Running Black And Winning: Meet Melvin Carter, First Black Mayor Of St. Paul

Written by Dana Sanchez

Many people predicted it would be a close mayoral race Tuesday night in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Ten candidates hoped to be mayor in a fierce competition, but Melvin Carter III won, securing 50 percent of votes in the first round of voting for a definitive, early win.
Carter, 38, will be the first black mayor of St. Paul —  a historic win in a state that ranks among the worst in the U.S. for racial disparities including academic and financial inequality.
The inequality has worsened in the past 50 years to the point where it could create “a statewide economic crisis,” TwinCities.com reported in 2016:

“U.S. Census data show most Minnesota families of color now have median incomes about half those of their white neighbors. It wasn’t always that way. In 1960, family earnings for the state’s small nonwhite population were about 74 percent of what white families made.”

Carter’s campaign promises included reducing educational and employment disparities and improving police-community relations. A former City Council member and executive director of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Children’s Cabinet, he supported denser development and transit.
“I’m thrilled. I’m elated. I’m humbled,” Carter told a crowd of more than 200 Tuesday night at a gathering place dedicated to the Red Caps, a group of black baggage handlers. Carter’s grandfather was a Red Cap.

“(Melvin Carter) lives, breathes and bleeds the city of St. Paul. Our families will be celebrating all year,” said childhood friend Nneka Constantino, a board member with the St. Paul Port Authority.

The state capital, St. Paul is part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities area. Minneapolis “is really white,” Washington Post reported in February 2015.

In the 2010 Census, about 79 percent of people in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington area said they were non-Hispanic white. Just 8.4 percent said they were non-Hispanic black. By comparison, Salt Lake City is 1.8 percent black while the New York metro area is less than 50 percent white.

In the Minneapolis area, about 62 percent of black students attend high-poverty schools, compared with 10 percent of white students, Washington Post reported in February 2015.

Minnesota has one of the largest gaps in black-white student achievement. WalletHub analyzed the black-white gap in census indicators such as household income, homeownership and educational attainment. It ranked Minnesota as the worst state for financial inequality.

So what’s it like to run as a black candidate in the Twin Cities, given the racial disparities there?

Black candidates often have to confront a double standard, said Samantha Pree-Stinson, a Green Party candidate for Minneapolis City Council Ward 3.

Pree-Stinson helped organize “Running Black,” a panel discussion sponsored by the Green Party in late October, Minneapolis Post reported:

“There are a separate set of rules and standards for us. No degree, no amount of money, no experience can buy respect and human dignity for us in this country,” she said. “It is not just voters who are disenfranchised. It’s also candidates.”

The topic was timely owing to a dispute between Carter and members of the St. Paul Police Federation.

Carter’s campaign became controversial after the federation accused him of not doing enough to secure two handguns that were stolen from his house over the summer, CBS Minnesota reported. The police federation suggested Carter’s stolen guns had contributed to violence in the city, drawing condemnation by all candidates at a debate.

Melvin Carter
St. Paul Mayor-elect Melvin Carter danced with his wife, Sakenna, as they celebrated his win Tuesday night. Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

“This is the honor of a lifetime,” Carter said late Tuesday night. “Being able to carry a majority of the first-choice votes says to me loud and clear that St. Paul is a city ready for change … Being able to look at that office, look at that space and see someone who reflects the diversity of this whole city is something that is critical to building the city for the future, building the city that works for everybody.”

Running as a black candidate in the Minneaplois-St. Paul area this election period was a constant reminder of how people view African Americans, said Minneapolis mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds in an October panel discussion.

Several of the black candidates said they were often asked if they would represent all of their constituents, and not just black people.

“It’s such a mismatch, the things that people say to me,” Levy-Pounds said. “I don’t even think that they are conscious, a lot of the times, that they are undermining my intelligence, my leadership, by placing a double and triple standard on me that’s not being placed on my white counterparts.”

Carter is the son of Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter and retired St. Paul police officer Melvin Carter II.

“Our goal is to ensure that when people see a St. Paul police officer on their block … they know they can trust that person and know that they’re on the same side,” Carter said Tuesday night after his victory.

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About Dana Sanchez
Dana Sanchez is the editor of Moguldom.com and AFKInsider.com. She has worked in digital and print news media as a business writer and news editor. She has a master's degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. Prior to working in news, Dana worked in advertising.

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