Read His Lips

Hard as it may be, let's try to believe everything St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly has said over the past couple of weeks. When Minnesota Public Radio host Kerri Miller asked Kelly, in an on-air interview July 26, whether he was considering crossing party lines and backing George Bush for president, let's assume the mayor meant it when he said, "No."

Let's also assume Kelly is being truthful when he says a conversation with Bush just four days later did not influence his subsequent decision to endorse the president last week. Instead, let's believe Kelly when he says that an "I Hate Bush" bumper sticker he saw on West Seventh Street in St. Paul six months ago belatedly rose to prominence in his mind and was the "turning point" that caused him to directly contradict what he told Miller on the radio just days earlier.

We should consider Kelly's word when he told Miller, "My first obligation is to the citizens of St. Paul and making sure that I govern from the center and that I do not antagonize one group or the other." Perhaps Kelly thought that boarding a plane and traveling around the state with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to rally the troops for Bush would not antagonize his fellow Democrats or hinder his obligations back in the capital city. A bold gambit for the longtime DFLer, since the GOP that's in power has hardly considered what's best for St. Paul.

Perhaps most importantly, let's assume Kelly meant it when he said that he thought a Kerry administration would "jeopardize the economic recovery we are experiencing." Maybe the mayor was so preoccupied with the notion of neutrality that he failed to notice a report released the same day he appeared on MPR by a Bloomington-based commercial real estate services firm known as United Properties. The report showed that the office vacancy rate in St. Paul's central business district had risen to 28.2 percent in the first six months of 2004, its highest level in a decade.

Still, Kelly is bullish enough on the economy to leak word that he will propose a 2 percent increase for St. Paul's police and fire departments during a budget address he has scheduled for today. Kelly also will have to deal with a $16 million shortfall in St. Paul's city coffers in the midst of the "recovery." Nor will the 2 percent boost to police and fire services even come close to making up the $3.6 million that was hacked from the departments last year, a consequence of the $17 million cut in local government aid that Bush's pal Pawlenty and his fellow Republicans dealt to St. Paul in the 2003 legislative session. And federal monies for local police officers--a program once dubbed "Clinton cops"--isn't in the cards either. In fact, Bush's latest budget proposes an 80 percent cut in community policing.

It is believable when Kelly says, "George Bush and I do not agree on a lot of issues." For decades, Kelly has been renowned for his fealty to the concerns of working people and the "little guy," perhaps best exemplified by his constant advocacy for a higher minimum wage. President Bush has consistently opposed increasing the minimum wage. As mayor, Kelly has pledged that he will add 5,000 units to St. Paul's housing stock. If so, he will have to counter the drastic cuts to housing programs and housing vouchers enacted by the Bush administration.

Bush's ally Pawlenty--the man Kelly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with on the Bush endorsement trip last week--has likewise been no friend to Kelly, or to St. Paul. To choose just one example, it's well known that the redevelopment of the Phalen Corridor is a project dear to Kelly's heart. For nine years, he has championed this plan to create a new boulevard that would tie downtown St. Paul to the east side neighborhoods he has represented for decades. Four million dollars in state bonds would leverage $17 million in federal monies, funds critical to the project's viability.

"We are talking about real money here. We're talking about real jobs and real lives," Kelly told the Star Tribune on July 25. But that didn't matter to Pawlenty, who--despite a plan from Democrats in the state senate who are uniting behind John Kerry--left the $4 million for the Phalen Corridor out of his bonding bill proposal.

Ever since Randy Kelly decided to endorse George Bush, people have speculated that some quid-pro-quo is in the works. Guesses range from a federal or statewide political appointment to more favorable treatment for St. Paul when a new stadium bill inevitably rears its head in the next session. The speculation has been rampant because, in the absence of a back-room deal, the Kelly endorsement doesn't make sense, least of all politically. In 2000, Bush carried exactly one of the 119 precincts in St. Paul, and it is fair to say that his standing among the sort of working-class DFLers that are Kelly's political base has been significantly diminished since then.

Since it's clear that Bush and Pawlenty policies have hurt St. Paul, we might as well choose to believe Kelly's assertion that the bumper sticker transformed him into a Bushie. Perhaps someone should unveil an "I Hate Kerry" campaign, or simply go find one of the "Wellstone is Dead--Get Over It" stickers the Republicans printed up not too long ago. Maybe this would lead to a change of heart and Kelly can flip-flop on the presidential endorsement. Truthfully speaking, it wouldn't be the first time.