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Incumbents, new faces step into St. Paul Park city council race

Mayor Sandi Dingle and council member Jeff Swenson are running for re-election.

Incumbents Mayor Sandi Dingle and council member Jeff Swenson have decided they want to keep their seats, announcing bids for re-election last week, along with newcomers Jeff Haggerty and Bruce Zenner adding their names to the growing list of candidates.

Dingle will be up against mayoral candidates Andrew Cison and Patrick Downs. Swenson will be defending his seat against Dale Roth, Haggerty and Zenner in the Nov. 7 election. Gregory Jahner III's council seat is also up for grabs. Jahner announced he will not run for re-election.

Dingle was appointed mayor in January after Keith Franke stepped down to take his seat in the Legislature. Dingle said the past eight months as mayor have been almost like a trial run.

"I didn't run before, so it gave me an opportunity to see if I like it ... I realized I could do it," she said.

Dingle was a council member for 11 years before being appointed to her current seat, as well as serving on the planning commission.

Dingle said she's much more in touch with the city now that she's mayor, and if re-elected wants to keep watching three of the big issues in the city: The planned Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad auto exchange lot, the Nuevas Fronteras school moving into the old Oltman Middle School on Third Street and continuing to keep a positive relationship with the refinery.

"Having that (St. Paul Park Road repair agreement), they could have said no, but they're good to work with," she said. "I want to have that same relationship with Burlington Northern."

Dingle will also be keeping an eye on complaints from parents and their efforts to move Nuevas Fronteras to a different location.

Swenson is running for a fourth term on the council. With Jennifer Cheesman recently vacating her seat, Swenson wants to secure his seat to keep some experience on the council.

"I do definitely believe we need new blood coming on board, (but I) would hate to leave the council without some sort of senior leadership," he said.

Swenson intends to keep an eye on the few "hot button issues" the city has, especially the BNSF car lot, even though the project is paused for the time being.

Swenson said each person on the council has their "special niche," and his is with administrative and financial projects. He said keeping sound financials for the city and taxpayers is a priority while providing city services and projects.

"We started in the past 10 or 12 years investing in our infrastructure with our streets and other city utilities," he said. "We're doing well. I think we're upgrading and I think we need to keep it going."

Zenner has lived in the city his whole life, and said now "seemed like the right time" to make a go for a council seat.

He said he's been interested in running for a long time, and previously ran in 2006.

Zenner, 59, served with the St. Paul Park Fire Department for 35 years, acting most recently as a safety officer before retiring a few years ago.

Zenner said there's really "no pressing thing right now" in terms of city issues, but wants to be part of the council for anything that could come its way.

Haggerty is also a St. Paul Park lifer, and raised his four kids in the city.

Now that those four kids have moved out, he said he's starting to get a little more free time to pursue a council run, and he's "always wanted to do something like this."

Haggerty works for Abbott Medical as an engineer for cardiovascular devices. He spends the bulk of his volunteering energy on "science-centric" programs such in schools, the state fair and the Science Museum of Minnesota, he said, but he also volunteered with Stone Soup Thrift Shop and the Friends in Need Food Shelf in the past.

Haggerty said there "isn't anything that stands out" as a concern at this time, but will canvass the city during the campaign, with a special emphasis on businesses.

The filing period closed Aug. 15 for the Nov. 7 city council election.