Who Will Take On Mayor Kelly?

Who Will Take On Mayor Kelly?

The answer to that question remains decidedly murky with just a month left before the St. Paul DFL mayoral endorsing convention. Last night was the final ward convention and the two top contenders--Chris Coleman and Rafael Ortega--remain virtually deadlocked.

In the four wards (out of seven citywide) where delegates have been given a chance to express their preference for a candidate, Ortega has tallied 107 votes while Coleman has garnered 101. Given the huge number of undecided voters this difference is negligible.

(Mayor Kelly still calls himself a Democrat, and hasn't publicly ruled out seeking the DFL's backing, but it's clear that his endorsement of President Bush has left him with zero support among the party faithful.)

The continuing tightness of the race raises the prospect that the April 30th convention will end up deadlocked and that all three candidates will continue on to the primary election. This would be a disaster for both Coleman and Ortega since they wouldn't have near the financial resources needed to compete with Kelly and his conservative allies in the business community.

Both campaigns insist that they appreciate this reality and are committed to settling on a party standard-bearer. "I think all of us recognize that we need an endorsed DFL candidate to beat Randy Kelly in November," says Coleman campaign manager Kris Fredson.

The biggest unknown at this point is whether any labor unions will throw their support to either Coleman or Ortega. So far organized labor has stayed on the sidelines, and most St. Paul political observers believe that that will continue to be the case through the convention.

Pat Flanagan, president of St. Paul Firefighters Local 21, sums up the sentiments of many union activists. "Basically our position is anyone but Kelly," he says. "Right now we're endorsing both Ortega and Coleman, and we've given them both money."

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