St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter was sworn into his second term during a chilly ceremony Monday at Como Lakeside Pavilion, where he pledged to build out programs and policies launched during a first term overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and rising crime.
Surrounded by dozens of bundled-up and socially distant supporters, a masked Carter took his oath of office onstage with his family before an inaugural address that included one of the mayor's mantras in recent months: "Today's challenges cannot be conquered with yesterday's tools."
"The task before us is nothing short of inventing and carrying forward a model of city building that reflects these realities — from existential tasks like securing safer neighborhoods and revitalizing our economy, to the simple ceremonial ritual of installing a mayor," Carter said. "The compound crises punctuated by this pandemic demand the risk and discomfort of uncharted trails."
St. Paul residents resoundingly voted to re-elect 42-year-old Carter, the capital city's 46th and first Black mayor, in November's election. But during his first term, the DFLer has at times faced criticism from both sides on issues such as public safety and housing, as he's attempted to merge a progressive agenda with the city's traditional ways of doing business.
Some, for instance, point to Carter's frequently touted community-first public safety agenda and question why St. Paul saw a record 38 homicides in 2021, while others say he is not doing enough to reform law enforcement. Others argue Carter's housing policies will drive development out of St. Paul, while opponents say the mayor must do more to protect tenants and prevent gentrification.
Two such challenges loom over the first few months of Carter's second term: the search to replace Police Chief Todd Axtell after the chief's term expires in June and the rollout of St. Paul's voter-approved rent control ordinance.
Carter has said the city will take community input on both issues and on Monday repeated his pledge to gather feedback on the especially controversial rent control policy.
"Just as we have proven ourselves a city where business owners and union members can work side by side to craft sensible minimum wage policies, just as we have proved that activists and officers can reimagine public safety systems together, so too will we prove that tenants, workers, landlords and developers can co-design a future where all can enjoy the peace and dignity of a stable home," he said, adding that plans for a more public conversation about rent control will be announced soon.
Speaking to those seated in spread-out chairs at Como Pavilion, City Council President Amy Brendmoen remarked that Monday's event was a stark contrast to the crowded Central High School gym that cheered Carter into his first term.
Still, the ceremony drew about 100 city staffers and campaign supporters and included remarks from U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, as well as virtual congratulations from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
In an interview after the ceremony, Carter said a primary goal for the next four years is "institutionalizing a bunch of the things that we did over these last four years," such as St. Paul's college savings account program for newborns and the newly funded Office of Neighborhood Safety, which aims to combat gun violence.
"So much of the things that have happened in the last four years I think have made far more urgent and more obvious a lot of things that were needs even before that," he said.
The mayor, who originally ran for office on promises to dismantle racial and socioeconomic disparities, also highlighted his administration's abolition of library late fees, guaranteed income pilot program and distribution of COVID-19 aid as accomplishments paving the path toward his goal.
"As proud as I am by the immense change that we are driving," Carter told the crowd, "I'm even more proud that we are truly driving change together."
The mayor smiled before donning his mask and descending from the stage as mittened hands clapped through a standing ovation.