Falcon Heights voters elect two newcomers to the city council


Just after 9 a.m. on Nov. 8, the day after Election Day, Falcon Heights City Council member-elect Melanie Leehy was just getting off the phone with her mother. 
She had been informing Mom that she'd both run for the council, and won. 
"Sometimes it's best to tell them afterwards," she said.

Leehy, 53, was the top vote-getter out of a seven-candidate field for two seats on the council, with 27.9 percent of the vote. 
Behind her by 18 votes was Mark Miazga, who will be seated on the council alongside Leehy in January.

Earned trust

Well-contested city council races aren't uncommon in Falcon Heights, but this year's election, coming after a tumultuous year in the city, came with heightened stakes.
A number of candidates were compelled to run because of the police killing of Philando Castile, who was shot to death by a St. Anthony police officer during a routine traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue in July 2016.
The city reacted by forming an Inclusion and Policing Task Force to look at Falcon Heights' community values surrounding law enforcement. 
In July, the St. Anthony City Council voted to terminate the decades-old police contract between the cities, a move that was a direct result of Castile's death, and last month the Falcon Heights council approved an agreement with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office for police service.

Leehy, who's been involved with the city in various ways for more than a decade and works in the nonprofit sector, co-chaired the well-received task force.
"It feels really good to know that the residents of Falcon Heights are finally believing in me and that I've earned their trust," she said.
The only incumbent in the race, council member Tony Fischer, came in a distant fourth place with just 8 percent of the vote, and Leehy said the election results were in line with what she had heard from residents.
"One thing I was hearing was that they were wanting change and they said that in their ballots," she said.
Leehy said she'll work to make sure the policing task force recommendations are heard by the sheriff's office and that she's looking forward to getting to personally know Sheriff Jack Serier.
With the sheriff's office agreement comes increased costs for policing and higher property taxes. Leehy said she'd research ways to lower taxes and to generate more income for the city.
"I'm moving forward with what I said I was going to do, in listening to residents and making sure everybody has honor and dignity," she said.

Ideas and solutions

Miazga, 48, said on Nov. 8 that he was still recovering from Election Day but was excited to have won a city council seat and was primed with "a lot of potential ideas and solutions."
A research coordinator for the University of Minnesota Office of Measurement Services, Miazga leaned on his data-driven work and lengthy experience in the public sector as a candidate.
Asked what he thinks his election means, he said "I think it shows the city is ready to collaborate and work together to solve a whole host of issues."
He said issues include the city's police contract as well as response times once the sheriff's office begins patrolling the city in January. Response times were a frequent concern he heard while out door-knocking; City Administrator Sack Thongvanh has said the level of police service in the city, after the switch from St. Anthony officers to sheriff's deputies, should be the same.
Beyond policing, Miazga, the current chair of the city's Environment Commission, said the council will be looking at environmental issues and that he'd push to get city parks in line with American's With Disabilities standards.

Miazga said he plans to make himself available to residents and that he's looking at designating a time on one Saturday each month to meet with community members. "It'd be simple," he said.

Other candidates

Fischer, 43, was elected to a partial term in 2015 and will serve on the council through the end of the year.
Castile was killed seven months into his term, and he said what followed was difficult. "It was hard to listen to a lot of people suffering, real suffering," he said.
He said he likely didn't work hard enough to earn residents' votes but that Leehy and Miazga are a "couple good people" and that the "city is going to be in good shape." Fischer said he has no more political ambitions, but he'd like to join a city commission and continue to serve the community.
Community activist and small business owner Paula Mielke came in a close third place, winning 98 fewer votes than Miazga, finishing with 23 percent of the vote. Following Fischer's fourth-place finish were candidates Tom Brace, Michael Wade and Ronald Dixon.
Council member Pamela Harris, a 12-year incumbent, chose not to run for reelection.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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