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2018 West St. Paul Candidates on Sexism Controversy

The candidate filing period closed on Tuesday and the last chance to withdraw ended yesterday, so we’ve got our official candidates for the 2018 election in West St. Paul. How do the 2018 candidates stack up in terms of the current hot-button issue in West St. Paul: sexism?

The April 23, 2018 council meeting erupted into charges of sexism over the rejected appointment of Samantha Green that spawned harassment of Mayor Jenny Halverson and Green, as well as an estimated 150 people showing up at the May 14 city council meeting and another 75 or so at the May 29 city council meeting. The story sparked local news coverage and even national attention.

Obviously this isn’t the only issue in the 2018 election, but it is a big one. So where do our newly minted candidates stand?

Mayor

With only two candidates there will be no primary—this one will be decided in November. Since both are sitting council members, the winner will resign their seat and appoint a replacement (subject to approval by the city council). The loser will retain their seat on the council.

Anthony Fernandez

Current Ward 2 council member (first elected in 2016) and a previous city council candidate in St. Paul (lost to Melvin Carter in 2011), Fernandez also served on the Planning Commission (appointed by Dave Meisinger in 2015). He’s a real estate broker with a background in construction. (campaign site [not live yet])

Stance on Sexism

Fernandez sparked the entire sexism debate by pulling the Planning Commission appointments from the consent agenda and then not speaking on the issue. In the wake of the controversy he’s reversed course, issuing changing statements about his position (we’ve seen how Anthony Fernandez shifts his story):

“I let personal feelings get in the way. Myself and Samantha have exchanged barbs before via email and not seen eye to eye. I let that get in the way of putting her on [Planning Commission].”

While he did apologize to Green and condemns the harassment, he insists that sexism did not occur at the April 23 meeting. While he admits a mistake, he seems to think the mistake is making West St. Paul look bad, not the root behavior. He ended his comments at the May 29 meeting by noting, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Dave Napier

Current Ward 3 council member (first elected in 2012), Napier has been a longtime pillar in the community. He’s the director of buildings and grounds at local nonprofit the Dodge Nature Center and has volunteered in a range of places, from sports to Kiwanis. (campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Napier stood with Mayor Halverson at the April 23 council meeting. He also spoke at the subsequent council meetings, thanking and encouraging those who showed up and again giving his support for Mayor Halverson:

“The results of the April 23 meeting and what happened after was appalling to me. It was embarrassing. I, as a council member, have to take ownership of the embarrassment this council has caused to our city … Mayor Halverson has been through a lot, but I will tell you right now, coming in with her five and a half years ago, to see the growth of both of us through this whole process. … It’s been a joy working with you for five and a half years and I look forward to the rest of this year. I’m sad that you’re not continuing on, but I totally understand. People like that are committed to our city to the core… and they need to be treated with respect. I think that’s critical.”

Ward 1

With no challenger, Dick Vitelli will likely retain his seat.

Dick Vitelli

Longtime council member Vitelli is running unopposed. He was first elected in 1988 and served through 2002 when he resigned. He was appointed to an empty seat in 2013 and was elected again in 2014. (no campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Vitelli called out the sexism at the April 23 meeting and has expressed his support for Halverson at the subsequent meetings, noting that of all the mayors he’s served with, serving with her has been the best experience.

Ward 2

No primary—this one will be decided in November.

John Justen

A local small business owner with longtime roots in the community, Justen first ran in 2016 (losing to Anthony Fernandez). He’s notable for diving into policy discussions and taking clear positions, something many candidates avoid.  (campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Justen issued this statement, which reads in part:

“The behavior of the four members of the council at the April 23rd council meeting was simply unacceptable. … the very aspect of ignoring the mayor’s appointment is and was definitionally a sexist act. … As a cisgender male, I strive to learn about the issues that women face every day—issues that I am lucky enough not to endure, solely because of my gender presentation. We have a responsibility to learn from others’ lived experiences. These four men have clearly heard nothing and have no interest in learning anything, either.”

Read the full statement.

Jim Probst

South Robert Street Business Association board member and Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast champion, Probst was recently appointed to the Charter Commission. This is Probst’s first bid for public office. (no campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Having not seen any public comments from Probst on this issue, I reached out for a statement this week. I have not heard back from Probst after several calls and emails. Update (June 8, 2018): Probst contacted me and said he’s working on a statement and will get it to me as soon as he can.

