In no uncertain terms, the candidate screening questionnaire from TakeAction Minnesota seeks allegiance, and not just to the progressive organizing group’s principles and priorities such as rent control and police divestment, but to the institution itself.
“How will you relate to us in an ongoing way so that we can govern together?” asks a question on the survey recently issued to candidates for the St. Paul City Council. “How do you imagine yourself being in an accountable relationship with us and the greater movement of people’s organizations in Minnesota?”
Another question asks, “What makes you excited and/or nervous about a relationship with us? What are you hoping to get out of a relationship with us?”
Some candidates for city council have balked at what they perceive to be a purity test for a progressive agenda. Still, six prominent candidates have won the TakeAction endorsement, including two who are already seated on the city council, underscoring the reach of the many political action committees and advocacy organizations active in off-year elections in St. Paul.
“What our members are looking for in determining whether or not to endorse someone in a race is finding people we can build with … who are authentic, who are rooted in community, and who are leading boldly on solutions,” said TakeAction executive director Elianne Farhat. “Our questions are intended to open up that type of dialogue … rather than a checklist of ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and ‘Are you with us on this policy?,’ which in our experience doesn’t give our members the clarity they need.”
All 7 St. Paul City Council seats on ballot
When it comes to an invitation to co-govern, the wording may be slightly different but “honestly, a lot of other organizations ask that,” said Ward 5 candidate Hwa Jeong Kim, who has worked closely with TakeAction as the executive director of the get-out-the-vote group Minnesota Voice. “It’s more of an invitation than a requirement, I would say, in terms of vibes.”
While TakeAction might be seen as aggressive in its screenings, it’s hardly the only political action committee or special interest group with an interest in St. Paul’s Nov. 7 election, where all seven city council seats are up for grabs. Four council members have chosen not to seek re-election, meaning a majority of the council will turn over. In addition, seven candidates have chosen to run for four seats on the St. Paul Schools Board.
Of the six TakeAction endorsees — Anika Bowie, Saura Jost, Mitra Jalali, Kim, Nelsie Yang and Cheniqua Johnson — all but Bowie also are officially endorsed by the St. Paul Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which chose not to reconvene its Ward 1 convention following a walk-out in which Bowie led in votes. The six women — all of whom identify as progressive women of color — also have the backing of various labor unions and additional progressive organizing groups, which have supported them with dollars, door knockers or other promotions.
More moderate special interests also have been active in races. Service St. Paul, largely composed of a coalition of building trades and Teamsters, have joined efforts with owners and managers of apartment buildings to back candidates such as David Greenwood-Sanchez in Ward 5 who are critical of the rent control ordinance.
Upset about wages and staffing, the St. Paul Firefighters union, IAFF Local 21, is door knocking in the Highland Park area alongside Ward 3 candidate Isaac Russell. On the city’s East Side, the St. Paul Area Chamber’s political action committee is backing Pa Der Vang over Johnson and four other candidates.
Here’s a look at 24 of the most active political action committees and advocacy groups in St. Paul’s off-year elections, based on their campaign finance reports on file with Ramsey County Elections and the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board, as well as their public endorsements and campaign promotions to date.
St. Paul Area Chamber PAC
The St. Paul Area Chamber’s political action committee is chaired by banker and financial consultant Marc Cove, with B. Kyle — the chamber’s president and chief executive officer — listed as treasurer. In a written statement released in early October, Cove said the PAC backed candidates committed to “doing the pragmatic work of municipal government, focusing on filling potholes, providing public safety, and the myriad other nuts and bolts issues of city government.” The PAC endorsed Ward 1 city council candidate James Lo, Rebecca Noecker in Ward 2, Russell in Ward 3 and Vang in Ward 7.
St. Paul Works
Cecil Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, is listed as both chair and treasurer of the political committee. The association, which represents housing property owners and managers, lists Vang in Ward 7 as an intended beneficiary of its support in its recent registration on file with Ramsey County.
Service St. Paul
As of Oct. 19, a coalition funded by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and the Minnesota Multi Housing Association had raised $220,000 toward surveys, focus groups and donations to individual political campaigns in St. Paul this season. Their stated priorities include jumpstarting housing construction in the city by seeking key exemptions to rent control on behalf of developers and property owners, as well as backing candidates with a commitment to policing and public safety.
Their membership also includes Teamsters Local 120, Teamsters Joint Council 32, the St. Paul Area Chamber and other individual business and community leaders. Service St. Paul’s treasurer and spokesman is Jason George, the business manager for IUOE 49, which represents mechanics and heavy equipment operators.
