In St. Paul’s Third Ward, there is no incumbent. Looking toward the November general election, TC Daily Planet intern Nancy Huynh posed questions to Chris Tolbert and John Mannillo. Eve Stein and Tylor J. Slinger are also running in Ward 3, which includes Highland Park and most of Macalester Groveland neighborhoods in St. Paul. Ramsey County has a website with complete list of candidates in 2011 elections, and a precinct finder to identify your precinct and ward.
TCDP: Why are you running for city council?
John Mannillo: I’m running because I believe that we need a strong, experienced, and independent voice on the council that puts the needs of the neighborhood first. I believe we can overcome any challenge, and I have real-world business and community-building experience that can help us overcome the challenges we face as a neighborhood and a city.
Chris Tolbert: I was born and raised in this community, and I have benefitted from it greatly. I am running for city council to make it great for generations to come.
TCDP: Do you have any experience in government?
Chris Tolbert: I have been involved in politics my entire life– from appearing in Former Congressman Bruce Vento’s campaign literature as a child to serving as an intern for Congresswoman Betty McCollum in college to volunteering on numerous local legislative and county attorney campaigns. I have also had the opportunity to assist Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin with important political and government decisions including both the Franken-Coleman and Emmer-Dayton Recounts and the case that found Governor Pawlenty’s use of unallotment illegal.
John Mannillo: I have never held an elected office, but I have chaired, served on, and been appointed to several city commissions and boards. For instance, I was the chairperson of the CapitolRiver Council Development Review Committee, the Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission, and the Skyway Governance Committee; a member of the 2007 Fire Chief Selection Committee; and an appointee to the Capitol Area Architectual and Planning Board and the Riverfront Commission among others.
TCDP: Why did you choose government?
John Mannillo: I believe our neighborhood and our city are facing a unique set of challenges that can be best addressed by an experienced businessperson with community-based values and an independent voice. I have had great success as a local business owner and a preservation redeveloper and realtor in transforming existing spaces in a way that preserves character and uniqueness and enhances the community. I’ve balanced budgets and made payroll in tough economic times, and I’ve never had to use a public subsidy to complete a project. I want to bring that efficiency and experience to the city government as a councilperson.
Chris Tolbert: From an early age my family instilled in me the importance of public service. I am grateful for the opportunities I have received, and I want to give back to the community that made those opportunities possible.
TCDP: What do you want to change?
Chris Tolbert: State funding cuts have pushed a greater burden onto the city to fund basic services. I favor a balanced approach that prioritizes public safety and high-quality public services. These difficult budgetary times will require us to be more efficient with our limited resources.
TCDP: What issues make you stand out from the other candidates?
John Mannillo: Three things set me apart from the other candidates: experience, independence, and vision.
I have more than 30 years of real-world business experience and community involvement in a number of roles. As a local business owner, I’ve balanced budgets and met payroll to provide for my employees in challenging economic times. I’ve also been a part of bettering the community by chairing Scenic Saint Paul and Scenic Minnesota and working with the Preservation Alliance. I think rubber-meets-the-road experience guided by real concern for our community is exactly what the council needs right now.
I’m committed to being a strong independent voice for my neighbors in Ward 3. While I firmly believe that a candidate and councilmember should speak with everyone and hear concerns and new ideas, I have either turned down endorsements or chosen not to seek endorsements from a number of groups. I believe that the best way to serve everyone is to not be beholden to anyone.
I want Ward 3 to remain strong, and I’m committed to a vision that helps us address rising property taxes. I believe that we should end rolling over Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, which will strengthen our businesses and our schools and grow our revenue base. I believe we should strengthen property values in our neighborhoods by keeping people in their homes whenever possible. That is why I’ll push a plan that bases property taxes on income levels and caps property taxes for taxpayers over 65. In my view, property that produces revenue is better than vacant property, and the entire neighborhood is stronger when more people remain in their homes.
Chris Tolbert: Born and raised here, I have always loved our community pride and the diverse opinions in our neighborhood. I am the best candidate to bring people together who share this desire to improve our city. I will work tirelessly as a responsive and inclusive advocate for our Ward and City.
TCDP: Are there any issues specific to ward 3?
Chris Tolbert: Redeveloping the Ford Plan site is the number one issue in Ward 3. As a council member, I will work to bring diverse interests together. My legal background, neighborhood roots, and ability to build consensus will be important assets as we navigate a solution that will fit within the character of our community today and for future generations.
John Mannillo: The biggest issue facing the residents of Ward 3 is, bar none, the redevelopment of the Ford Plant site.
It’s heartbreaking that the Ford Plant is closing its doors after 88 years of operation, and we owe it to the workers, the neighbors, and all of the residents in Ward 3 and Saint Paul to ensure that we maximize the opportunity for the betterment of our community.
Here’s what I think:
The city needs to join with Ford as a partner in re-developing this property. The city can provide permitting, zoning support, infrastructure and community support and input. This will work to ensure that the property is decontaminated fully and in a timely manner. It will also enable the community to guide the development to ensure what gets built contributes and enhances the Village and our city. Above all, we must ensure that the site does not sit abandoned for years or become a big-box development that will flood our neighborhood with even more traffic.
Again, we can’t afford to squander this redevelopment opportunity. And I will use my considerable redevelopment experience to deliver a positive outcome that will create both temporary construction and permanent jobs and will build tax base without devaluing the surrounding community.
TCDP: How long have you lived in ward 3?
John Mannillo: I’ve lived in Highland Park for 33 years.
Chris Tolbert: I have lived in Ward 3 my whole life except for the four years I attended St. John’s University.
TCDP: Do you have a family?
Chris Tolbert: Single
John Mannillo: I have been married to my wife, Lee, for 36 years.
TCDP: City council is a part time job – what is your other job?
John Mannillo: I believe that serving on the City Council should be a full-time job, and I’m the only candidate who has committed to serving the people of Ward 3 full-time. Presently, I am a small business owner and licensed commercial real estate broker who specializes in tenant representation, redevelopment, and historic preservation economic reuse.
Chris Tolbert: I currently serve as an Assistant Hennepin County Attorney where I serve in the civil division.