For an off-year election there was plenty of excitement in St. Paul on Tuesday night.
The DFL ticket held its party at the Saint Paul Hotel, where incumbent Mayor Christopher Coleman and School Board candidate Vallay Moua Varro were present to celebrate with their supporters.
Varro will take her seat on the Saint Paul Public School Board (ISD 625). She overcame challenger Pat Igo with 58.8 percent of 74,305 votes in 104 Precincts.
Varro, the Education Policy Director for the City of Saint Paul, said she intended to run for school board in the 2011 election. With the announcement last spring that School Board Member Tom Conlon would resign to move out east, Varro moved up her plans to run in this special election when she received the DFL endorsement in June.
“I really have great confidence in our city, in our mayor, and in our school board,” said Varro. “I believe that our schools are going to be able to move forward, and when our community engages in our schools, and when we provide our educators with the tools and resources that they need, and when we as a community share in the commitment to making sure that all of our children can learn and thrive that everything else in our city and our schools will work.”
Varro will serve with fellow Hmong board member Kazoua Kong Thao, the current board president. She called the board members “mentors” and that she looked forward to making big accomplishments together over the next four years.
“We have got to get that superintendent hired. We have got to get those test scores up, and we have got to close that achievement gap so that every child entering Saint Paul Public Schools has a chance and an opportunity to succeed,” she said.
Varro was introduced by her sister, State Sen. Mee Moua, who said the election landslide shows that Varro won voters with her own abilities and vision.
“I think that this overwhelming victory will prove that she is plenty confident and more than qualified to do this job and that is why she got elected tonight,” said Moua.
In the regular School Board election there were six candidates with the top three getting elected. They included Elona Street-Stewart, Jean O’Connell and John Brodrick.
Tom Goldstein was just a few hundred votes behind in fourth place, followed by Chris Conner and John Krenik.
Coleman and his supporters were pleased with 68 percent of the 33,876 votes cast. He gave much of the credit to the nearly 3,000 city workers that he called incredible employees that are passionate about their jobs. He said that and his open door and inclusive focus on government gives the public confidence in this administration.
“This is not just about me, he said. “It is about everyone who has been a part of what we have won here.”
Coleman, completing his first term as Mayor after defeating Randy Kelly, was a former City Councilman who said he ran because he wanted the office to have a strong working relationship with the council, city departments and citizens.
Coleman pointed to his six point strategic plan of his first term as a success. He said it worked because it approached problems with a long-term approach, and solved a $16 million structural deficit in the third year of a four-year plan.
“I am excited to think about opportunities over next four years,” said Coleman.
He said that tough times are still ahead and that the answer is to face challenges with open and honest conversation about what kind of community we are trying to create.
“When you are making tough decisions but you are not making false choices,” he said. “When you are making tough choices, but you are doing it with the will and the support of the people that you can move the community forward that the people will support that and we will reelect you and they will continue to support your efforts in moving the city forward. Be honest with people.
“That’s what this is about,” he added. “That’s what this reelection confirms.”
Eva Ng, the independent challenger to Chris Coleman, said she may have fell short of her goal to make history by becoming the first Asian American and first woman mayor of St. Paul, but that she has succeeded in building a community of concerned people that will continue to work on the issues they fought for in the campaign.
“I enjoyed the experience of forming an organization out of thin air in a matter of a few months,” said Ng. “We gave it everything we got.”
If there was one this she would have done differently, Ng said she would have started the campaign even sooner.
“We didn’t start until April, and we were able to put a whole organization together in about seven days,” she added. “It was incredible what we did. Anyone else who started this late probably wouldn’t have made a showing.”
Ng said she phoned Mayor Coleman to congratulate him on his victory and said that she would be willing to discuss ideas and share views in the future as a citizen of St. Paul who is willing to contribute in her own way.
Her major concerns are government spending, inefficiency, lowering property taxes and user fees, and creating an inviting climate for business growth.
“Government is never free either we spend our effort or time and money at it or they are going to take everything away from us,” she said.
Ng said that she would not rule out running again but that for now she will again focus on her private sector business, and keep in communication using social media and meetings.
St. Paul also approved Instant Runoff Voting for future elections of the mayor and city council members.
According to FairVote Minnesota, Instant Runoff Voting or IRV, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, ensuring majority winners in single-winner races where there are more than two candidates on the ballot.
Under IRV, voters cast their vote for their favorite candidate knowing that if no candidate gathers a majority of votes in the first round of counting their votes can count toward their second choice. Votes cast for the less popular candidates are not “wasted”, but rather redistributed to more popular candidates, based on the voters’ second choices, until one candidate emerges with a majority of votes.
Saint Paul joins Minneapolis and more than a half a dozen other jurisdictions around the United States and democracies around the world, including Ireland and Australia in using Instant Runoff Voting.
The City of Minneapolis underwent its first election using IRV on Tuesday.