In Ward 1, Service St. Paul is supporting Lo first, followed by Yan Chen on the same ranked-choice ballot for city council. They’re also backing Russell in Ward 3, Greenwood-Sanchez in Ward 5 and Gary Unger in Ward 6.
Minnesota 350/St. Paul 350
Based on Lake Street in Minneapolis, advocacy organization Minnesota 350 organizes around clean energy, public transit and a federal Green New Deal. Tee McClenty is listed as treasurer of their political fund, which McClenty said in an email has not endorsed or donated to any St. Paul candidates this election cycle. In St. Paul, volunteers organize under the name St. Paul 350, which has hosted four city council candidate forums, with videos posted online.
Sunrise Movement Twin Cities
The student-driven Sunrise Movement, which in the Twin Cities is based at Macalester College, organizes around climate change and advocates for a federal Green New Deal. Sunrise has endorsed Bowie in Ward 1, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7.
AFSCME Council 5 People Fund
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents the city of St. Paul’s technical and clerical workers in contract negotiations. The AFSCME Council 5 People Fund lists Eric Hesse as chair and Kathy Vake as treasurer. From Jan. 1 through Sept. 19, it listed $219,000 in expenditures, though only $2,000 directly to candidates, with most of the money donated to political party units. They’ve endorsed Bowie in Ward 1, Noecker in Ward 2, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5 and Yang in Ward 6.
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49
The labor union represents mechanics and heavy equipment operators in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Jason George is listed as chair and treasurer. Through Oct. 19, the IUOE 49 reported spending $340,000 to support both Republican and DFL political campaigns across the metro, including $600 donations to the Friends of Rebecca Noecker, Lo and Russell.
Another $5,000 was contributed to the “Vote Yes for St. Paul” campaign, which supports a yes vote on the Nov. 7 ballot question that would raise the city’s sales tax to fund roads and parks. IUOE 49 contributed $125,000 to the Service St. Paul political action committee.
Laborers’ District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota Political Fund (LIUNA)
Organized on behalf of construction workers affiliated with the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), the political fund had spent roughly $350,000 across its service area this political season, including $500 checks to the city council campaigns of Noecker in Ward 1, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7. The committee lists Joel Smith as chair and treasurer.
North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters
Adam Duininck is listed as chair and Pat Nilsen as treasurer of the carpenters union’s political action committee. The union endorsed Noecker in Ward 2, Russell in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5 and Johnson in Ward 7. Each candidate received $500.
St. Paul Federation of Educators Local 28
SPFE Local 28 — also known as the St. Paul teacher’s union — has endorsed school board candidates Chauntyll Allen, Yusef Carrillo, Carlo Franco and Erica Valliant, who also share the St. Paul DFL endorsement. For city council, they’re backing Lo in Ward 1, Noecker in Ward 2, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7. The Local 28 political fund lists Annaka Larson as chair and Laurel Kuhner Berker as treasurer.
The Service Employees International Union represents commercial janitors, window cleaners, security guards, cooks, nursing assistants and other frontline workers in the commercial cleaning and healthcare sectors. Greg Nammacher is chair of the SEIU Minnesota State Council Political Fund, with Brian Elliott serving as treasurer. They’ve endorsed Noecker in Ward 2, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7.
In 2021, Minneapolis-based SEIU Local 26 was a proponent rent control in St. Paul. Nammacher is listed as chair and treasurer of the local’s political fund, as well. Others in the SEIU umbrella include SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, SEIU Local 284 in the education sector, and Workers United in the hospitality, manufacturing and distribution sector.
Other labor groups
Other labor groups that have issued endorsements this election season include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers IBEW Local 110, the Minnesota/St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council, the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation AFL-CIO, Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, Steamfitters Pipefitters Local 455, Teamsters Joint Council 32, and Unite Here Local 17 (Twin Cities Hospitality Union).
St. Paul Democratic-Farmer-Labor
The St. Paul DFL has endorsed Noecker in Ward 2, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7. The party did not issue an endorsement in Ward 1, where the city convention ended in a walk-out. For school board, they’re supporting Allen, Carrillo, Franco and Valliant.
Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America
The Twin Cities DSA is a chapter of the largest socialist organization in the U.S., which has pledged to dismantle capitalism while upholding democracy. The treasurer is listed as Timothy Hart of Minneapolis. The chapter has endorsed two candidates for St. Paul City Council: Kim in Ward 5 and Yang in Ward 6.
