Pointing to $1.7 billion in construction activity along the new Central Corridor light-rail transit line, Mayor Chris Coleman called St. Paul a city earning national attention and asked voters to grant him a third term Nov. 5. "I think St. Paul's at the strongest point it's been at in years," Coleman said Thursday during the first and only mayoral candidate's forum of the race.Tim Holden, his most visible challenger, argued that a vote for Coleman would be an unfortunate vote for the status quo. That would be a step back, he said, for opponents of the St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown and small-business owners along University Avenue who barely survived the recession, only to be confronted with problems brought on by the light-rail construction."We're closing our parks and rec centers because we're funding a multimillion-dollar ballpark for multimillionaires," said Holden, who is running as an independent.The League of Women Voters sponsored the forum at the St. Paul Public Schools headquarters. Besides Holden, Coleman's challengers are perennial candidate Sharon Anderson, who blames the city for seizing her car in 2006, and street maintenance worker Kurt Dornfeld.Coleman, a DFLer who unseated Mayor Randy Kelly eight years ago, won re-election in 2009 with 69 percent of the vote. He has been endorsed by a mix of labor groups and business interests, including the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council.If re-elected, he would be the first St. Paul mayor to serve more than two terms since George Latimer, who was mayor from 1976 to 1990.Coleman said that while his predecessor used budget "gimmicks," he spent his first term huddled with a committee of business leaders from Ecolab, HealthPartners and other major employers seeking to understand how to achieve "structural balance" -- having permanent revenue sources fund ongoing expenditures -- within four years. Instead, he achieved it in three years, he said.That approach was key to surviving the worst recession since the Great Depression and weathering cuts in state local government aid, including a $15 million reduction that came two-thirds of the way through a budget year, Coleman said. As for the light-rail project, he acknowledged that construction has been hard on small businesses, but it also drew major investment, including the planned renovation of the downtown post office into 250 market-rate apartments."You don't do the largest public infrastructure project in the history of St. Paul without (some challenges) ... but St. Paul is way better for that project," Coleman said.

"I'm not Ciley Myrus, but I'm the wrecking ball," said St. Paul mayoral candidate Sharon Anderson, referring to singer Miley Cyrus, while answering a question during a mayor candidates forum in St. Paul on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. Also pictured, from left, are Mayor Chris Coleman, Kurt Dornfeld and Tim Holden. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
Holden, a University Avenue real estate agent and general contractor, maintains a campaign office behind the Love Doctor, an erotic novelties shop on University Avenue that doubles as his most visible commercial tenant. He also owns residential rental property.Holden said he pays a special assessment for his alley along University, but he had no idea what it funded."We have a 25 percent (office) vacancy rate downtown, which is not acceptable," he said. "We have children not graduating, one of the worst achievement gap rates in the nation."He repeatedly stated that listening to the public and city department leaders would create solutions."Just listening will solve problems ... and that's not happening," said Holden, adding later: "If the streets are the issues, let's find out what's going on with the streets. If it's the water, let's talk to the water department."Anderson, who has run repeatedly -- and unsuccessfully -- for office for 40 years, is known for her frequent legal filings against prosecutors, judges and public officials. She has previously run for city council, Minnesota attorney general and U.S. president.Anderson, who started running for office in the early 1970s, has been arrested numerous times and sometimes jailed on charges that she has labeled "political retaliation."In 1976, for example, she was briefly jailed for failing to pay a traffic fine. In 1977, she was jailed for operating an apartment building without the proper city permit.Anderson, who blames the city for losing her Summit Avenue home in the 1980s and car in 2006, gave answers Thursday that sometimes veered off topic: Asked about the state of the city's infrastructure, she said she supported the legalization of marijuana and prostitution.She also likened St. Paul and Minneapolis to Sodom and Gomorrah, and compared light rail to Nazi train cars carrying Holocaust victims to concentration camps."The city of St. Paul, they'll come, they'll steal your car, they'll shut your water off," said Anderson, who wore bulky sunglasses and a jacket adorned with a large dollar sign on the back.Dornfeld, an opponent of bike paths and light rail, has blamed the Coleman administration for moving from a seven-year seal-coating cycle on city streets a few years ago to a 10-year cycle to save costs. As a St. Paul Department of Public Works employee, Dornfeld has said he's seen firsthand how those savings turn into losses for drivers going over potholes. The city has reverted back to its former schedule, in part; Public Works adopted an eight-year seal-coating cycle in 2012."There's nothing good about the train," Dornfeld said. "It's going to just about a ghost town."Asked about his experience with diversity issues, Dornfeld said he had once participated in a county youth hockey program for low-income children, but had limited other experience. "I don't even know where I'm going with this," he told the crowd. "I'm nervous as all heck."Anderson asked voters to consider supporting write-in candidate Ronald J. "Arjo" Adams, who was not in attendance. Adams is fighting the city's condemnation of his East Side home.In a new twist in the election, St. Paul residents for the first time will elect the mayor using the ranked-choice voting method.Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.