A run for St. Paul mayor this year is “the biggest contribution I could think of to make to my city,” Elizabeth Dickinson, a resident of the West Side since 1998, told us.
Dickinson — a motivational speaker, author, life coach and a veteran of past campaigns for city office — plans to seek Green Party endorsement. She is among five mayoral candidates meeting recently with us for initial informal conversations.
At a time when divisiveness reigns in state and national politics, Dickinson, 56, said she finds a “huge hunger for positivity.” She says she would bring a “different way of governing,” inclusive and transparent.
After upheaval in Washington and elsewhere, Dickinson senses a new willingness to engage in political action — including groups of women and others who have never before become engaged — and a “hunger to know how government works.”
Public bodies could make that easier. When it comes to city budget documents, for example, “You shouldn’t have to know how to read a spreadsheet,” she says, to be able to understand where the money comes from and where it goes.
Dickinson — a native of Massachusetts whose family tree includes poet Emily Dickinson — told us that under her leadership, St. Paul would be a city inspired by environmental, economic and social justice. She would use the “bully pulpit” of the mayor’s office to advance them — even if efforts “start small” as pilot projects.
It’s no surprise that environmental policy sets her apart. Dickinson lays out a Climate Action Plan with “big ideas” that include a vision for solar panels on the roofs of every city school, an effort that also would create jobs for those who need them, thereby advancing economic opportunity.
In putting people to work, she finds inspiration in Depression-era, WPA-style programs that provided jobs, along with lasting improvements to public infrastructure.
Making clear her priorities in a post on Facebook last week, Dickinson said she would rather see recreation centers and libraries fully funded before we pour money into “big shiny objects” like stadiums.
“Our community centers are key places for our youth to develop and grow — this is the best investment our city can make with our often-limited resources,” she wrote.
Her focus on neighborhood needs includes concern about such methods as tax-increment financing. “When city money goes to TIF for big projects that could be built without public money, the whole city loses,” her website says. “Under-served areas are often the hardest hit, where new immigrants and people of color live.”
Like the other four candidates in the race, Dickinson says she supports the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15. We’ve opposed such workplace mandates on these pages as counter-productive examples of government overreach.
A report last week by the Pioneer Press’ Frederick Melo says that, among the candidates, Dickinson has come out most strongly in support of the increase. The report notes, however, her statement that a $15 minimum wage could be phased in over the course of four to six years to allow businesses to adjust.
No social program, she told the editorial board, has an equal effect on the ability of individuals and families to “afford the basics of life.”
With respect to economic development, she talks about the value of “bottom-up” programs that involve small businesses — “finding ways to lift them up” — as opposed to “top-down” prescriptions.
That fits with the approach outlined in her February campaign announcement: “The best, most successful ideas — the ones that translate into action and into lasting change — come from the people who live and work in the community, who have a commitment to make social, economic and environmental justice a reality for everyone.”
She’d also cut through government clutter, she said, with policies that “simplify city codes and regulations for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” and hiring “navigators” to help emerging small businesses “make sense of the often confusing city codes and multiple city departments,” her statement says.
Dickinson, whose academic background includes a master’s degree in holistic counseling psychology, also emphasized in our conversation her willingness to “keep digging” and search for outside-the-box solutions to complex city problems.
Her presence in the race adds new dimensions to the conversation, and that’s welcome.