St. Paul votes yes in trash referendum


Precinct in the Macalester-Groveland area. Photo by Kori Suzuki ’21.

Hannah Catlin and Rebecca Edwards

Tuesday was election day in St. Paul and nearly 60,000 cast votes for a new class of city council and board of education, as well as for and against the city’s contentious trash collection referendum.

Ward 3 city councilmember Chris Tolbert won reelection in St. Paul’s Tuesday, Nov. 5 election to his second term in office — comfortably beating his sole opponent, Patty Hartmann, with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Tolbert ran on a platform advocating for gun reform and affordable housing policy while Hartmann ran an anti-establishment campaign, highlighting her desire to lower income taxes.

All seven city council seats were up for election this year. Four seats on St. Paul’s Board of Education were open as well. But the major issue in this week’s election was trash.

In 2018, St. Paul switched from a privatized trash collection system — in which every household independently hired its own waste hauler — to a public system.

While the move streamlined trash collection and lowered carbon emissions, it also raised income taxes and mandated that every household have their own bin — points that motivated an impassioned campaign to end public collection and go back to the old system.

The resulting referendum asked residents to vote on whether or not they supported the public trash system. But, despite the vocal and well-financed opposition, nearly two-thirds of voters opted to keep public trash collection.

It was the trash referendum that motivated many St. Paul voters to get to the polls.

“For me, it was the trash issue,” Grace Reardon ’21 said. “I don’t think people really realize the implications of voting no, that the contract is still going to have to be paid out, and the fee is still around $30 million. That’s why I vote yes.”

Alexander Purves ’23 found himself on the other side of the issue.

“I voted against the ordinance because I think that people should have the right to choose the trash collectors that they want,” Purves said. “Having people being forced to have certain trash collectors is infringing on their right as a consumer.

“I think that people should be able to choose whatever trash collector is suitable for them,” he continued.

Others abstained from voting on the issue entirely.

“Honestly, the entire issue just confuses me,” Noah Pellettieri ’23 said. “I did research on it, but it doesn’t impact my life personally, and I am not well-informed enough to have an opinion about it.”

Reardon organized for the election with the student group Mac Civic Action, educating students about the races and the referendum.

But it wasn’t a particular referendum question or St. Paul’s ranked-choice voting system that concerned her — instead, she worried that many Macalester students might not have realized that they were eligible to vote at all.

“You can vote here in city-wide elections and still vote back home in primaries and general elections, and be registered to vote in both places or re-register to vote back home,” Reardon said. “It’s really easy to vote here, so it makes sense to just do it. You’re a part of this community.”

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