Saint Paul Ward 1 Candidate Questionnaire: Dai Thao

Dai Thao For Campaign

For many years Streets.MN has published questionnaires for candidates for local office in the Twin Cities so that our many interested readers can make better informed decisions when they participate in local political races. This year

 I am focusing on the Saint Paul Ward 1 Council race.  The questions were compiled from community member inquiries in my Frogtown neighborhood.

The questions were compiled from a community member survey, edited for tone/brevity, and forwarded to candidates.  Candidate answers were not edited or fact checked in any way.  These are the answers of the candidates themselves and do not represent my personal opinion or the opinion of Streets.MN as an organization.

All disclaimers aside, this survey would not have been possible without the generous contributions of inquiries from Patricia Ohmans, Bonnie Kristian, Pat Larkey, Amir, Jon Whitling, Jennifer Whitling, Judi Gordon, and Danielle Swift, and Daniel Choma.  Thank-you to Greening Frogtown, The Frogtown Neighborhood Association, Karen Larson of WFNU-LP Frogtown Radio, and the administrators of Frogtown Neighborhood Facebook Group as well for promoting the survey. 


The issue of coordinated trash in Saint Paul has been especially contentious in the past year.  Originally implemented by Mayor Coleman, A petition of over 5000 Saint Paul residents (nearly 2% of the population) was presented to Mayor Carter asking that the city put the question of whether or not municipal trash collection continues on the November ballot. 

The city denied the referendum arguing that a referendum to request the city to break its contract with haulers wouldn’t be appropriate.  3 residents then sued the city in pursuit of adding the trash question to the ballot.  The Supreme Court of Minnesota recently ordered the City of Saint Paul to put the trash question on the ballot.

As a candidate for city council, what is your vision for how garbage should be collected in the City of Saint Paul? 

Regarding the balance of city decisions, democratic ideals, and the public good: Is there anything that potential council members should learn from Saint Paul’s recent implementation of municipal trash? If so, what?

In a city such as ours, we need coordinated collection to lower trash prices, encourage less waste, and allow for sharing of the trash carts. If we are going to make system-wide changes, I recommended to rollout the program by sections to test and smooth out any issues first before going city-wide. It was ignored by Public Works at the time. One potential lesson I hope my peers on the city council have learned and I have continuously advocated for was to have a pilot program rolled out for a section of a ward first before implementing it for the whole city. By having a pilot program, we would be
able to learn the successes and challenges first before impacting the whole city.


What are the root causes behind why the City is not moving the needle on racially equitable outcomes? How will you challenge the status quo to bring equity to communities of color and low income?

The racial inequities that persist and pervade our lives are due to the generations of intentional disinvestment in communities of color. To move the dial, we need a shared vision and analysis on where to put our investments. I believe that to challenge the status quo, we need to ask hard questions about our policies (which I have been doing) and set clear goals for our outcomes rather than rely on good intentions. I’ve done this through many of my work in removing police out of the civilian review board, passing an earned sick and safe time and minimum wage ordinances to provide protections for low wage workers, primarily workers of color, and creating spaces for people of color to come together to co-create their own solutions such as the creation of the Labor Standards Advisory Committee which will review labor practices within the City that are harmful to low-wage workers, especially people of color.

I have been challenging the status quo to bring equity to communities of color and low income through policy changes such as for housing and job policies, I’ve pushed to remove criminal background checks and have been successful at requiring developers to do so and create less barriers to housing and job opportunities.


What is your vision for essential city services such as street repair, plowing, and other public works related municipal services? 

Furthermore, the city is responsible for many of the streets in Frogtown.  Can you get roundabouts installed in key intersections like they have in Midway?

What is your vision for biking and pedestrian infrastructure on city streets?  Regarding mobility, what will you do to support individuals who are differently abled?

I currently support the City’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan that identifies and prioritizes streets for bike and pedestrian improvements. Each time we do a mill and overlay project and or street reconstruction, we bring our streets up to ADA compliance. I believe in investing in our current infrastructure through street reconstruction and finding equitable ways to pay for it and not through direct assessments to adjacent property owners.

Roundabouts are effective and I will continue to support them. The city should continue to find revenue and grant money to install them.


Due to increases in property values, property taxes have gone up at a higher rate than the rest of the city in Frogtown.  How do you see this effecting the community and what plans do you have to mitigate possible adverse effects of this increase?

At the municipal level, raising just property taxes to keep up with inflation and increasing city services is a very regressive tax policy. With the rising property values, homeowners on low and or fixed-incomes have been the hardest hit by increasing property taxes.

We need to increase density and economic development. We need to turn around vacant building and spaces. And, we need to restore the power of the City Council by auditing department programs and see if they are effective or not. We cannot keep funding projects and programs that take away our resources from providing basic city services.

For fair, progressive revenue, I believe in raising income and corporate taxes to invest in the common good at the state level and also redistributing it to the local municipalities in local government aid. This is the only way to support our current local communities and infrastructure statewide without displacing people.


Saint Paul has more non-profits than average, contributing to a greater number of land parcels within city limits that do not contribute to the tax base.  As our city grows, our need for public services grows with it.  Do you see a future need to change how we tax non-profits in order to make sure our budget is financially sustainable?

By federal law we can not tax nonprofit and government organizations, that is why I supported the Payment Lieu of Taxes program, but we need the Mayor to be on board to make it work, and we also need the State to allocate to us our fair share of LGA money.


Saint Paul as a city has “strong mayor” format.  Because of this, the mayor’s office has a unique ability to set policy for the city.  As a council person, when is it appropriate to push back against mayoral policies and when is it appropriate to work with the mayor?

