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St Paul's historic new city council is young and diverse

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

St. Paul, Minn., has a new city council freshly sworn in this month, and it's a historic one for the city. All seven elected council members are women, and all are under 40 years old. Six of them are women of color. Council President Mitra Jalali and councilmember Saura Jost are with us now. Welcome to the program.

MITRA JALALI: Thanks so much for having us.

SAURA JOST: Thank you.

RASCOE: So, Saura Jost, you're new to the council. Mitra Jalali, you're new to the presidency. Both of you have known since November's election what the new council would look like. But now that you're sworn in and working, is it what you expected?

JOST: Yeah. I - you know, we - this is our second official week. I'm still getting used to it. And so far, it's just been, you know, really great, these first few weeks, to be working with my councilmember colleagues and all the staff at the council.

RASCOE: Council president, what do you think about this?

JALALI: I have just spent a lot of the last couple of months processing and absorbing the reality of what our voters accomplished. So many young girls and moms, dads, parents of all gender backgrounds, posting with their children expressing what it meant to them to see this new class of leadership for the city. That's really exciting to me.

RASCOE: What are some of the issues that you'll be prioritizing as a council? I mean, obviously, you know, snow removal and, like, potholes and - you're dealing with, like, the bread-and-butter issues for people.

JOST: Yeah. I think the issues that the city council deals with are very, you know, personal and community level and having to do with your neighbors. And so some of the things that we are focused on together as a council are things like affordable housing, providing more protections for our renter population in our city, sustainability and climate change and the city's role in that. Those are things that Council President Jalali has been working on for a long time and things that all of our, you know, new councilmembers are really excited to get into.

RASCOE: Council president, how do you think having a young and diverse council - how does it affect how the council operates? And talk about how you feel like it's a reflection of the community.

JALALI: I think that, you know, for a lot of racial equity issues in our community, we don't have to do, like, a member education phase. Our leaders are already there. They get it. They've lived it. They see it. They're experiencing these systems. The people that are in their families and our families are experiencing these systems. For example, you know, we have renter issues. That's a big one that councilmember Jost named. So the majority of our community rents their home. And this is a council that reflects the injustices in renting that too many people experience and is really looking at, how do we center our solutions? - the people closest to those problems.

JOST: People chose to vote for us. There were people of other identities, other races that the people of St. Paul could have chosen, and they didn't. They chose to vote for us.

JALALI: I love our city. They had choices in this election. That's the beauty of democracy. They placed their trust in us to deliver on the core areas we campaigned on, right? It's not just identity. It's ideology. It's a community safety vision at which Minnesota found itself at the epicenter of with everything that happened in 2020, our state's track record on police brutality, all of those things, right? It's housing justice, and it's economic development for our communities.

RASCOE: Is there a lesson to be learned from your experience in this election year?

JOST: Yeah, I think absolutely. The way we were all elected, you know, by the voters was a lot of grassroots organizing. A lot of us had spent a lot of time in our communities through neighborhood organizations and, through working on other campaigns, had already knocked a lot of doors in the city of St. Paul. So I think a lot can be learned from that when it comes to thinking about politics nationwide and how we can elect, you know, more women and women of color to these positions.

RASCOE: Council president?

JALALI: There is no substitute for hard work. Organized people can overcome organized money. There is no substitute for relevant candidates who reflect voters' experiences and who earned their trust and convinced them of their policy direction and vision for the future, right? And you just - you have to be willing to stay in that working relationship with people. We were outspent in multiple races by sometimes, like, $100,000, which is a lot for a local race. And our candidates that are on the council now overcame that through that vision, those relationships and, ultimately, just that commitment to really working with people to make sure that they're coming to City Hall with us. So to me, that's the lesson. We can't take voters for granted. You got to be in this with people, and I think this council is. And that's something that I'm proud of, and I hope our national conversation shifts in that direction.

RASCOE: St. Paul City Council President Mitra Jalali and councilmember Saura Jost, thank you both so much for speaking with us.

JOST: Yeah, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

JALALI: Thank you so much for the time. Appreciate your work. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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