ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Melvin Carter III was declared as winner of the St. Paul mayor's race Tuesday evening by a razor-thin margin, clearing the first round of ranked-choice voting by just under a percentage point against a crowded field of nine other candidates.
The victory makes Carter, a fourth-generation St. Paul resident, the city's first African-American mayor.
"I’ve heard a lot, from mothers, from grandmothers, from grandparents, in this community about the extent to which just seeing somebody who reflects the diversity of this city in the city’s top office just can change what our children see for themselves," Carter said. "It’s a big honor and a big privilege to serve in that role.”
He watched the results roll in from St. Paul's Union Depot, an historic rail station his grandfather once worked as a porter in. With a rapt audience watching the numbers oscillate between 49 and 51 percent, Carter notched 50.9 percent, just enough to put him over the 50 percent--plus one vote--threshold required by the city's ranked-choice vote system.
It was a wide margin over his closest opponent, Pat Harris, who received 24.81 percent of the vote. Dai Thao came in third place with 12.3 percent.
It was St. Paul's first election using ranked-choice voting, following Minneapolis' lead in using the rare ballot counting method that traditionally allows for outsider success.
The victory comes on the heels of tumultuous campaign punctuated by a controversial flyer insinuating that guns stolen from Carter's home were tied to an increase in violent crime in the city. With both Carter's opponents and eventually the groups responsible for the flyer denouncing the message, he called the mailing an "extreme challenge" to the city over what direction it wanted to go.
It was a stark moment in an election where the top few candidates struggled to differentiate themselves on key issues, including a raise to the minimum wage, police hiring practices and investment in affordable housing.
In an election where no candidate earned the coveted Democratic-Farm Labor Party nomination, Thao also made headlines of his own when allegations surfaced that his campaign manager had attempted to solicit a bribe.
Election officials said turnout was high, causing some polling places to run low on ballots but never completely run out, with everyone in line by the 8:00 p.m. deadline still able to vote.