Ward 3

With four candidates, there will be a primary on August 14, and the top two vote-getters will face off in the November election.

Wendy Berry

With a decade of experience in human resources and leadership, Berry is a committed mentor and volunteer. Completing the Citizen Police Academy shortly after moving to West St. Paul confirmed that this was a community she wanted to be a part of. This is her first run for office. (campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Berry announced her bid for city council at the May 14 meeting as one of 20 people addressing the council over sexism charges to a packed house of 150 people:

“The amazing women who have stood up before me and described their personal experiences with a few of you—they’re offensive, they’re appalling, and they’re embarrassing to the fellow citizens of this city. This type of behavior isn’t the West St. Paul that I’ve gotten to know and it’s not very becoming of the people that have been elected to represent those that live here. It’s not welcoming and it doesn’t promote a community that I want to read about or watch in the media outlets that are catching on to this antiquated, old boys club mentality. … We will not be intimidated, we will not be shamed for speaking the truth, we will not be silenced, and ‘this will not be forgotten, folks.’”

Lisa Eng-Sarne

A former staffer for the late Senator Jim Metzen, Eng-Sarne is no stranger to politics. Currently she’s a project manager—and team captain for the Minnesota RollerGirls. This is her first run for office. (campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Eng-Sarne also spoke at the May 14 city council meeting, capping off the flood of speakers with her own experience of sexism at the Minnesota State Capitol:

“I know West St. Paul well, and I also know what’s happening with our city council is not unique to this city and it’s not unique to government. I was treated similarly to Mayor Halverson for five years (never by Metzen) … so I left politics because I was called to H.R. and blamed for the activity of men. And we will not be blamed for the activity of men anymore. We don’t need to take responsibility for their choices and their actions. I don’t know if it will be me or you or you or you—but we’ll take their place very soon.”

Dave Meisinger

No stranger to West St. Paul politics, Meisinger previously served on city council (first elected in 1996, again in 2002 and resigned in 2003) and served two non-consecutive terms as mayor (most recently losing to Halverson in 2016). He runs a residential and commercial contracting business. (campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Meisinger posted to his Facebook page after the April 23 meeting arguing that it was not sexism and with a pointed shot at Green:

“There is no obscuring the fact that Samantha Green is not qualified for anything, much less a seat on the Planning Commission.”

Meisinger attended the May 14 meeting—when a number of women rallied and addressed the council—wearing a holstered handgun and a T-shirt that said, “Shhh… Nobody Cares” (and then left the meeting early).

John Ramsay

A former Planning Commission member (appointed by Meisinger in 2015) and vice president of the South Robert Street Business Association, Ramsay is a longtime resident and a third-time candidate (he previously lost to John Bellows in 2014 and Dave Napier in 2016). (no campaign site)

Stance on Sexism

Ramsay was tangentially involved in the sexism debate as the outgoing Planning Commission member that several male council members argued should be reappointed. Ramsay himself did not speak in the public meetings, though he did speak up on Facebook expressing confusion as to why Halverson didn’t reappoint him:

“I would like to say I have been proud to have been a WSP Planning Commissioner, as our current mayor has stated, she will never allow me the position again. Not sure her reasoning but I will simply continue to support WSP and do whatever is best for our city. Thanks, and remember, l’m not going anywhere.”

(Halverson clearly stated during the meeting and multiple times since then that she did not reappoint Ramsay because she felt there were more qualified candidates.)

Notes

Notably, two sitting city council members who were vocal against Mayor Halverson in the April 23 meeting and have been accused of sexism—Ed Iago (first elected in 2006) and John Bellows (first elected in 2014)—are not running again.

For the “Stance on Sexism” sections, I primarily pulled from comments candidates have made in a public forum. I always welcome additions or clarifications to those statements.

3 thoughts on “2018 West St. Paul Candidates on Sexism Controversy”

  1. Meisinger also has a very public record of harassment and intimidation against primarily women but has also branched out against people who simply speak against him.
    He has publicly stated in the Charter Commission appointment session that he would do nothing to encourage diversity within the city government. Fernandez, Ramsay, Jim Probst and Morgan Kavenaugh have all publicly supported him and none have denounced him.

  2. Understood; I would however like a clear public statement that Meisinger is unfit for office made by the political hopefuls.

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