Election 2020: 6 Candidates Running for 3 St. Cloud Council Seats
ST. CLOUD -- All three incumbents George Hontos, Jeff Goerger, and Carol Lewis are running to retain their seats. They are being challenged by three newcomers Hassan Yussuf, Buddy King, and Natalie Ratha.
George Hontos, photo by WJON.com's Alex Svejkovsky
George Hontos says a big project expected to take shape in the city next year is the renovation of the former Technical High School building into the future City Hall. Hontos says he's not a big fan of the idea, but he recognizes that's what the neighborhood wants. He also realizes the current city hall is pretty tight for space.
My issue was always making sure that the mayor and the administration was transparent and accountable to make sure everyone knew what the actual costs would be.
As for the ongoing efforts to try to revitalize the downtown, Hontos says as a former downtown business owner he wants to see growth, and the city has spent a lot of money in that area.
The public sector can only do so much. We've put a lot of money into the infrastructure downtown, we have ramps, we've improved the streets, we've improved the lighting, so from a public sector standpoint, I think we've made a good commitment to downtown.
But, Hontos says they can't force the private sector to go downtown.
A top issue for Hontos trying to increase the income levels of the city's residents, the median income level in St. Cloud is just 68 percent of the statewide average and the poverty rate in St. Cloud is 23 percent, compared to the statewide average of nine percent.
Hassan Yussuf says he knows the east side of town has been neglected for a while, and he wants to focus on helping to get it redeveloped.
I think the area needs to e concentrated on a lot. This area has been neglected for a long time, but that will not be the case when I'm on the city council, I'll try my best to make sure that all areas of St. Cloud are developed.
Yussuf says he's encouraged by the response he's gotten from residents as he's been out door knocking.
People are very welcoming, people are wanting to talk to me, people are ready to let me into their houses to have great conversations. I think St. Cloud is ready for a diverse city council body.
It is believed no person of color has ever been elected to the St. Cloud City Council.
Yussuf says some of the main concerns he's heard from residents are housing issues, public safety, and extending the Northstar Commuter Rail Line.
Buddy King is one of those new to politics. He says if he's elected a top priority for him will be helping residents transition from renting to owning their own homes.
A lot of people just do not know that you don't have to rent, and you shouldn't rent, we should be buying houses, and we don't know that it's actually cheaper to buy a house and pay $800 a month versus $1,400 a month for the same space.
King also has a vision for St. Cloud's east side, he says he wants to see a global market.
When I say a cultural market I'm talking about not just the food, not just the clothes that you wear, but I want to know why, why is it that way, like educate me. That's what I'm hoping we can offer.
King says if the Northstar Commuter Rail gets extended to St. Cloud the area around the train station will be ripe for development.
He says he also wants to focus on helping to grow business in the downtown.
He says he also supports the idea of repurposing the former Technical High School into a new City Hall.
Carol Lewis says she has a fondness for the downtown area having lived on St. Germain Street when she was growing up. She says she'd like to see the city add the amenity of a water fountain in front of the River's Edge Convention Center.
Because we lost that fountain at Lake George, and then the bank no longer has the fountain, so we were kind of having a lot of fountains there downtown for a while and I think it would add something very nice for people's eyes to look at and pleasant to be around.
Lewis now lives on the east side, and she says she'd be in favor of any increased attention to help redevelop the east side of town.
She also says the plan to turn the former Technical High School into the new City Hall is an excellent use for that space.
As for what Lewis thinks St. Cloud should be known for, our parks.
We have phenomenal parks. We probably have too many parks fo us to be able to maintain properly and keep up, but we are blessed.
Lewis was the top vote-getter back in the August primary when the field of candidates was cut from nine down to six.
Natalie Ratha says she sees more public art as a way to create more vibrancy in the downtown area.
There are a lot of windows that we can use paint on to beautify them by involving local artists in the community with simple ways of painting all the 'canvases' using the windows.
As for the east side of the Mississippi River, Ratha says she does frequent the area and knows it needs attention and suggests possibly an artisan district.
Like an artisan district to attract some new businesses and more of a cultural brewery-artisan district, but it has to be affordable.
Ratha has experience with the Milwaukee County Parks Department and she has a master's in public administration.
She says she's running because she wants to see more women and younger people involved in local government.
Jeff Goerger says the recent action taken by the council has the potential to help revitalize the southside university neighborhood.
Some small shops, some businesses that would be helpful for that neighborhood maybe a pharmacy or a drug store. Some things that could maybe take the place of things that were lost over the years.
Goerger says he's very supportive of remodeling the former Technical High School into a City Hall calling it "a historic structure".
As for the east side of town, he says there has been some investment already in bringing it back with the new Runnings store and the plans for the Gateway Motel location, however, he acknowledges progress has been slow.
The East St. Germain Street corridor I think is a tough nut to crack. The city through its planning and efforts that it has made in the past is always working to bring more economic development to the east side.
Goerger does expect to see quite a bit of growth on the south end of the city with the completion of 33rd Street South and the new high school in that area, he says it's going to be a very desirable place for people to live.