There's an election Tuesday. In St. Paul, all seven seats on the City Council will be filled, as will four of the seven seats on the school board.

City Council members are elected from wards. School board members are elected at-large, citywide. Technically, these elections are nonpartisan, but many candidate seek and receive endorsement from their political party.

In interviewing and paying attention to the candidates for both bodies, we've been especially interested in their willingness to focus on the job itself - and not on, say, political grandstanding on behalf of their party or their higher ambition. We see diversity of perspective as a strength for any board. Respect for the people who pay the bills - that would be you and we, the taxpayers - is critical. Squeezing the public buck is not only smart but also, given that there are infinite needs and finite resources, a moral imperative. We appreciate business experience; the discipline of the marketplace helps to clear the mind of illusions. We expect the people who hold these public offices to have enough backbone to say no to their friends - the party that endorsed them, the groups or individuals who gave them money - when the public interest requires it. The ability to express a distinct point of view but still work as a member of the team is, obviously, important.

Several of our choices could have gone either way. Even among those where the decision was less difficult, the challengers raise good



For those interested in checking out the candidates further, we've included Web addresses for the candidates who have campaign sites.


In Ward 1: Debbie Montgomery ( is the incumbent, first elected four years ago. She's a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, but did not receive her party's endorsement for this election. She did get the endorsement of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, however, and that of the Police Federation. She is considered to be part of a business-friendly bloc on the council, a point in her favor, as far as we're concerned. A lifelong resident of Ward 1, she was the first female police officer on the St. Paul police force, where she served for 30 years. She lived through the demise of the Rondo neighborhood when I-94 came through in the 1960s. Given her background in civil rights activism, she sees it as ironic that she's considered to be a conservative member of the council.

Her challenger is Melvin Carter (, who is smart, energetic, thoughtful and considered to be more liberal than Montgomery. Carter got the DFL endorsement and the related support that usually comes with it. His criticism of Montgomery is respectful and generally has to do with what he sees as her reticence about big, positive changes - such as the Central Corridor light-rail system. While both support the project, Montgomery's experience with Rondo makes her more cautious. Carter's approach: We have to do a lot to protect existing businesses and neighborhoods in the Central Corridor, but if we're going to make the most of the opportunity, there will also have to be big changes. He has a point.

We hope to see much more of Carter in the future, but in this race, because of how well she knows her ward, her commitment to it and the balance she brings to the council, our choice is Debbie Montgomery.

In Ward 2: Dave Thune ( is the incumbent. He was on the council from 1990-98, and then re-elected in 2003. He has the DFL endorsement. He's used to close elections, and to controversy (think "smoking ban" for example). We appreciate his willingness to wade into difficult issues. He did more than any other elected official to try to bring opposing forces together in the long, cantankerous debate over The Bridges of St. Paul proposal. He can be ornery, but he's ultimately practical.

His opponent is Bill Hosko (, who is quirky and interesting and insistent that Thune and Mayor Chris Coleman and a host of others are wimping out on downtown St. Paul, showing too little commitment to the idea of St. Paul as a real city with a real city core. A small-business owner - he has an art gallery in the skyway - Hosko argues that we have to think bigger about downtown and better about business. We appreciate that point of view.

However, on the strength of his experience, his deep knowledge of how the council works, his time-tested ability to maneuver among competing interests, Dave Thune deserves re-election. We hope Hosko's focus on downtown as a source of job-creating energy will rub off on Thune and all elected city officials.

Ward 3: The incumbent since 2000, Pat Harris (, is, for all intents and purposes, running unopposed. His early opponent, Gerald Mischke, will be on the ballot, but Mischke announced earlier this year that he was ending his campaign.

Harris is smart, practical, business-oriented and deeply committed to St. Paul. He brings an outstanding degree of city-finance expertise and budget-consciousness to the council. Pat Harris has our support, with no reservations.

In Ward 4: Incumbent Jay Benanav decided not to run for re-election. On the ballot are Russ Stark (www.russ and Terrance Bushard. Stark has the DFL and related endorsements. Bushard is running on a shoestring and two issues: saying "no" to spending and trying to build support for a national organization that would exist to hold politicians accountable. More power to him, but Stark is by far the better-rounded candidate.

In his work for the past seven years with the nonprofit organization University United, which promotes transit-oriented development in the Central Corridor, Stark has gained deep knowledge on issues surrounding sustainable development. Much of his experience has been in community organizing, and he centers his campaign on his push to make St. Paul a cleaner, more livable city. He's a greenie, in other words. We appreciate that, provided he's thoughtful, realistic and more respectful of evidence than ideology. We believe he is, and he's also smart.

More business experience would be useful for him, and we can't overemphasize the need for elected officials to recognize government's limits. We trust that Stark will say "no" to his party and to his contributors when their wishes go beyond those limits or are contrary to the best interests of St. Paul.

A strong business climate, fiscal responsibility and reasonable taxation are essential elements of a clean, livable city, too.

That said, we recommend Russ Stark in Ward 4.

In Ward 5: Lee Helgen (www. is the incumbent and is running for his second term. Helgen has the endorsement of the International Association of Firefighters Local 21, but the Police Federation has endorsed his opponent, David Haas (, as has the Chamber of Commerce. The two battled to a draw for the DFL endorsement.

