St. Paul Park mayoral candidate Keith Franke: Now not time 'to sit back and wait'“The general sense I get is people are ready for something different,” mayoral candidate Keith Franke said.
From a booth tucked in the rear of Park Café on St. Paul Park’s main drag, Broadway Avenue, Keith Franke – the café’s owner and the proprietor of another prominent community gathering place, Franke’s Bar – talked one recent morning about what he saw as a shift in the city’s mood as it nears a date with the ballot box on Nov. 8.
“The general sense I get is people are ready for something different,” Franke said. And this fall, Franke has presented himself as that something different.
A bar and restaurant owner with no city government experience – not even a stint on one of the city’s volunteer advisory commissions, often a stepping stone to local elected office – Franke, a native of St. Paul Park, is challenging incumbent Mayor John Hunziker while presenting to voters a vision of a city government more aggressive in seeking out opportunities for commercial growth.
St. Paul Park needs a salesman, Franke says; someone to sell the city and its attributes to a business owners and developers in a struggling economy.
“I think I have more of those skills” than Hunziker, he said. “Experience does you no good if you’re not coming up with new ideas. I haven’t heard any new ideas.”
As a resident and business owner, Franke said Hunziker and the current City Council had been successful in dealing with decreasing state aid and eroding property values without a big impact on city services. But to move beyond the current challenges, he said, will take a more active approach.
Chief among Franke’s goals for the city is a more muscular economic development authority that does more to seek out opportunities for development in the city and expands membership beyond St. Paul Park City Council members.
“It’s not getting utilized,” he said of the EDA, adding later: “We’re not doing our job promoting ourselves.”
Franke said he advocates more partnerships with local organizations like the successful St. Paul Park/Newport Lions Club for fundraising – a notion he acknowledged may not be workable, but an idea he has repeated nonetheless. At a recent debate Hunziker likened the approach to holding a bake sale to fix the city’s budget crunch.
“But that’s what small town communities do,” Franke said. The city of St. Paul Park is great at rallying around residents in need, he said; now, the city needs to rally around itself.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Franke admitted, “but I’m not just going to sit back and wait.”
Video provided by South Washington County Telecommunications Commission.