Candidate Questionnaire Response: Dai Thao, Ward 1

Dai Thao is running for City Council in Ward 1. Learn more about him at http://www.daithao.org/

What is your vision for safety and wellness rooted in St. Paul communities? As a city councilmember, what concrete steps would you take to support that vision? And who else would you work with to advance that vision?

My vision for safety and wellness rooted in St. Paul communities is to unite everyone against the stories and narratives told about us where we are divided by color, class, gender, religion and neighborhood. I believe our diversity is our strength and have fought against the status quo to bring everyone to the table to advance my vision of unity across the city to work to achieve progress for all. Every step of the way, in our fight to unite the diverse communities in St. Paul, I have brought along leaders who know what the structures of oppression are that stands in the way. I am committed to building and uniting anyone who sees that our diversity is our strength.

What alternatives to policing, arrest, criminal prosecution and incarceration would you work to support? How would you work to reduce the dramatic racial disparities and impacts of these systems?

I believe alternatives are community investment, access to economic opportunities, capital, and sense of belonging. I have fought for more resources into our parks and rec programming allowing for more youth to access our programs, increased funding for our Right Track youth employment program, increased funding for our libraries to include social workers, and investments into affordable housing and commercial spaces. This year I am adding more jobs to the Right Track program for targeting youth age 14 to 21, providing young people with jobs means less money into policing. These are important programs that will help reduce the racial disparities act because it promotes a sense of pride and self-worth in our communities where investments go into the hands of the residents and not people parachuting into our communities.

Many people who are routinely impacted by policing come from our most impoverished and disenfranchised communities, and due to systemic inequities, they are comparatively disconnected from the levers of power. How would you work to elevate the experience and insight of directly impacted community members so they can have the same impact on shaping policy as well-funded advocacy organizations?

Listening to the people and having trust in the community elevates the experiences of those most impacted by systemic inequities. I have deep relationships in our diverse communities to be able to bring people together and shape policy together. I have done that every step of the way as way to hold ourselves accountable to one another and plan to continue building and deeping those relationships.

In partnership with the community-first safety initiative, and with leadership support from the city council, St. Paul residents have advanced the idea of a community cabinet on safety, wellness and justice. How would you support this cabinet to ensure it has lasting and meaningful input?

As councilmember my office is currently co-leading the effort inside city hall to push for this initiative. I believe the cabinet needs to be a permanent one where it does not change or goes away from one administration to another. We need to have a city ordinance that directs a department to work across the city to implement ideas and outreach from this cabinet.

What is your knowledge of or experience with restorative justice and restorative practices? How might St. Paul become a restorative city?

Restorative justice focuses on the rehabilitation of the offender through reconciliation with the victim and community. I have sat in and participated in restorative justice dialogue and activities, and I thought it was highly effective. The City of St. Paul can become such a city through more meaningful community engagement and policies that reflect the values of restorative justice. Some ideas include having an office of truth and reconciliation with an emphasis on working with returning citizens, analyzing policies that impact communities of color, and resolving conflict where harm has been done to the community.

What specific steps would you take to build stability in areas hard-hit by poverty, unemployment, and housing insecurity?

As councilmember, I have already taken many concrete steps to bring stability to these areas. For example, I have tackled the youth unemployment rate by securing more funds for the Right Track Program, putting language into City contracts that require and prioritize youth hiring, and helping to bring more jobs to Saint Paul and along University Avenue. The developers in the Ward have agreed to hire local labor, and that means local young people with good paying and steady jobs at 15 dollars an hour. In addition, I have brought in some badly needed investment into businesses owned by women and people of color. I have brought in 40 million dollars for black-owned businesses alone. The Selby Victoria, Model Cities, and Old Homes projects to name a few.

For housing, I have a track record of preserving the most low income housing and creating the most affordable housing for seniors, youth, and low wage workers in all of St. Paul. I’ve created programs and loans for landlord to keep their rent low. I’ve invested in areas that were hit hardest by vacant buildings and foreclosure through the Inspiring Community Program to rehab over 700 houses; this helped stabilize neighborhoods and allowed residents to remain in the community.

What do you know about the recently dissolved Joint Powers Agreement to share data to flag Ramsey County students as “at-risk”? What lessons do you think officials should take away from the political process that created the Joint Powers Agreement data-sharing plan?

The main lesson I took away from that mess is that elected officials need to think more clearly about how their policies will impact their constituents. In the case of the dissolved Joint Powers agreement, it is clear that bureaucracy cannot go unchecked from the community.

During the council discussion I am proud to add in the ordinance requiring more community input which resulted in dissolving the JPA.

What specific steps will you take to end the school to prison pipeline for St. Paul youth? What can you as a city councilmember do to create more opportunities for youth to thrive?

I have already taken many steps on how to break the school to prison pipeline for Saint Paul’s young people. For one, I advocated to put social workers in school not police officer. I have fought for more coordination between the city and schools share resources so that our young scholars have places to go outside of school. I have created more jobs for youth in the Right Track Program. I have fought to increase the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, which means that many young people will have the ability to get a good start on their lives. In addition, I have required businesses in my ward with contracts with the city to hire young people. This means that these young people will not only have a better chance at a stable life but a work history that will allow them to advance along the socioeconomic ladder.

How should the city of St. Paul welcome and support people returning to neighborhoods from jail or prison, or living on probation? What steps would you take to make housing more accessible to people with criminal convictions?

I’ve partnered with organizations that work with returning citizens to provide them with housing and access to job opportunities. I also believe in expungement of past records and the right to vote for felons. These are only ways that we can truly welcome back residents who have served their time.

I am currently working on policy that will prevent credit check, criminal background check, and single point application for renters.

What is a person, place, book, experience, or film that has especially influenced your vision of community-first public safety and your dreams about what’s possible for community-first public safety in St. Paul?

The teaching of Jesus Christ influenced on my vision of community-first public safety. He not only led by example as a nonviolent person, but he also teach us to forgive, and teach us to love one another. These are the fundamental values that teach me to forgive those who try to harm me and my family. This teach me to use my skills and time to fight for the people and create policy that dismantle structural racism, which is the root cause of police brutality, poverty, and racism.

What informs your decision-making process when it comes to community issues? Can you share a story about a specific time when you had to decide where you stood on a difficult community issue, or when you had to decide what kind of action you should take on an issue? How did you arrive at the decision you did?

The community informs my decision making process when it comes to community issues and I am able to do this by listening closely. A story is when I took on Dave Titus and the police union to demand that two police officers on the Civilian review board be removed because of the serious and obvious conflict of interest. Afterall, it is a bad idea to have the foxes watch the chickens. I stood alone on this issue at first on the city council but thanks to pressure from the community, the council eventually saw the light, and the two police officers were removed. I also added two more commission members to ensure we have youth people, mental health expert, and more women on the review board.

What does co-governance look like to you? How have you implemented that vision of co-governance in your own life and work? How would you work to scale up that vision in city government?

As a community organizer and councilmember, I have a history of living out the values and practice of co-governance and people-centered policy making. I’m intentional about making sure everyone has a seat at the table. I do this by making sure that I am present and accessible in the community of Ward 1. I have a 24 hour no issue too small response policy. I implemented the Ward 1 Community Meal that brings everyone together. I implemented monthly and quarterly community conversation, and newsletter. With every major policy, I’ve solicited input from community, and I’ve worked to unite and bring everyone to the table.