North End and transportation needs of concern to Maplewood council candidates

Maplewood has four candidates competing for two open city council positions, which will be filled following the results of the Nov. 6 election.

Incumbents Marylee Abrams and Kathleen “Kathy” Juenemann face off against Kevin Berglund and Nikki Villavicencio on Election Day.

Two popular discussion topics amongst candidates are the future of the city’s North End area, which includes the Maplewood Mall area, and the city’s transportation needs.

The Review asked the candidates via email why they are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to office, what they believe the top challenges will be in Maplewood in upcoming years and what project they will prioritize if elected.

 

Abrams, 65, an incumbent finishing up her first, four-year term on the council, said she is running because her work is not done yet.

“We have many challenges facing us, and I want to be part of finding new solutions. I want Maplewood to be the best city in the metro area to live, raise families, and grow businesses,” Abrams said.

Abrams, who is divorced, works as a full-time attorney at Abrams & Schmidt and holds a Juris Doctor degree from William Mitchell College of Law.

Abrams said that the skills she would bring to elected office include creative problem solving, good listening, professionalism and compassion.

“These skills have resulted in my being endorsed by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce [Political Action Committee], the St. Paul Area Regional Labor Federation, and the DFL,” Abrams said, adding, that she can work with many diverse groups to get the job done.

The future of the Maplewood Mall area and reducing debts are the top two challenges Abrams said she believes Maplewood faces in upcoming years. She added that if re-elected, her first priority will be addressing the Maplewood Mall area. 

She explained that retail has changed because of online shopping, so the council needs to “re-vision new purposes and uses for the Maplewood Mall.”

“This means we must be nimble and prepared to creatively come up with solutions to insure the future of the north end of our city,” Abrams said, adding that the new transportation planned for the area must be incorporated that into that plan. 

Abrams also said that if she is re-elected, she will prioritize the long-term goal of continuing to work diligently on debt reduction.

She said, “In my first term I have strongly supported fiscal responsibility. ... In my next term, I want to work on further reducing our debt to a more manageable level.”

 

Berglund, who did not share his age with the Review, said that he is running for a city council position to return City Hall to the residents. He added that he is running for election to return public comment to the city council meeting agenda, restore community access programming, “clean up the disinfomation swamp up at City Hall,” and stop the “decimation” of the Bruce Vento Trail for a bus rapid transit line.

Berglund, who is married to former Maplewood mayor Diana Longrie, is the owner of Put Your Hands Together Productions, Inc. and holds a chemistry degree from St. Olaf College.

When asked what he would bring to the council if elected, Berglund noted he is “a critical thinker” who is “schooled in analytical thinking,” adding that he is also a compassionate people person and a problem solver.

He said that the biggest challenges he thinks Maplewood faces in upcoming years is to “get beyond the mentality of the present administration that the only development Maplewood deserves is more high-density housing” and to “remain ever vigilant to protect our parks and trails.”

He added that he will advocate “revisioning the vacant retail space at Maplewood Mall as a hub for medical, technology, device companies providing good paying jobs,” and indicated he will fight to protect and preserve Maplewood’s parks, trails and wildlife habitat because “they are treasures and amenities integral to our quality of life.”

When asked what he would prioritize, if elected, Berglund said, “I believe we must hear diverse points of view, publicly,” adding, “Public discussion must reach beyond Facebook, Twitter. Return Public Comment to the council agenda. Return monthly Q & A sessions with residents.”

He also listed making public the results of the FBI investigation of Maplewood’s internal operations and not selling city parks or neighborhood preserves.

 

Juenemann, who did not share her age with the Review, is an incumbent finishing her fourth term on the Maplewood City Council.

She said, “I am seeking re-election to city council because I believe my past work experience as an educator, my long-term dedication to the community as [an] activist, [a] volunteer on two city commissions and serving council member, my diligence and strong sense of responsibility to my current position and my track record as a well-informed policy maker and advocate for residents suit me well to continue to serve.”

Juenemann, who is married to Greg Juenemann, holds a bachelor’s degree in French and secondary education from College of St. Catherine, which is now St. Catherine’s University. 

Juenemann listed her council position as her only current employment, and said that if she is re-elected she will bring to the position her past experience as an educator and community activist, her strong work ethic, a historic community perspective and her “ability to seek creative solutions in the clinch.”

Juenemann said that she believes one of the top challenges Maplewood faces is addressing the increasing diversity and needed economic stability, which she said can be done through sound economic development/redevelopment projects, increasing the focus on housing options, rehabilitation and affordability, and increasing activity in the area of community outreach and inclusiveness.

She added that another challenge will be continuing to maintain a high level of financial, operational and environmental sustainability as the city moves forward with new challenges and projects.

Juenemann said that if re-elected, she will prioritize a renewed emphasis on development and redevelopment, which includes “ongoing activity in the Gladstone neighborhood” and a new focus on the North End Study “to revitalize economic stability of the area.”

 

Villavicencio, 34, said she is running for a position on the Maplewood City Council because Maplewood residents need people on the council who represent them and she can represent people who have not been fully represented.

“In the next several years, our city will grow in our diversity, our seniors’ needs will change and our workforce will expand,” Villavicencio said, adding, “I believe that local government should work for the everyday person. Honest commitment to listening to the voices of Maplewood and lifting them up will be my job as a City Council Member.”

Villavicencio, who is in a committed life partnership with Darrell Paulsen, currently volunteers as a citizen lobbyist/advocate. She holds a high school degree and says that if elected, she will bring to office meaningful resident engagement, her diverse background, vision, the drive to face adversity and come up with solutions and an understanding of the unique businesses in Maplewood.

When asked about Maplewood’s top challenges, Villavicencio said, “Our infrastructure needs to match the changing diversity of a modern urban suburb,” adding that “housing standards for renters and landlords would protect all residents and create transparency.”

Villavicencio also said that the city council should have a clear vision about how residents walk, ride and drive around Maplewood, and her vision is “a community with complete streets, safe neighborhoods and inclusivity for all.”

Villavicencio said that if she is elected, she will prioritize lifting up the residents of Maplewood. She said she is proud to live in Maplewood, though she understands that not all residents share that pride.

“We need to work hard to have that pride shared,” she said, explaining, “The East Metro needs Maplewood to be successful. It takes intention to create innovation; and if our city listens to the residents and acts boldly, we will rise!”

 

 

Election Day is Nov. 6. Maplewood is made up of 13 precincts, each with its own polling place. To verify your precinct and voting location visit, www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

 

-Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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