Maplewood voters elect two new faces for city council

Tou Xiong
Tou Xiong
Bryan Smith
Bryan Smith
Bryan Smith and Tou Xiong (front) joined up with Rep. Peter Fischer, Sen. Chuck Wiger and Sen. Susan Kent during a joint door-knocking event in September. (submitted photo)
Bryan Smith and Tou Xiong (front) joined up with Rep. Peter Fischer, Sen. Chuck Wiger and Sen. Susan Kent during a joint door-knocking event in September. (submitted photo)
Bryan Smith stopped by Tou Xiong’s election night event at Stargate Nightclub in Maplewood. (submitted photo)
Bryan Smith stopped by Tou Xiong’s election night event at Stargate Nightclub in Maplewood. (submitted photo)

Tou Xiong, Bryan Smith oust two former mayors — Cardinal and Longrie

As election officials tallied up votes for the two open Maplewood City Council seats, Tou Xiong, 25, and his supports tracked the results at Stargate Nightclub, off Rice Street near Larpenteur Avenue. Across town, Bryan Smith, 40, gathered with friends, family and his campaign team at Jake's City Grille.

The two new candidates struck up a partnership months ago, even pausing to lend each other support during the final hours on Nov. 3 when Smith dropped by Xiong's get-together.

"We were certainly running our own campaigns, but I think we both believed in each other early on and thought we could help bring some fresh ideas to Maplewood," Smith says.

It's a synergy they'll soon bring to council chambers.

Xiong and Smith won the election with 3,153 (30 percent) and 2,729 votes (26 percent), respectively. Incumbent council member and former mayor Bob Cardinal trailed closely behind Smith with 2,584 votes (24 percent) and former mayor Diana Longrie came in last with 2,053 votes (19 percent).

It's a historic election for Maplewood, as Xiong will serve as the city's first Hmong council member — an accomplishment that he largely attributes to having run a positive campaign.

"I think the community saw the energy that our campaign had; the effort that we put in," Xiong says. "We tried to make the campaign fun, make it a positive campaign. I think the community saw that; and we're very excited."

'New, fresh voices'

Mayor Nora Slawik says Maplewood will benefit from the diverse perspectives Xiong and Smith will bring to the table. The council will certainly be looking to Xiong for cultural insight as the city continues to work with its large Hmong population, she says.

Slawik highlighted their youth and professional backgrounds as additional assets.

"I think the combination of hard work and a positive campaign helped the voters see that Tou and Bryan are the best candidates to serve the city," she says. "I think that the voters of Maplewood were ready for new, fresh voices."

The two ran active campaigns — knocking on doors, mailing out letters and seeking endorsements.

Campaign finance records show Xiong raised $24,300 for the general election, nearly double the amount he raised for the primary. He spent $17,607, largely on print materials, postage, food for volunteers, and events.

Smith raised $3,121 for the general election, citing multiple endorsements from labor and business organizations representing a wide range of supporters. He spent $3,956 on advertising, postage, print materials and other campaign resources.

Longrie and Cardinal, combined, raised roughly $3,000 for the general election.

Wide-ranging appeal

 Xiong, an urban planning organizer for Harrison Neighborhood Association and a Maplewood resident of 12 years, says he only got four hours of sleep the two days leading up to Election Day because he and his volunteers were toiling over last-minute literature drops and additional door-to-door visits.

With a council seat now secured — for a four-year term that begins in January — he's already turning his attention toward three key issues: encouraging more civic engagement, building the local economy and addressing infrastructure needs "all the way from the north end to the south end" of the city.

While he's grateful for the support of Hmong voters, he's focused on serving all taxpayers.

"I'm not the Hmong candidate," says Xiong. "I'm the Maplewood candidate. I'm here to support the entire city."

Likewise, Smith, a marketing manager at Tennant Company who has lived in Maplewood for five years with his wife and 7-year-old son, says he sought a wide range of supporters with the promise of focusing on marketing the city to business owners and developers, improving code enforcement and maintaining a path of reasonable government.

"I think our method of wanting to continue the trajectory of reasonable government — creating a functional environment for citizens to work with the city — that resonates with people," he says.

A sticky subject 

The issue of home ownership stood out as a hot topic during the campaign season. Xiong shares a rental home with his parents, and Smith rents with his family.

Longrie and Cardinal distributed separate campaign materials that brought their opponents' credentials into questions, based on their lack of home ownership.

The move didn't sit well with state Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood, who posted a comment to his Facebook page Oct. 27 calling such tactics "bigoted, elitist and racist" because they "imply that if you don't own property and/or pay property taxes, you don't belong on the Maplewood City Council."

In a follow up phone interview, Fischer told the Review "on the surface, those comments don't appear racist, but it leads to classism and institutionalized racism" because it discredits many minority and elderly citizens who rent.

"We're trying to improve race relations in our community," Fischer adds. "These are not the types of statements we should be making. They did more harm than good."

Xiong says a number of his supporters took offense to the remarks attacking his status as a renter.

"Many Hmong families came here poor. They were trying to work their way up. They do want to be homeowners, but they just can't [afford it]," he says, noting the remarks made his supporters even more determined to get him in office.

"It's a cultural thing too," he explains. "If you're a mother or daughter and you're not married yet, it looks bad if you move out to live on your own and don't come back to take care of your parents."

Both Longrie and Cardinal deny Fischer's allegations, claiming there were no racial undertones in any of the campaign materials they sent out.

Longrie, who points out some of her closest friends are racial minorities, says the growing financial demands of running for city office is more concerning. For the primary and general elections combined, Xiong raised a total of $37,594; Smith raised $9,234.

"It's unfortunate that candidates have to raise anywhere from $9,000 to $38,000 in a municipal election to win a campaign," she says.

The spike in campaign finances also caught the attention of citizen services director Karen Haag during the primary election.

In the general election, she was most impressed with the 27 percent voter turnout, up from just 8 percent during the primary in August. Typically, she says, the city would see a turnout at that rate when the mayor's seat is on the ballot as well.

With election season in the rearview mirror, everyone will begin to prepare for the upcoming transition.

"We will do everything we can on the staffing level to bring Tou and Bryan up to speed so we can get on with the business of the city," Haag says.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

 

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