Wide margins separate winners in West St. Paul race

Voters approve street-funding sales tax

 

Comfortable margins separated winners from losers in this year’s West St. Paul City Council race, and with three open seats in four races, there will be no shortage of changes on the council come next year.

Council member Dick Vitelli ran unopposed for Ward 1.

 

Mayor

Mayor Jenny Halverson announced earlier this year she wouldn’t be running for a second term, creating an open seat in the mayoral race.

Two current council members, Dave Napier and Anthony Fernandez, threw their hats into the ring — neither was up for re-election for their council seat this election cycle.

Napier ran away with the mayor’s race, winning it with nearly 63 percent of the vote to Fernandez’s 37 percent.

Napier, who has served on the council since 2013, said he was a little overwhelmed by the amount of support he had.

“I felt it, but I didn’t know. I was really impressed with how much support I had in the community,” he said.

Napier said his focus remained the same from the start of his campaign to the end of it: bringing leadership to the city council and community. “I truly believe that with good leadership, great things can happen to our city.”

Switching from the council to mayor will require a change in thinking, he said. As mayor, Napier will not have a vote, though he can break a tie or veto. With this, Napier said he needs to bring the council together to work through each issue so everyone understands it and can focus on the issue at hand.

Napier’s council seat will be filled by appointment. He added there is a short list of candidates that will be brought to the council and that in previous instances, former elected officials were brought in to help.

Napier said he wanted to thank the community for believing in him and the leadership he will bring to the council, saying he’ll start his term in January focused on strategic planning.

“It will involve all of the community, whoever wants to be involved,” he said.

“It really is important to bring people together, bring the community together, bring the council together and develop some common goals.”

 

Ward 2

John Justen beat Jim Probst for the Ward 2 council seat, winning 57 percent of the vote. Incumbent Ward 2 council member Ed Iago opted not to run.

Justen said he was happy to hear he was elected, and that he had a feeling of optimism for the potential of what can be done for the city.

“I think that it’s a really great team, and after the problems of the last year for the city council, that was the most important thing ... to get people that can work together and just be efficient and work with respect and civility,” he said.

Justen said he thinks his door-knocking, which included lots of apartments in Ward 2, and his personal touch — he sent out 2,000 hand-addressed, signed letters — helped set his campaign apart. 

He said he will work on the walkability and bikeability of the city.

“We need to make it easier for people to get around and get accessibility for people that have impairments,” Justen said. 

He said it’s important he makes himself as available as possible to residents. With him working and owning a “forward-facing retail business,” he said anytime his store is open he’s there. If someone needs to talk to him, he doesn’t mind people coming in to chat.

“Not just for Ward 2, which I’m elected for, but across the entire city. I’m very interested in hearing what they have to say,” said Justen. “Whether we agree or we don’t agree, that’s what I’m here for.”

 

Ward 3

With 59 percent of the vote, Wendy Berry beat Dave Meisinger, a former council member and mayor, who won 41 percent. Current Ward 3 council member John Bellows did not run for re-election.

In a Nov. 7 statement, Meisinger said, “We are obviously disappointed with the results but they are what they are. I’d like to thank all my supporters for the effort and votes they gave me, and I wish next year’s city council much luck in moving West St. Paul forward.”

Berry said finding out she’d won her race was a bit surreal. She said she felt positive about her chances, so it was “great to see the actual votes match that.”

She added it wasn’t just a “campaign” for her the last several months.

“It was about building a community. The focus was on moving our city forward instead of dwelling on the past. West St. Paul is a great city in the midst of positive change and I felt like it was important to remind people about that.”

While she said she was elected to represent Ward 3, Berry is sure most of the city is familiar with her campaign, adding residents have seen how important things like true representation and community engagement are to her.

When she takes office in January, Berry said she would prioritize continued engagement, as well as residents feeling they are being heard and rebuilding “the trust in the city council that some people may have lost over the years.”

Berry said she is “thrilled” with what the new makeup of the council will be, adding Napier will be a mayor who puts people first and that Justen will bring his passion for the community and experience as a small business owner to the council.

“While the rest of the council will remain the same, I’m excited to see how we’ll all be able to bring our diverse backgrounds to the table with the intent of moving West St. Paul forward,” she said.

Berry added that Halverson’s leadership and drive will be missed and it would have been an honor to serve the city with her. 

 

Tax question

Voters in West St. Paul were also asked to vote on a sales tax that would go toward the city’s pavement management plan, with 60 percent of them voting in favor of it.

City Manager Ryan Schroeder said the next step for the proposed .5 percent tax is requesting a member of the Legislature to draft language and introduce a bill for state consideration. If the bill is adopted and signed into law by the Legislature, the council must then adopt an ordinance that implements the sales tax.

“If state legislation authorizing the sales tax does not get signed into law, we cannot implement the tax,” said Schroeder, adding the earliest the tax could take affect, if adopted, would be October of next year.

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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