An interview with Ward 1 City Council member Dai Thao


Dai Thao has been representing Ward 1 on the St. Paul City Council since 2013. With new challenges coming up in 2022, Thao aims to navigate the best possible outcomes for the communities of Frogtown and Summit-University. He weighed in on the pandemic, climate emergencies, and affordable housing debates.

Q: What are your plans regarding the pandemic in 2022?
A: As a city we need to do more along with the county and the state to help the small businesses get back on their feet. Whether it be through forgivable loans or grants, we have to do that because some of these small businesses are not coming back. These small businesses are the ones providing jobs for young people and communities of color.

Q: What are some projects in the works to help these small businesses in Ward 1?
A: We had a couple of housing projects in the Midway by Allianz Field, but those have been canceled due to the rent stabilization ordinance. I think that this sets us back a little bit, but we still have other folks who are willing to do other smaller housing projects in the ward. We have the regular “mom and pop” shop who are still struggling with tenants paying their rent. We have given out grants, but we still need to do more. Coming up soon, we’ll have a grant and loan program. It’ll be a low interest loan that I really encourage folks to apply for and to show that they have a need for it.

Q: What will neighborhood scale housing look like and how would that help development?
A: We’re changing the ordinance and allowing for more density like duplex, triplex, and fourplexes. Easing some of these codes will allow for smaller players to build. Any type of housing is good for St. Paul right now. Another aspect that is important though and I don’t think gets talked a lot about is that the city, the county, and even the state needs to provide a financial resource so that small businesses who want to expand may do so. If we want to create more wealth, we need to also create an equitable chance at being able to build and expand.

Q: What will this type of housing bring to St. Paul?
A: I think it’s important to have affordable housing and it’ll help to create a welcoming and diverse community. Housing has a lot of impact on education, jobs, and the community as a whole. Families who don’t have good housing tend to move a lot and that affects their education. Housing is a basic human right and I think we need to make sure that we have that. One of the goals of the government is to stabilize neighborhoods and stabilize the economy to create a sustainable place.

Q: What is your opinion on the vaccine mandate in St. Paul?
A: As far as the vaccination, I think it works. I have personally experienced COVID-19 myself, and I know that the vaccine helped me. At first I was skeptical, but I think that we should think about our family members. As individuals, we may not like the vaccine or the mandate, but sometimes we have to think about family and community. Whether it be the people we go to church with or our own grandparents, they’re the ones that need protection. We may not want it for ourselves, but we should be thoughtful of what may put others at risk especially those with underlying health issues.
Q: What are some of your plans coming into 2022?
A: Economy stabilization and affordable housing are both big on our agenda. The other thing is public safety. I think that we need to work together with the county and state to respond in a way where we put repeat offenders on a path that can help them, so they don’t continue to hurt the community. However, some people will hurt others time and time again and I recognize that there are victims, so if we need to put offenders away, that’s just the reality we live in unfortunately.
Working with young people that steer them away from the correctional system is also very important as that can be very devastating for them, especially young people of color. I think we spend a lot of time and money on the correctional system, but that money could be diverted to job creation. Making sure that they have jobs is a way to compensate the young people and teach them responsibility and leadership for their future.

Q: The St. Paul City Council recently declared a climate emergency. What does this mean and what is next?
A: One reason [to declare the emergency] is to communicate clearly with the public and to the state that St. Paul is taking responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Personally, I believe that there is no other home for the human species until proven, and I don’t think science has proved that there are other options outside of Earth. So, I think it’s important for us to advocate and take care of our home. This localizes this mission and addresses how to take care of our land, our water, and create clean energy. These little steps need to be taken and I think that we’re on the right path.

Q: What can the community of Ward 1 be doing to help this issue? Are state funds coming?
A: I think the most basic thing we can do is recycle and then be really conscious about what we purchase. We can ask businesses to use more environmentally friendly options like paper straws, less plastic bags, and no styrofoam. As a community, we can demand more green options. We do not know yet if more money is coming from the state, but we’ll continue to ask for it. I hope that the state will do the right thing and fund clean-ups, like with Pig’s Eye Lake, because the longer we wait, the more polluted it will get. If we clean up these areas, it’s a win for everyone, not just St. Paul.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add for our readers?
A: I would like to say that I’m very proud of St. Paul and the people, the neighborhoods. I know that the pandemic is hard, but let’s stick together and do what we do best: be united and look out for each other. We can continue to make St. Paul a good place to work, live, and play.


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