St. Louis Park Patch sat down with St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs on Monday for a monthly chat.
St. Louis Park Patch: St. Louis Park recently passed a ordinance. What are your thoughts on this, and what does it mean for the city?
Mayor Jeff Jacobs: I think a lot of the comments people at the council meeting made were right on, in the sense that St. Louis Park has always been a pretty welcoming community. In terms of how much impact it will really have — some. I think it’s more than just ceremonial. It has some meaning to it. It denotes the welcoming nature that St. Louis Park has always had … It just doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. Frankly, if what you’re looking for in a stable community are people that will share a loving and committed relationship, so that they can raise a family or be a family together, and they’re doing all the other stuff — they’re paying their taxes and mowing their lawn and working hard — that’s what you want. The fact that they may be a domestic couple, whether they’re same-sex or otherwise, from my perspective, I don’t care. What’s important is that they’re doing the things that make a community a community.
St. Louis Park Patch: We’ve spoken — in light of the recent Arizona shooting, which left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously injured — about how political discourse in this country has gotten more violent and vitriolic. What are your thoughts on this, and do you see it in St. Louis Park?
Jacobs: I don’t see (violent and vitriolic discourse) in St. Louis Park, to tell you the truth. On terms of a national basis, I’ve seen some polls that indicate that the American public doesn’t really blame vitriolic rhetoric (for the shooting). I disagree with that, frankly. I think it does have an impact. Now, can Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann coming up with some, frankly, I think, really inflammatory statement like putting a target on (Giffords' district) — does that control what some nutcase does in Arizona? Or anywhere else for that matter? No. There are people that are simply unbalanced … But, it’s interesting you hear the polls saying, “Well, I don’t think (violent and vitriolic discourse) leads to violence,” and on the other hand, everyone I talk to just literally hates election season. They can’t stand it. The ads are so negative and they’re so vitriolic. They’re all talking about how terrible human beings are. And that sort of rhetoric, frankly, sort of — and I’ll sound a little bit alarmist — undermines society. When civility goes away, your ability to have rational discourse goes away … When you say, or when you suggest or even imply, in some of the most obtuse ways, that physical violence be used as a way to resolve political discussion, that ought to be shunned in society … Obviously, you walk a very fine line between freedom of speech — which is one of the underpinnings of a democratic society — and this kind of inflammatory nonsense … No, it’s not a direct line (to the shooting in Arizona) … but it’s coming from the same sort of cloth.
St. Louis Park Patch: Is this type of discourse something happening more at the state and national levels than it is at the local level?
Jacobs: I think so. I see it happening (nationally), and unfortunately, I know I’m dealing with a media guy, but I think they tie into that. Because it’s a great, sensational story. The nature of what news is in America, it tends to be sensationalist. It’s the fire. It’s the car accident. It’s the disaster that happened. There’s almost sort of a prurient interest in that. So, the same thing holds true when you’re dealing with some politician standing up and saying, “We need to lock and load.” What do you mean? When you “lock and load” that means you are prepared to shoot somebody … Or you say you need to “re-load.” You’re using rhetoric and you’re using words that are very clearly referencing violence … I think the answer to your question is, yes, it happens much more at the state and national levels then it does at the local level. I have not seen that kind of rhetoric used ever in St. Louis Park. I honestly haven’t. I’ve never had a situation where somebody suggests that we need to resolve the dispute about freight rail, or about the land sales we did a few years ago, or about the budget (with violence) … No, we’ve never gotten death threats, I’ve never had that happen, and we have some pretty emotional issues.
St. Louis Park Patch: Minnesota Patch recently , which currently allows permitted persons to bring handguns into city buildings. Do you think cities should be able to ban handguns?
Jacobs: I do, and frankly for the same reason that any other private establishment can. The young lady that works at the reception desk of , how is she different from someone working at a bookstore in the ? She’s working behind a counter, she’s dealing with the public, and she’s probably going to deal with someone who is kind of irate about something … That’s what city staff is there for. So yes, I think we should have the right (to ban guns).
St. Louis Park Patch: The Legislature has been in session now for a few weeks. What is the city’s strategy to get things done that it wants?
Jacobs: We’ve hired lobbyists, and we try to hire folks that have connections to both sides of the political aisle. I think that’s what you need, and we’ve always done that. It really, frankly, isn’t much different of a strategy than what we do internally. And that is, you build relationships with people that can be beneficial to you … Our legislators (Reps. Steve Simon and Ryan Winkler, and Sen. Ron Latz) are really good at that. They build relationships not only internally, within their own party (Editor’s Note: The three are Democrats), but across the aisle as well. And they’re all pretty reasonable people, pretty rational ... Obviously, this is going to be a little bit different of a session, as we have a Republican majority in the House and Senate. They face some daunting problems. There is a (projected $6.2 billion deficit). Most people can’t even conceive how much money that is.
St. Louis Park Patch: With Republican leadership at the Legislature, there has been a lot of talk about transportation funding in particular being tight. Are you worried about the future of local transportation projects, such as Highway 7 and Louisiana Avenue, Highway 100 and the Southwest Light Rail Line?
Jacobs: I’m worried about all of it. I think our top three priorities right now, and you could order them in different ways, would be Southwest LRT, Highway 100, and Highway 7 and Louisiana … We’ve been told repeatedly that Southwest (LRT) is going to happen, but the check hasn’t been cut yet. And we’ve also been told repeatedly that Highway 100 is going to happen because the bridges are literally falling down. But they’ve been scaling back the project … for 10 years ... And Louisiana and (Highway) 7, that’s the one I’m probably concerned about the most, to tell you the truth. We’ve got almost $8 million set aside for that (Editor’s Note: This funding comes from a Met Council grant the city received, but the money could be pulled back this spring if the project doesn’t go forward). It is about a $22 million project. There is some additional money we have from other places, but we need about $12 million to get that project done. I don’t know where it’s going to come from.
St. Louis Park Patch: Lastly, as this is our first sit-down of 2011, I have to ask: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions, and if so, are you sticking with them?
Jacobs: I’ve learned to be very reasonable in any kind of New Year’s resolution, and mine is sort of the one I’ve always had — to stay in physical shape. I belong to a health club, and I’m going tonight in fact. People who make these sort of wide-ranging, radical New Year’s resolutions are setting themselves up for failure, I think, unless you’re really, truly going to follow up with it … I also resolved this year to spend a little more time with family, because I tend to work an awful lot.
Want to put a question to the mayor? E-mail St. Louis Park Patch local editor Michael Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question may be used in an upcoming interview.