South St. Paul city council race: Young Tea Party trio challenges incumbents


Three young men, inspired to run by their Tea Party activism, are challenging three incumbents on the six-member South St. Paul City Council. Mike Marschinke, 28, Shawn Meck, 28, and Nick Schaefer, 29, want to disprove the belief that politics and 20-somethings don’t mix. The three incumbents are Lori Hansen, 57, Christopher Lehmann, 45, and Dan Niederkorn, 57. Hansen is running for her fifth term, Lehmann is running for his third term and Niederkorn is running for his third term. The other three members of the city council will be up for election in 2014.

This series includes four articles: South St. Paul’s city council race: Young Tea Party trio challenges incumbentsSouth St. Paul City Council election: Housing, crime and residentsSouth St. Paul City Council election: Business climate and developmentSouth St. Paul City Council election: Budget and debt. For a brief description of South St. Paul history and economic development, see South St. Paul then and now.

“We Run As One”

South St. Paul city candidates run without official party designation, but Marschinke, Meck and Schaefer decided to add a twist to their campaign: they are running as one unit.

“We share the same views and to be able to make a difference in South St. Paul we realized that it’s going to take more than one person to do it, so all three of us are running as one,” said Meck, who came up with the trio’s slogan We Run As One.

They became interested in politics in 2008 after attending a South St. Paul Tea Party branch event of the National “Tea Party Patriots.” Marschinke organized the South St. Paul Tea Party website, became its coordinator and designated Schaefer as chapter advisor. In 2009 they attended a tax rally at the state capitol and decided to become active in politics.

South St. Paul then and now

I graduated from South St. Paul high school and I hadn’t been to the city for over 30 years when I went to interview the candidates for this story.

I was startled by the condition of Concord Street. A vastly different city greeted me: deserted, run-down and sad was my impression of my former hometown.

Above, left) Marschinke, Schaefer and Meck with abandoned toxic waste drums on vacant property. The drums were removed after complaints to the city.

According to the Star Tribune, the Swift meatpacking plant closed in 1969, and the Armour plant about ten years later, for a total loss of about 12,000 jobs. “With terrible unemployment, the city was declared a federal disaster area,” reported the Star Tribune.

Business at the stockyards dwindled until, after 122 years, the stockyards were razed in 2008. Now, reports the Star Tribune:

New clean industry has moved in. The area [where the stockyards and packing plants once operated] is home to 60 to 70 businesses that employ 4,000 people, including Twin City Bagels Inc., which opened its building in 2000 and doubled its capacity in 2004.

“That area is definitely in transition. It’s an area that’s trying to find its way. It’s been pretty much the same for the past 20 years, since the stockyards were removed,” said South St. Paul City Planner Peter Hellegers.

South St. Paul’s 2010 population was 20,160 with a median age of 36, according to the  U.S. Census Bureau. Some 85 percent are Caucasian; 12 percent are Hispanic or Latino. A high percentage of residents are of German, Irish, Norwegian and Polish ancestry.

In 1990, the City of South St. Paul was designated an All-American City by the National Civic League. (All-America Cities have shown the ability to innovate in such areas as job creation, neighborhood revitalization, crime reduction, new housing for low income people, improving education and engaging youth, according to the League’s website).

Meck and Marschinke, 2002 graduates of South St. Paul high school, have lived in the city most of their lives. Schaefer has resided in South St. Paul since 2005; his father opened a plant store in the city the month Nick was born and says he has known the city his entire life.

Marschinke assembles firearms at JP Enterprises, Meck is a Shipping and Receiving Supervisor at Changer Services and Schaefer is a Service Technician at Binder Heating and Air Conditioning.

“We’ve worked for the past ten years as blue collar, so we know exactly what people are going through. We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths. I, for sure, was born pretty dirt poor so I know exactly what goes on between busting your hump to actually make a living and just sitting on welfare and collecting a paycheck,” said Marschinke

The Incumbents

At least two of the three incumbents are life-long South St. Paul residents. Lehmann is an attorney and partner at Graniss & Graniss PA in South St. Paul, and Niederkorn owns Niederkorn’s Construction Company based in South St. Paul. Hansen did not respond to requests for information.

Niederkorn’s path to city council began as a South St. Paul neighborhood advocate, successfully preserving and protecting environmentally sensitive bluffs. He was a member of the city’s planning commission prior to his term as council member. This year, he was appointed to the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Along with Lehmann, he serves on the board of the South Metro Fire Department, the full-time paid fire department of South St. Paul and West St. Paul. Niederkorn is the current board president of the fire department.

Five of the candidates appeared on a September 4 candidate forum produced by Town Square Television where they debated a range of topics. Council member Hansen appeared on the forum.

Marschinke, Meck and Schaefer have a campaign website.  Incumbents Hansen, Lehmann and Niederkorn do not. Niederkorn said he much prefers the personal touch of going door-to-door and talking directly with citizens, and hopes to visit 1,000 homes by election day.