Posted on January 22, 2024

All-Female City Council Marks a ‘Turning Point’ for a Twin City

Remy Tumin, New York Times, January 10, 2024

There was a moment last summer when Nelsie Yang realized that she and six other women were on the verge of making history in St. Paul, Minn. The group of City Council candidates was knocking on doors to share their joint campaign message, one that could transform the makeup of the city’s governing body.

“It was such a powerful moment,” Ms. Yang, 28, said. “That collective work is how you win campaigns.”

In mid-November, Ms. Yang’s prediction came true when they were elected. And on Tuesday, the first all-women St. Paul City Council was sworn into office.


“This is the vision I had when I first started organizing eight years ago,” said Ms. Yang, who was the first Hmong American woman to serve on the council. “Change doesn’t happen with the same voices at the table.”

St. Paul is believed to be among the largest cities in the country to have the distinction of having an all-female City Council. But the firsts do not stop there: All seven council members are under 40 years old, and six are women of color, making it the youngest and most racially diverse council in the city’s history, historians say.

The new council, all Democrats, includes three incumbents — Mitra Jalali, the council’s new president; Rebecca Noecker and Ms. Yang — and four newcomers: Anika Bowie, Cheniqua Johnson, Hwa Jeong Kim and Saura Jost. {snip}


{snip} Relying on a small group of women was familiar for Ms. Jost, the engineer who now represents Ward 3.

“It’s a small network of women, especially women of color. We all know each other,” she said. {snip}

Although the new makeup of the City Council may surprise some, several demographic shifts in St. Paul over the past few decades helped pave the way for this moment, Michael J. Lansing, a historian at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, said.

St. Paul’s history as an Irish-Catholic political stronghold began to change in the 1980s, when the city’s demographics started to shift, most notably with the arrival of Hmong and other immigrant communities. That period was also when City Council elections shifted from at-large elections to representation by ward.

But it would still take decades for the city’s leadership to catch up to St. Paul’s new demographics. In 2004, the city elected its first Black female council member, Debbie Montgomery. By 2018, the City Council was made up mostly of women. Two years later, George Floyd was murdered in neighboring Minneapolis, sparking a new wave of community organizing and political leadership.

Mr. Lansing called the election of seven women to City Council “a turning point for St. Paul.”