest and most storied African American communities in Minnesota and the Midwest.
We have a wealth of community activism and a collection of strong community-based organizations working to improve our neighborhoods and the lives of families. This means that we are rolling up our sleeves and working together every day to make our block, our school, our industry, our ward, our artistic expression, and our city the best it can be. I am running for city council because I believe in the goals and dreams of these incredible neighbors and community partners and that working together we can continue to make a difference.
4) What three goals would you hope to accomplish as city council person?
A. I will continue our efforts to strengthen our neighborhoods by working to ensure we continue to recover from the foreclosure crisis and that new developments fit within the character and goals of our community. I will work to develop tools to increase home ownership, as well as the quality of rental units in Ward 1. Everyone deserves the dignity of a decent home.
B. I will work to attract businesses that will provide good new jobs. I believe the best way to we can accomplish this by using city resources to help existing local businesses expand as well as to partner with entrepreneurs who want to establish new locally owned businesses. I will push for living wages in projects that come forward in Ward 1 so more of our working families have the resources they need to make ends meet.
C. I will continue the city’s work on the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhoods to ensure that children across our community, particularly those children who have traditionally been left behind, succeed in school so they can succeed in life. The city can and must continue to ensure our rec centers, libraries, parks, and other public services are playing an active role in helping our children learn and grow.
5) Since the city council involves negotiation of competing interests, please give an example where you successfully negotiated a difficult problem among multiple parties.
The opening of the new Buffalo Wild Wings on Snelling Avenue presented a challenge where Ward 1 office worked to balance the needs of a new business and nearby residents. Neighbors living across the street from the new location had serious concerns regarding the potential for traffic, noise, and odors. In this situation, the new restaurant and bar fit within the zoning and parking requirements for the building where it was proposed to be located. I worked to help residents understand that, while the city was not in a position to prevent the restaurant from opening, they would have an opportunity to engage Buffalo Wild Wings by asking the City Council to consider placing conditions on the liquor license for which the restaurant had applied.
This began a negotiation process between the residents and the restaurant. I encouraged residents list and prioritize their concerns and I encouraged representatives from Buffalo Wild Wings that it was in their best interest to provide responses to these concerns. The residents indicated that late night noise and excessive on street parking were at the top of their list came up with proposed solutions. Buffalo Wild Wings agreed to many of the residents’ proposals and even provided a couple additional measures of their own. At times the dialogue became tense, details were miscommunicated, and frustrations on both sides threatened to result in the process breaking down. However, I remained in close contact with all parties and we were able to reach a resolution where both parties didn’t get everything they wanted, but were able to get enough of what they needed to move forward. The result was 125 new jobs in Ward 1 and a new neighborhood amenity.
6) When do you think it is alright for the city council to give special financial consideration to a single business?
I believe very strongly that we must actively work to ensure the city uses its resources to expand economic opportunity by working with employers to create living wage jobs and working with entrepreneurs from within our community to build wealth by creating and expand locally owned small businesses In partnering with the private sector, the City must work to ensure that the public interest is advanced by strongly enforcing requirements around hiring goals for minorities and women, living wages, allowing workers to organize, and other provisions that help working families. We must also use city resources to work with non-profit and responsible for-profit housing developers interested in partnering with the city to create both rental and owner-occupied housing that is affordable to families with limited incomes. This is one of the keys to ensuring families of all backgrounds and incomes can continue to call Ward 1 home as well as use the light rail to access good paying jobs throughout the Twin Cities region.
7) Please provide an example where you stood up for people or for rights against a powerful organization.
A project I am especially proud of is the Ward 1 offices work with organizers and leadership at Skyline Tower to organize residents and advocate for their interests. As many people know, Skyline Tower is home to hundreds of East African immigrants. The building is surrounded by parking lots, concrete, and is separated by I-94 from Jimmy Lee Rec Center and Dunning Rec Center. Furthermore, the closest and largest markets that sell East African goods are located in Minneapolis.