The Council has the authority to pass legislation and approve the budget. The council should always be able to ask questions about budgeting and standing up for what is right. An example was when the City Council passed the Ayd Mill Rd and the Mayor chose to do it differently through his budget proposal, significantly changing what the council had approved. When the mayor push for project without duel process, I will always fight it to make sure we have a place at the table.


What is your vision for community safety in the City of Saint Paul?  How does the Saint Paul Police force play into that vision of community safety?  How do community policing principles such as requiring beat cops to walk the neighborhood instead of driving around in cars plan into your vision?  In what ways does your vision of safety reduce gun violence?

In the city council, I’ve championed the removal of police officers from the civilian review board, pushed for the use of police body-worn cameras, accountable community engagement from the police department, improved and made public the use of force policy, and increased funds for the Police Ambassadors Program where community partners are doing the community engagement directly and not the police. In addition, I have supported the increase in mental health professionals to partner with the police department; invested in youth development by ensuring that all city contracts align with the city goals of hiring and mentoring youth from the community. I have also led the city’s Right Track program to secure jobs for youth in St. Paul. All of these programs are what we need to reduce gun violence. I am also in support of shot-fired detection technology to deter, reduce shot fired and remove guns off the streets.


Minneapolis and Saint Paul are experiencing a well-documented housing crisis.  The problem is large in scope as many people live on our streets, tenants report experiencing unfair treatment from landlords, and people who have lived in neighborhoods for a long time are being forced by market forces to move. 

How will you advance tenant protections in Ward 1 and across the city?   What is the city’s role in providing for homeless citizens?  Can you work to loosen zoning rules so that we can have triplexes, multiple tiny houses on one lot, etc.?  How can the city promote affordable housing?  How can the city promote market rate housing? 

The city plays a significant role in the production and preservation of housing. We need to increase density along transit lines, ease the red-tape on the development of housing, and look into our zoning regulations. I’ve already done so with the rental rehab housing program that allows property owners to secure grants to improve their houses and keep houses affordable, pushed for deeply affordable housing at 30% AMI, and pushed for inclusionary zoning studies to be completed in 2020.

I have and will continue to push for deep affordable housing goals at the Snelling-Midway redevelopment, Sears Site, Wilder Site at Lexington and University, and future redevelopment sites.

Also, as we inventory our NOAH properties, it will allow us to identify the conditions of the units so we can allocate resources accordingly to ensure that properties are maintained while rents do not increase.

Additionally, one of the many issues I’ve heard from residents and advocacy organizations about tenant rights are the challenges of even accessing housing for those with very low income or trying to use Section 8 vouchers in Saint Paul due to income discrimination, down payment requirements, and credit score requirements. When the City’s Housing and Redevelopment
Authority was revisiting its policies on how to allocate city tax credits to affordable housing projects, I successfully pushed for requiring developers to have a Tenant Selection Plan that would not simply deny applicants with low credit scores, unlawful detainers record, and or old criminal records. This is a tool I plan to utilize with each development project.

On the City Council, I’ve been able to leverage both public and private funds to secure the most affordable housing in the City for both new construction and preservation in Ward 1 since I’ve been in office. Projects have included: Western-U Plaza, BROWNstone Lofts, Selby-Milton-Victoria Apartments, Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung, Jamestown, Lonnie Adkins, Wilder Square, and Skyline. For public funds, we’ve used a variety of tools such as tax credits, CDBG, sale of HRA-owned land, Neighborhood STAR and other grants through the Met Council, HUD, etc. Other projects have included land trust models for preservation and the Rental Rehab Program where it was targeted to benefit renters while keeping rents low.

Other tools we have is setting ambitious and practical goals for creating housing units through our City’s Comprehensive Plan and Master development plans for each project. For example, I was able to push for deep affordable housing goals at the Ford Site to include housing at 30% AMI. Before my amendment to the master plan, there weren’t any plans for this level of affordability articulated nor prioritized. We need affordable housing across the City.


Regarding economic development and jobs, what is your vision for the city’s new Office of Financial Empowerment?  Furthermore, how can the city support local businesses in pursuit of creation of new jobs?

This office was created by the Mayor to leverage and create a savings account for anyone born in St. Paul and to get families signed up with banking, create safe and affordable housing. I support the Mayor’s vision for creating this office because I believe that we need all of this as a holistic approach to reduce crime and gun violence in our community.

I have always been a supporter of local businesses. My colleagues and I on the city council have pushed for St. Paul’s Open for Business initiative that has streamlined the process for businesses to operate and expand in the City. The initiative launched a comprehensive brochure for businesses in 2017, created the Business Awards to recognize businesses that are leaders in St. Paul, a central Business Resource Center phone line, and now has a virtual one-stop shop for businesses through a portal that will be implemented in 2020.


St Paul district planning councils receive nearly $1.5 million in public funds.  They all operate independently as 501.c3s with minimal oversight from the city.  Should St. Paul conduct an evaluation of the effectiveness and accountability of district planning councils?  In what ways can the district council system be improved

Yes, and the council has conducted the evaluation. A study was done two years ago. District councils are independent nonprofits- they have their own auditing. It’s the job of their board to be fiscally responsible and govern, but the city can hold them to standards based on contract compliance that they receive from the city. They can be improved by having metrics of engaging the diverse community. For example, are they engaging just the same people or are they able to reach a diverse and new folks.

Daniel Choma

About Daniel Choma

Daniel Choma is a community advocate, a jazz musician, and a former bible salesman. He rides bikes, plays drums, and tells jokes. He can consume a bag of jelly beans faster than almost anyone.