In St. Paul’s Fifth Ward, both incumbent city councilperson Lee Helgen and challenger Amy Brendmoen sought the DFL endorsement, but the contest was too close and neither was endorsed. Looking toward the November general election, TC Daily Planet intern Liz Spielmann posed questions to both candidates. Ward 5 includes most of Como and North End neighborhods and part of the Payne Phalen neighborhood 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? What issues are at the forefront of your campaign?
Lee Helgen: Well, I’m running for re-election because I really feel like we’ve made a lot of great progress putting together community driven planning processes, beginning to execute on that, and getting some great development to occur along the Rice Street corridor, around Como, Front and Dale. We’ve also made really good progress on our vacant housing, on the fore closers; we’ve been able to remove blighted properties, get some rehab dollars and get them sold back on the market. And I think the amount of work that’s out there is pressing but I still have energy and desire to do public service.
Amy Brendmoen: I’m a Democrat and I’m challenging a Democrat, which is kind of against the unwritten rules. I was intrigued about running because I thought I had something to offer the ward that wasn’t being offered by the incumbent: primarily my relationship building skills. I also have a background as a mediator with the attorney general office and I felt like with all the partisan and bickering going on that it might be a good opportunity to bring in my skills of being able to bring folks together and respect their different opinions and come up with ideas and different ways to solve problems. And, so, I thought I would run even though it was unorthodox. As I’ve met people I have become more and more convinced I should run. My ward is so diverse and I want to bring together so they feel enfranchised.
TCDP: What is the number one thing you want your voters to know?
Amy Brendmoen: There is a comfort in voting with something you’re familiar, but I feel that the voters in my ward have a real safe opportunity to take a chance a new, innovative leader. There’s risk in taking a chance, but it’s worth the risk.
Lee Helgen: Experience matters and so does the network of experience, and we have some positive momentum going on in the community. It’s an active strategy to engage district council and each of the different neighborhoods. The idea that we can maintain positive momentum going forward, despite the budget challenge and the uncertainty of the state and federal level, what we have going on in the city level is actually working and that’s something I think we need to keep intact.
TCDP: What is your campaign strategy or plan?
Lee Helgen: I’ve been very active out at the doors–lots of personal conversations with individuals. We’ve taken a kind of grass roots on the round campaign strategy. I spend most of my time talking to personally or on the phone or outdoors. It’s a good campaign infrastructure that makes the calls getting done.
Amy Brendmoen: Our strategy was to make the case that Ward Five needed a stronger, authentic, and respected leader to represent our ward. We planned to win the DFL endorsement, which the incumbent has never won, to try and catapult off of that, and to really get our message to women. There’s only one woman in St. Paul City Council, which is ridiculous. And to talk to people that we have common ground with and get them excited–pulling people from all sides, especially strong women.
TCDP: What change do you hope to bring if re-elected?
Amy Brendmoen: There’s this built-in disenfranchising that I’m taking part in, and it troubles me. I’m making an effort to get more people voting. I think we can work to change that. I want to hold city council office hours; I want to bring the politics to people.
Lee Helgen: One of the things I have been spending more time talking about is the issue of the employment disparity gap and the need for us to focus on job creation. We’ve done good planning in industrial areas that are near Ward Five that will bring in additional job opportunities. We’ve also done a lot of economic development to lay down some groundwork. That’s an area I think we need some additional work–really maintain that focus on the quality of life since Ward Five is a residential neighborhood. Those issues around the basic city services: keeping parks and libraries strong, keep police and firefighter response time up, making sure we’re delivering those quality services that people expect that add to the quality of life, are really important.
TCDP: Do you feel inexperienced in comparison to your opponent?
Amy Brendmoen: I’ve been political my whole life and I have a great campaign team, so I feel we’re running a great, solid campaign. The incumbent’s message is ‘I’ve had eight years of experience, I know what I’m doing’ and to that I say city council is filled with incumbents with 62 combined years of experiences and what there is lacking is a person coming in with high energy, creative ideas, and unconventional thinking. They [City Council] are covered in knowledge but not with ideas. People seem to agree.
TCDP: How does being Vice President of City Council affect your campaign?
Lee Helgen: Leadership positions are great because it gives you a chance to get involved in the discussion a little bit more. I’m also involved a few other boards because part of the job is to be invested in the community, so I’m on the Work Force Investment Board and league of Minnesota board of directors.
TCDP: How would you say you’re different from your opponent?
Lee Helgen: I have experience and I know how the city works. I have that strong network of relationships and I have a real commitment to working with the community process. I have a good understanding of the issues and how to move them forward. When I first was elected it took me a few years to understand the budget and the people.
Lee Helgen: AFSCME Council 5, Laborers Local 132, Minnesota Nurses Association,
Saint Paul Building and Construction Trades Council, Saint Paul Federation of Teachers Local 28, Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation , SEIU Minnesota State Council
Teamsters Local 120, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, State Senator Ellen Anderson
State Senator Sandy Pappas, State Representative Sheldon Johnson, State Representative Alice Hausman, State Representative John Lesch, Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom.
Amy Brendmoen: Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Take Action Minnesota, United Steelworkers Local 7263, International Union of Operating Engineers – Local 49, Saint Paul Police Federation, Saint Paul Firefighters Local 21, WomenWinning, Stonewall DFL.