A few months ago, leaders at Skyline approached me to ask if I would help arrange a meeting with Mayor Coleman and the Council member Carter where residents could present their desire to work with the city to create new greenspace that is more accessible as well as an international market where local East African entrepreneurs to set up new businesses. I gladly agreed to help and worked with them to reach out to the mayor’s office, commit Council member Carter to attending, and craft an agenda for the meeting. To everyone’s delight, over 200 residents showed up to the meeting. Clearly impressed by this show if support, Mayor Coleman and Council member Carter committed to support the residents efforts.
I have already been working help keep the momentum from this meeting going by reaching out to potential community partners such as African Economic Development Solutions and the Trust for Public Land to discuss how they and the city can work with Skyline residents to move these goals forward. I am excited by the opportunity to continue to partner with Skyline residents on these efforts as the next council member for Ward 1.
8) Please tell us why your campaign is better choice (i.e. more organized, works harder, works smarter) with specifics?
Now I’m giving away my secrets. My wife Theresa was a field organizer last year for the Obama campaign here in Minnesota. That was her first campaign and she did an incredible. And she is 100% behind my candidacy, so my campaign will benefit from her knowledge and abilities. I also have put together some of the best and brightest campaign volunteers in the entire east metro, many of whom worked with my wife as staff on the Obama campaign. My core volunteer team comes from a variety of neighborhoods, backgrounds, and ethnicities and is a real reflection of what makes Ward 1 great. They inspire me every day.
I’m also proud to have Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter as my campaign chair and the endorsements of AFSCME Council 5 and Teamsters Local 120. Commisioner Carter is the only elected official that represents the same area as Ward 1 who has endorsed a candidate in this race. I have greatly enjoyed partnering with her on issues like education and community health and I am honored to have her support and her confidence. AFSCME Council 5 and Teamsters Local 120 represent thousands of hardworking many and women working in public service in the City of Saint Paul and beyond. Their members ensure that our residents, businesses, and visitors experience the best city services possible and they fight every day to protect and expand the rights of working families everywhere. I am honored to have their support and partnership as our campaign moves forward.
Paul Wellstone always used to say that campaigns are a marathon and not a sprint. I know my dedicated and diverse team is in it for the marathon. We intend to work harder and smarter to win.
9) Please tell us how you as an elected official or your campaign would help other DFL endorsed candidates get into office?
We all stand on the shoulders of the DFLers like Humphrey, Wellstone, and many others who came before us. They built this party from the ground up by sticking to our shared principles and delivering on their bread and butter promises for their constituents. First, I intend to work hard to make the lives of my Ward 1 constituents better. The work our DFL endorsed elected officials are able to accomplish while in office is the best testimonial toward the authenticity of our party’s values. Our accomplishments help build public trust that DFLers will fight and win to advance our beliefs. This certainly lends credibility to what the DFL endorsement stands for as candidates and Saint Paul and beyond run for office under the DFL banner.
Secondly, as DFL endorsed elected official I will door knock, call, write, and do whatever else I can to ensure that Ward 1 has partners in the mayor’s office, other wards in the city, the state capitol, and in Washington that share our values and will support policies that will advance our shared principles. I would see an endorsement of my candidacy as a call and a duty to take up this important work.
10) If you could magically fix one thing about the city of St Paul right now, what would that one thing be and why?
If I could fix one thing instantly, it would be ongoing issues related to public safety. Safety issues of all types, whether its gun violence or nuisance crimes like graffiti, continue to hold our neighborhoods back and leave us all feeling a little less safe than we’d like.
Crime and safety is not an easy issue to tackle. Taking it on requires we have an adequate and effective police force as well as positive and inviting alternatives for young people to spend their time, a quick response to repairing and securing vandalized vacant properties, supports for ex-offenders seeking to build a legitimate life for themselves, and much more. Such efforts require considerable resources, persistence, and patience from city leaders and community members alike. Thanks to the hard work of our concerned residents and our city’s public safety professionals, we have been able to make progress on this front in Ward 1 and other parts of the city. However, all we have to do is read the news to know we still have a lot of work to do.