The Republican Party has endorsed Travis Helkamp for the Ward 1 seat on the city council, according to Mikki Murray, chair of the St. Paul Republican City Committee.
Faith in Minnesota
Faith in Minnesota Action is the St. Paul-based political committee associated with ISAIAH, one of the most visible progressive advocacy organizations in St. Paul. The interfaith social justice coalition supported the city’s rent control ordinance, a paid sick leave mandate, organized trash collection and preventive public safety measures over additional police hiring. Alexa Horwart is listed as chair of the political committee, with Brian Kao listed as treasurer. The PAC has endorsed Jost for city council in Ward 3, Kim in Ward 5 and Johnson in Ward 7.
Inspired by the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, Our Revolution Twin Cities formed in 2017 and has backed candidates that share its progressive views on wealth redistribution and other social causes. According to its website, it was recently led by chair Janet Kitui and treasurer Jessica Monette. Our Revolution Twin Cities has endorsed both Suz Woehrle and Bowie for St. Paul City Council in Ward 1, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and both Alexander Bourne and Johnson in Ward 7. They have endorsed Allen for school board.
Based in St. Paul and Duluth, the progressive organizing group TakeAction Minnesota has become ubiquitous in city council elections in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, working closely with organizations such as Minnesota Voice — which employs Kim, the Ward 5 city council candidate, and school board member Halla Henderson in lead roles — to get out the vote and raise money for candidates. Among their priorities, the TakeAction screening questionnaire asks candidates whether they support rent control, “divesting from police and investing in care infrastructure and alternatives to violence,” and ending discrimination for jobs and housing.
In 2021, the year a rent control question went to ballot in St. Paul, the TakeAction Political Fund spent some $455,000 in cash and in-kind donations on political activities, though it was unclear from reports on file with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board how much of that was spent in St. Paul. TakeAction generally does not make direct campaign donations, but rather hires door knockers and phone bankers, among other field activities, said executive director Elianne Farhat.
Ramsey County Commissioner Mai Chong Xiong, who no longer serves on the TakeAction board, is listed as an immediate past chair of the TakeAction PAC, with Farhat serving as current chair and treasurer.
This year, they’ve endorsed Bowie in Ward 1, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7. Yang and former Council Member Dai Thao are former TakeAction employees.
St. Paul Firefighters Local 21 PAC
Local 21, which has been locked in disputes over wages and hiring with the mayor’s office, represents the ranks of everyday St. Paul firefighters. Michael Smith is listed as chair and Colin Oglesbee as treasurer. IAFF Local 21 has endorsed Noecker in Ward 2, Russell in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7.
St. Paul Police Federation
The federation represents St. Paul police officers. Mark Ross, federation president, said in an email “we no longer endorse in local elections. Our position could change at some point in the future depending upon the political climate, candidate quality and any number of other variables.” Former St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, acting of his own accord and not speaking on behalf of the federation, has endorsed Russell in Ward 3.
OutFront Minnesota Action
The state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. Kelsey Waits is listed as chair of the political committee and Emily Falenczykowski-Scott as treasurer. They’ve endorsed Bowie in Ward 1, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Vang in Ward 7.
St. Paul Historic Preservation Committee
Led by treasurer and chair Paul Hardt, the political action committee screens candidates around issues relevant to the preservation of historic structures. It has endorsed both Bowie and Lo for city council in Ward 1, Noecker in Ward 2, Russell in Ward 4 and Greenwood-Sanchez in Ward 5. The committee co-endorsed Johnson and Vang in Ward 7.
Vote Yes for St. Paul
A question on the Nov. 7 ballot asks voters whether to increase the city’s sales tax to raise nearly $1 billion for arterial road reconstruction and parks projects. A political action committee formed to promote a “yes” vote on the Nov. 7 ballot lists former St. Paul Public Works Director Kathy Lantry as president and former St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm as treasurer.
Active statewide, Women Winning provides one-on-one coaching and other forms of campaign support for women who pledge to fight for abortion rights as they seek elected office at all levels of government. Kathy Heltzer is listed as the Duluth-based chair, with Kathy Murphy serving as the treasurer in St. Paul. For city council, they’ve endorsed Bowie in Ward 1, Noecker in Ward 2, Jost in Ward 3, Jalali in Ward 4, Kim in Ward 5, Yang in Ward 6 and Johnson in Ward 7. They’re also backing Allen, Zuki Ellis and Valliant for school board.
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