Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Mosaic speaks volumes of how new Mayor sees St. Paul

Posted on 09 April 2018 by Calvin

In the mayor’s office newly occupied by Melvin Carter III (photo right by Jan Willms), a circular mosaic is soon going to find a home on one of its walls. Sent over by Mosaic on a Stick, a local business in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, the mosaic spells out a message, “St. Paul For All Of Us.”

A fitting message for St. Paul’s first African American mayor and one of its youngest ever elected. Carter said he had met with Lori Greene at Mosaic on a Stick (1564 Lafond Ave.) and asked her to design a mosaic.

“Over the course of a year, we had conversations with people, and then asked them to take a piece of broken tile and put some glue on it and glue it on,” Carter said. “This is the result of people in this city, who don’t know each other, who speak different languages at home, who live in completely different parts of the city and in completely different walks of life.” With all these diverse factors coming together, the broken pieces of tile created something beautiful, according to Carter. “That’s our vision for this city,” he added.

Cater, 38, comes from a family that understands the responsibilities and challenges of public service. His mother, Toni, has served on the school board and is currently a Ramsey County Commissioner. His father, Melvin Carter Jr, is a retired policeman. “My parents are probably my closest mentors, both of whom I see as incredible leaders for our city in different capacities. I think I learned from them at an early age just how inter-related people are.”

Carter said his family would quote Paul Wellstone, who said, “We all do better when we all do better.”

“That’s a powerful phrase that could be a throwaway line if we don’t realize we really are all inter-related,” Carter continued. “We, in a community, have to be a whole together….and so I have learned that from them. Also, I have learned from my mother how to listen and to learn from people. That is something I have always admired about her. Any conversation I have ever seen her in, she has learned to listen and take some policy implication from it—something she can use in her work—and that’s something I aspire to do.”

Carter said there are a number of people he has learned from over the years, including former mayor Chris Coleman. “For a long time, I have learned a lot from him,” he said.

One of the areas Carter wants to address is education, and he has put together a College Savings Plan. “We are working on cross sectors, the public sector with nonprofit leaders, with higher education leaders of foundations and with private sector businesses in our community to create a college savings account that puts $50 in the bank to start every child born in our community on the track to college,” he said. “It’s something I am really excited about.”

Carter noted that research shows that if children from low to moderate income families have a small amount of money put away for college, anything from $1 to $500, they are more likely to go to college. “And when they do, they are four times more likely to graduate,” Carter added. “So planting those seeds are seeds that we expect to water in the form of a bright future for all of our children. And securing a bright future for all of our children, that’s securing a bright future for our city.”

Carter recalled a mentor who always says, “Instead of helping kids beat the odds, let’s get to work in changing the odds.” Carter reflected on disparities that he considers some of the worst in the nation, not just in education but in housing, healthcare, and wealth. He said they are all inter-related. “To change the odds means not just isolating one and saying we’re going to work on the education gap while housing and health gaps remain,” he said. “That won’t actually get us out of where we are.

The idea is to find something that works not just with the children, but with the families right now. I see the college savings account as an odds-transforming proposal that is also pretty cost-efficient.”

Carter said he is also committed to signing a higher minimum wage into law this year. “We are going to raise the minimum wage in St. Paul so no one who works full-time will ever have to live in poverty. We are going to continue to push that forward.”

Another commitment Carter made in his inaugural address was to revise use of force policies with the St. Paul police chief. “We have done that now,” Carter said.

“Tension between citizens and the police force seems to be a national conversation we are having that is renewed over and over again with videos we see on social media and in the news, with unarmed black men being shot by police. It is really disturbing.” He added that he believes a lot in the current police chief. “We are making progress that started before my election,” he said. “Our police force has worked hard to build our practices and transparencies around 21st-century policing models.”

“We are working hard through our Community First Public Safety Plan. Public safety isn’t just about what happens after something bad occurs or after someone has called 911. It’s about building safe environments; it’s about connecting people to opportunities; it’s about investing in the critical trust that has to exist between police officers and our neighbors.”

Carter said his administration is already about three months into that. “We have already revised our police use of force policies, so we are all on the same page about when officers are and are not allowed to use force,” Carter explained. “We did that in an unprecedented community engagement process….We spent two months gathering feedback, and the feedback we got subsequently changed what the final product came out to be. So we’re going to continue to train officers and push the ball on our Community First Public Safety strategy and work closely with the police department and neighbors to ensure we are on the same team to make our neighborhood safe.”

Considering the national political scene, Carter said that right now he sees it as very adversarial. “It’s one that a lot of people, myself included, have a real distaste for.” He said he believes in the saying that all politics is local. He stressed the importance of how we take care of each other on a local level, how we ensure that every person in every part of our city has access to a great school, has a great job and an affordable home where they can live with dignity. “I think some of that can speak a lot more loudly than anything that happens in Washington, DC, does,” he stated. He said the focus of Serve Saint Paul, a new initiative that will be launched at the upcoming State of the City Summit, is an invitation for residents to build sweat equity in the city through service. “It’s so important that people have a need to be part of something right now,” he said, “something that is not just watching Washington, DC, as it gets worse and worse.”

Considering the years ahead of him as mayor, Carter said he realizes there will be many challenges. “One of the greatest right now is to figure out how to harness all the energy that exists in this city. There is so much, and so many people who want to help.” Carter said the mayor’s office wants to do community service projects and offer opportunities for people to interact with each other.

“That’s why we are doing a State of the City summit instead of just an address,” he said. He said he hopes people will come and join the summit on Sat., Apr. 14 at Johnson High School from 9am to noon. “The hope is to hear not just from me but to really engage with city leaders about the direction we are taking this city,” he added.

Carter paused for a moment.

“It’s in many ways the honor of a lifetime just to have the opportunity to sit in this office and to lead the city I grew up in,” he said softly. “I find myself reflecting on the amazing conversations I have had with people who have held this office over the course of the years.”

Carter said that St. Paul has every ingredient needed to move forward. “St. Paul is a thriving, vibrant, multilingual, diverse space.” He said that’s what is needed to start building a future.

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