Much of Helgen's work experience has been in government jobs. Most of Haas's has been in small business. They're both smart men, and there's no reason to think they're not both committed to Ward 5 and to St. Paul.

On the strength of Haas's business background - given what we believe is an urgent need for that business sense on the council - our endorsement goes to David Haas.

But business sense applies to one's friends as well as foes. We trust that Haas would tell his supporters - including the Police Federation - "no" when the interests of the city demand it.

In Ward 6: Dan Bostrom ( is the incumbent, having first joined the council in 1996. A longtime police officer and school board member, Bostrom knows more about St. Paul than most people ever will. He has the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce and the Police Federation and is considered to be in the (relatively) conservative minority on the council.

His opponent is Pakou Hang (, who is smart and energetic and has the endorsement of some union and DFL-related groups. (The DFL Party itself didn't endorse either candidate.) Hang is a graduate of Yale and is eager to continue helping to strengthen ties among the various communities in her ward. Her criticism of Bostrom has to do with the risks of long-time incumbency - that is, she contends that he's out of touch with some of his ward and not working hard enough to stay in touch. Such concerns are an argument for strongly contested elections.

We hope to see more of Pakou Hang in the future, but our endorsement goes to Dan Bostrom, on the strength of deep knowledge of St. Paul, his commitment to public safety and the much-needed perspective he represents on the council.

In Ward 7: Kathy Lantry (, currently council president, is the incumbent. She's running for her third term. Lantry leans strongly left, but she's nonetheless practical, grounded in reality and acquainted with the idea that government is good at some things, not good at others, and that she holds a seat on the City Council, not in the U.S. Senate. We don't agree with her on everything, but she can be counted on to stand up and call it as she sees it. We hope to see her more often in the fiscal-restraint cluster of votes on the council - whatever alliances she builds with Council Member Pat Harris, in particular, will be useful.

Her opponent, Janine Kelley, did not respond to our requests for an interview. Elsewhere, she has argued for a tighter rein on spending and more restraint on taxes. We respect that view, but haven't seen evidence that Kelley is well prepared for a council seat at this time.

We recommend Kathy Lantry for re-election.


There are seven members of the St. Paul school board. Four of those seats are up for election on Tuesday. There are eight candidates on the ballot, including three incumbents. Voters will be asked to select four.

We begin by endorsing incumbents Anne Carroll, Tom Conlon and Kazoua Kong-Thao.

The most important thing a school board does - but by no means the only important thing - is to hire a superintendent. We could recommend re-election of the three incumbents who are running just on the strength of their latest hire, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

But there are more reasons to recommend that Carroll (www.anne, Conlon (www.tomconlon. org) and Kong-Thao (www.kazoua be returned to their seats on the board.

Each of them represents a distinct perspective. Carroll, on the board since 1999, is a hard-charging liberal with respect for where her personal views and the responsibility of the board diverge. Conlon, on the board since 1991, is a more restrained conservative who is more effective when he engages rather than merely resists. Kong-Thao, vice chair of the board and running for her second term, brings the sharpened sensibilities of a first-generation American - acquainted with both the challenges facing communities outside of the mainstream and the tremendous opportunity that America offers.

Carroll and Kong-Thao have the DFL endorsement. Conlon has the Republican endorsement. Each insists that she or he will defy party and endorsers whenever necessary to keep the focus on what's best for students, and on prudent use of the hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars entrusted to their keeping.

We support the re-election of Kong-Thao, Conlon and Carroll.

That brings us to the fourth open seat, vacated by the resignation of board member Al Oertwig earlier this year, and the five other candidates for the school board. We respect each of them for running and for their life experiences.

Candidate Bernard Ruppert argues for common sense over political correctness and seems like a nice fellow, but he's not at all prepared for the board. Candidate Jennette Gudgel ( has an interesting background - she worked for the Girl Scouts for 18 years and taught college for 18 years, for example - and she seems thoughtful, reasonable and committed to St. Paul and to students. But the school board doesn't seem like the best outlet for her talents.

Candidates David Peterson and Kevin Riach (, recruited by their respective political parties, are both energetic, thoughtful and appealing. Peterson, a Republican and retired businessman, because of his long business experience and constructive attitude, and Riach, a DFLer, third-year law student and former teacher, because of his practical experience and enthusiasm about technology. Either would be a credit to the board.

But the remaining candidate, Keith Hardy (, who works in information technology for Target, stands out among all the potential newcomers. More than any other, Hardy is prepared to hit the ground running at a critical time for St. Paul schools. For five years, he has served on the Citizens Budget and Finance Advisory Committee for the school board, including as chair. He's been involved on a variety of community boards, and he's been a volunteer tutor or teacher for numerous organizations. He's better acquainted with the role and expectations of a school board member than any other candidate, and he has the maturity to fill them.

As always, we'll be watching for evidence that he's not beholden to any outside interest, including the party that endorsed him (DFL) or organizations that contributed to his campaign. Teamwork is essential, but independence is a high virtue.

So, in addition to Anne Carroll, Tom Conlon and Kazoua Kong-Thao, we recommend Keith Hardy for the St. Paul school board.