Minneapolis-St. Paul: longtime rivals become partners

Minneapolis and St. Paul, two interdependent cities in Minnesota, have a long history of sibling rivalry. Yet the “Twin Cities” have matured and now are finding more opportunities to collaborate.

That was the message that Sharon Sayles Belton, a former mayor of Minneapolis; and George Latimer, a former mayor of St. Paul; shared with the LINK delegation from Atlanta.

“The rivalry between the two cities is older than I am,” Belton said. “In some circles, the rivalry is alive and well. Over the years we have learned how to work together.”

The two cities collaborated in getting the Republican National Convention in 2008. “We had a unified front,” Belton said.

Another area of collaboration between the two cities and the surrounding suburban counties has been in building transit.

 “The crown jewel in all this collaboration is transportation and the need to collaborate around light rail, “ Belton said. “We didn’t perceive we had support from our suburban neighbors.”

But they were able to find consensus, and their suburban friends were able to help the city get support in the state legislature. “We needed to have a transportation strategy, recognizing that this was a region,” she said.

Latimer said the reason there was that kind of cooperation was because of the number women elected officials around the table.

“One thing men ought to try once in a while is to actually listen,” Latimer said.

Inevitably, the mayors compared their cities to metro Atlanta.

When Latimer was mayor of St. Paul in 1989, it actively was seeking the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

“It was pretty clear that either it would go to the Twin Cities or Atlanta,” Latimer said. The Minnesota cities had their governor, the mayors and a strong line-up of civic leaders supporting their bid.

“All you had speaking for all of you was Andy Young,” Latimer said of the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the former of Atlanta. “When you see him, tell him I still haven’t forgotten him or forgiven him.”

Ben DeCosta, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, asked the former mayors to compare their airport to Atlanta’s.

“Some would argue that the airport is inadequate and should have been re-sited,” Belton said because the airport is landlocked. There was resistance to move the airport further south or north of Minneapolis because that “would have had an adverse impact” on the two cities.

But Latimer said Atlanta was visionary in having its airport in an area where it could grow. “That time has passed us by,” he said.

For Atlanta, the implication is that there is limited room for growth at the Minneapolis airport, so Hartsfiled-Jackson becomes even more important for the  merged airline of Delta and Northwest to meet its future needs.

Belton, however, said that because the growth of its air service in Minneapolis is limited, “we are focusing a lot of our attention on rail to connect to other metro areas.”

And by comparison, Georgia is lagging behind many other states in creating high speed rail service between major cities.

Minnesota and its two largest cities rank among the highest in the nation when it comes to public education and highschool graduation.

But both Belton and Latimer said that education is the number one issue in their cities, and there’s growing concern that the poor, the immigrants and the ethnic minorities don’t have as much access to quality education as other students.

On a possible consolidation of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Latimer said there “has been too much resistance to consolidation of government. There are all kinds of services we can better consolidate. There are conversations going on that are very serious.”

When asked about their cities’ relationship with state government, the mayors said there’s been a lack of understanding by Minnesota officials on the role Minneapolis-St. Paul play in the state’s economy.

“The Twin Cities are not recognized as the economic engines that they are,” Belton said. “You have to feed your engine so the engine can produce for the entire state.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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