Inside St. Paul City Hall, political peers describe City Council Member Dai Thao as a constant campaigner who has proven, time and again, he’s the wrong person to underestimate.
Thao, who in a 2013 special election became the first Hmong-American to be elected to the city council, now wants to be St. Paul’s first Hmong-American mayor.
“We can’t afford to continue to go down this path — high crime, high taxes, low equity and (low) investment in our neighborhoods,” said Thao, 42, during a recent lunch at Lao Thai, a popular Frogtown restaurant near University Avenue and Dale Street. “We’ve got white people who are struggling just like people of color. We have to unite, and lift each other.”
As proof he’s ready after four years in elected office, Thao — an information-technology worker and former community organizer — points to his track record of political wins for progressive causes. Partially at his urging, the city council recently approved a paid sick-leave mandate that applies to all businesses operating within the city.
“He’s a pretty courageous guy,” said the Rev. Grant Stevensen, a clergy organizer with the faith-based anti-poverty group ISAIAH, which worked closely with Thao on the city’s earned sick- and safe-time rules. “He has a set of values, and he lives by them and he governs by them.”
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