It’s an understatement to say that this year has been interesting for West St. Paul politics.
Earlier this year a dust-up over a committee appointment revealed a longstanding pattern of sexism directed at Mayor Jenny Halverson, the first woman to hold the post in the city’s history, as well as numerous other women who say they’ve been marginalized by their city council. The ensuing testimony spanned more than two hours and generated local and national media coverage.
In response to this, two women have stepped up to run for city council in Ward 3, which includes Smith Avenue. And in response to that, two men have stepped up in an effort to prevent them from succeeding.
One of those candidates, former mayor David Meisinger, has a documented history of sexist actions and other questionable behavior, as outlined by local blogger Kevin Hendricks. John Ramsay, another candidate in the race, has not condemned or disavowed those actions, and indeed the two candidates filed on the same day and have yard signs of the same design and typeface, suggesting the campaigns are clearly aligned.
The other candidates, Wendy Berry and Lisa Eng-Sarne, both decided to run in response to the treatment of Mayor Halverson. A commitment to a more transparent and inclusive city government is part of both candidate’s platforms. (Full disclosure: Ken Paulman, the author of this post, has volunteered for the Berry campaign)
As an example of this commitment, Eng-Sarne and Berry were the only candidates who committed to attend a recent candidate forum held at city hall (Berry had to change plans because of a death in the family, but later answered questions in a Facebook event). Meisinger said he had a conflict, Ramsay simply ignored the invitation.
And so this primary election is assuredly a referendum on sexism. But that’s not all it’s about.
As the High Bridge reopens this fall and a new high-profile restaurant arrives in the neighborhood, the Smith Avenue neighborhood is at a critical juncture. The neighborhood needs representation that will be responsive to citizens and attentive to community frameworks that have been developed in the past. How our city is represented to potential developers and prospective homeowners matters too.
This blog does not plan to endorse a particular candidate, but I encourage readers to research and reach out to the candidates and ask them about their vision for the neighborhood. Local elections have a major impact, and if you haven’t been paying attention in the past, there’s no time like the present to get involved.
Also, vote! First, determine if you live in Ward 3 (a roughly L-shaped swath including everything west of Charlton and everything south of Marie). Then, find your polling place or vote via absentee ballot at the Dakota County Services Center. You can only vote for one candidate, the top two will advance to the general election. This is a non-partisan race.
The primary is on August 14 and it’s very important you turn out. Here’s how to reach the candidates:
It’s really happening – the High Bridge will officially close for construction in just a few weeks. Starting September 5 the bridge will shut down for 16 months so the deck can be rebuilt and reconfigured. In addition to being safe for continued automobile traffic, the new bridge will feature bike lanes and protected sidewalks.
The official detours will route northbound traffic to downtown via Robert Street, and southbound traffic to Interstate 35E and Highway 13. The section of Wabasha between Fillmore and Plato (just south of the bridge) is still closed and is not scheduled to be completed until October, but if you’re on foot or bike that’s still your best bet to get downtown (the Wabasha bridge itself is still open and can be accessed via Water Street).
This obviously will be an inconvenience, but given the scale of the project it’s not exactly apocalyptic. Google Maps estimates a trip from the Capital View Cafe to Bad Weather Brewing is about 3 minutes by car over the High Bridge. Routing through downtown via Robert Street turns that into a 14 minute trip, and when the Wabasha bridge reopens it goes down to 11 minutes.
If you’re going from the West Side to, say, Grand and Victoria, you go from a 7 minute trip with the bridge to 13 minutes via 35E (those times will obviously vary based on traffic conditions).
The project will also involve short-term closures of Shepherd and Lilydale roads along with the dog park and adjacent trails, details are on the project page.
MnDOT is holding two open houses this month to talk about the construction schedule and local impacts. The first will be Wednesday, August 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Capital View Cafe, the second will be Tuesday, August 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Bad Weather Brewing.
The work is currently scheduled to be completed in December 2018.
By now you’ve probably noticed the road closure signs on the High Bridge. Fear not! The bridge is not closing early. Here is a statement from the city of St. Paul.
The city is closing a short section of Smith Avenue on the north end of the High Bridge as part of a lead replacement project. The bridge itself will not be closed. Smith Avenue will be closed from McBoal Street to Cliff Street (two blocks) starting Monday, April 10 through April 17. Restoration will follow and the work should be finished by Wednesday, April 19.
As entertaining (?) as the presidential campaign can be, let’s not forget that local elections are important too.
Here is a link to last night’s candidate forum for West St. Paul. Remember that Smith Avenue and Dodd Road are scheduled for reconstruction by MnDOT in 2018, but any improvements/upgrades not directly related to the roadway or bringing sidewalks to basic ADA compliance will be up to the city. The Smith/Dodd corridor is in Ward 3, John Ramsay and Dave Napier are the candidates for that seat. Jenny Halverson is challenging David Meisinger for mayor.
To briefly recap the responses, Napier supports implementation of the city’s bike/pedestrian plan, Ramsay says because he and his immediate family seem to have no trouble getting around, he sees no reason to change the status quo.
Because of the timeframe for this project, this election could have implications for our neighborhood for decades to come. The choice is pretty clear, depending on whether you want to see changes or if you like things the way they are.
Please research the candidates carefully and choose wisely.
On Saturday, the Celebrate West St. Paul Days parade moves to Smith Avenue. Here are the details:
What time does the parade start? 1 p.m.
What time do the streets close? From roughly 12:30 to about 3 p.m., according to West St. Paul police. This includes the parade route, staging and breakdown areas, and side streets one block on either side. No parking will be allowed on the parade route starting Saturday morning. Signs will be posted as appropriate.
OMG, I live on the parade route, and I need to get to work! What do I do? Police will be flexible and allow people in and out as needed (you won’t be able to drive on Smith during the parade, though). If you *absolutely* need to get to your car during the parade, the smart thing to do would be to move it to a side street ahead of time.
I need to get to the store! What do I do? Police will be somewhat flexible allowing cars through on Dodd/Bernard to access the Doddway shopping center. But maybe get those errands done in the morning or save them for later.
What about the bus? The Route 67 bus will detour to Delaware Avenue, as shown in green on the map. Rider alerts will be posted at affected stops. This will be a good detour if you’re driving, too.
My family wants to ride our bikes to the parade, where can we park? There is only one bike rack in the area, on the south end of Doddway shopping center. Otherwise bring a cable lock and hope for an open signpost somewhere.
Speaking of parking: Please don’t park in business lots unless you’re shopping there. There’s ample street parking in the neighborhood.
I heard the Cherokee is having a street dance on Friday. Will Smith Avenue be closed? No. There will be no street closures for the street dance, which will be held in the parking lot of Cherokee Dental on Annapolis.
Smith Avenue should do this sort of thing more often! Well, we are planning to hold Art on the Avenue again this year, on August 9th. We need volunteers to distribute flyers, email stubbornlylocal [at] gmail [dot] com if you’re interested in helping out. Thanks!
What about the other West St. Paul Days events? Full schedule can be found here.