Commissioner race heats up

5 candidates have filed to fill Huffman seat

The race to fill Blake Huffman’s former seat on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners is heating up, as five candidates have officially thrown their hat in the ring since candidate filing opened June 4. 

Following Huffman’s resignation this spring, a special election was called to fill the commissioner seat for District 1, which includes Arden Hills, Gem Lake, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Township and parts of Mounds View, Spring Lake Park and Blaine.

Huffman resigned effective June 1, amid a conflict of interest investigation into real estate dealings involving public money by his former housing nonprofit, Journey Home. 

While he ran unopposed for a second term in 2016, the special election to fill his term, which lasts through 2020, has already attracted a range of candidates. 

They are Nicole Frethem, Randy Jessup,  Christopher Nguyen, Edwina Patterson and Nick Tamble.

 

Motivated by Rice Creek Commons

Jessup and Tamble said they entered the race primarily over the Rice Creek Commons development, citing stalled negotiations between Ramsey County and the City of Arden Hills regarding the 427-acre, mixed-use project.

“Everything else besides this Rice Creek development basically pales in comparison in priority ... When I talk to people, they say, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening with Rice Creek?’” said Tamble, who served on the Arden Hills City Council from 2011 to 2012 and currently sits on a citizens’ advisory committee for the county. 

“I’m starting to learn a little bit more about the county’s positioning pertaining to that development,” he said. “I’ve seen it from both sides.”

Jessup represented House District 42A in the Legislature in 2017 and 2018. He took a more definitive stance on the development, saying, “I think we want to keep what we established as the density in 2016,” a view shared by Arden Hills city officials.

Jessup emphasized the public comment process that went into the initial plan and the adjustments that a change in density would necessitate. 

Both Tamble and Jessup have political party connections — Democratic and Republican, respectively — though the role of a county commissioner, as far as the voting ballot is concerned, is a nonpartisan position.

 

Bringing in past experience

Mounds View resident Patterson has also entered the race, hoping her lived experience as a single mother, renter and laborer can help her advocate for more effective community services, including an increase in affordable housing options. 

“I’ve been on assistance before,” Patterson said. “Having gone through [those programs], I know what things may be really helpful and what aren’t. I’m hoping that my lived experiences will make me more effective. I was a nurse’s assistant for 12 years and now I’m a construction worker.”

According to a press release, Patterson is “an active member of Laborers Local 563 and POCUM (People of Color Union Members), where she has been a tireless advocate for social and economic justice.”

Frethem has also been an advocate in her field, having worked as a childcare assistance policy analyst and program supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Frethem is running to improve access to early childhood education and “ensure that our county government better supports young families,” according to her campaign website.

“[Quality early childhood education] is really a whole-family approach to resolving poverty,” Frethem said in an interview. “When you have children in high-quality environments, it helps them to prepare for school and to be safe and healthy.”

Nguyen has also worked for the state, as a management analyst for the Department of Transportation, and more recently as a regional project and grant administrator at the Metropolitan Council. 

Like Patterson, Nguyen believes his lived experiences will bring a new perspective to the county board.

“I’m the son of an immigrant. My father was a Vietnamese soldier for South Vietnam and fought along Americans in the Vietnam War,” he said. “I grew up on the East Side of St. Paul ... I’ve worked my way out of poverty.”

One issue of special interest to Nguyen is community corrections. He said he’s hoping to see how correction programs might become more effective in reducing the rate of people returning to prison after being out on probation. 

 

Next steps

The filing period closes on Tuesday, June 18, at 5 p.m. Because more than two candidates have filed for the seat, a primary is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 13, with early primary voting opening on June 28. The special election will take place on this year’s Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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