A Midwestern hub joins the short list of U.S. cities with an all-female City Council

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota’s state Capitol will soon be home to a distinction that few American cities can boast: an all-female City Council.

The seven women that will be sworn in next month as council members are all under the age of 40, and six are women of color. 

Mitra Jalali, Rebecca Noecker and Nelsie Yang won their re-election races in November and will be joined by Saura Jost, Anika Bowie, Hwa Jeong Kim and Cheniqua Johnson. They have dubbed themselves the “St. Paula seven,” intentionally adding an “a” to the city’s name to reflect its new class of female leaders. 

“It’s something that I never thought I would have seen. As a little girl growing up in St. Paul, this is extremely special,” Jost, 35, told NBC News. “We had over 30 people running for the seven seats, but people chose to elect us.”

politics politicians st paul Minnesota
Top, from left, Nelsie Yang, Rebecca Noecker, Cheniqua Johnson, Hwa Jeong Kim; Bottom, from left, Saura Jost, Anika Bowie, Mitra Jalali.Courtesy Saint Paul City Council

The women said the council’s makeup reflects a changing city. St. Paul is home to over 300,000 people, according to the latest U.S. census data, and the city has grown increasingly more diverse in the past decade. From 2010 to 2018, the fastest growing racial group in the city was Black or African Americans, whose population grew by 36%, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, followed by the Asian population, which increased by 32%.

Kim, 38, said the City Council vote is a reflection of this change. Nearly half the city’s residents are nonwhite, according to the census, and the median age is 32.

“St. Paul elected not just women and women of color, but they elected experience and skill sets,” Kim said. “We have a plethora of experiences and also the determination but also the skill set to deliver. And I think what that says about St. Paul, in addition to our identities, is that we will inherently govern differently.”

The council’s longest-serving member, Noecker, 39, has witnessed the transformation in real time. 

“When I was elected eight years ago, there was only one woman on the City Council,” Noecker said. “And when I and a fellow council member joined, there were three. Eight years later, the entire council is women. … I think it’s powerful to see just how quickly this change took place.”

Jalali, 37, who was elected to the council in a 2018 special election, said major issues on the agenda for the next term include action on the climate crisis, affordable housing, building community wealth and public safety.

“I’m really excited to lead this council, and to be in this moment now and show what’s possible is very exciting to me,” Jalali said. “When I ran for City Council, it did not look like it looks today. Five years ago, seeing that transformation has been amazing.”

But the council still expects some pushback against a group of young, diverse women taking on positions of leadership. One of the youngest elected members, 28-year-old Johnson, said she’s felt like people have dismissed her because of her age.  

“Being a young Black woman, a lot of my criticisms stemmed from that fact alone,” Johnson said. “Despite having been the only candidate that worked at every level of government, despite having worked for Congress twice and despite having almost a decade of politics and actual direct government experience.” 

Others echoed Johnson’s sentiment — and challenged the critics. 

“Sometimes I almost enjoy the criticism,” Jalali said. “It’s like I’m on the right track.”

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