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St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao is giving up his seat on the city’s legislative body to take a new job in Florida.
Thao announced in a news release Thursday that he will serve as executive director of Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE), a faith-based organization advocating for low-income communities in Sarasota, Fla. He will vacate his council office by Aug. 1.
When Thao was first elected in 2013, the former community organizer became St. Paul’s first council member of Hmong descent. He represents St. Paul’s Ward 1, which includes the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods, as well as portions of the Union Park, North End and Snelling-Hamline neighborhoods.
“It has truly been an honor of a lifetime to serve and work for the resilient and hard-working residents of Ward 1,” Thao said in a statement. “I believe all the progress, results, and achievements we have accomplished in Ward 1 were through our faith and belief in each other, that our diversity is our strength, and that united we can win the issues.”
The City Council will appoint an interim member to serve the remainder of Thao’s term through 2023. More information about the appointment process and how to apply will be announced later.
“It has been my honor to serve with Council Member Thao for the past decade,” Council President Amy Brendmoen said in a statement. “He is a friend and a true ally to all of us that champion progress and equity.”
In an interview Thursday, Thao said he considers the $250 million development of Allianz Field among the work he is most proud of during his time on the council.
“I know I didn’t do that by myself, but that’s probably one of my real proud moments because of the jobs it’s created there and the economic vitality that we brought back to St. Paul outside of downtown,” he said.
Thao also highlighted the passage of ordinances governing earned sick and safe time, minimum wage and paid parental leave as accomplishments. As a member of the St. Paul Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners, Thao played a role in major economic development projects. He will also leave that post at the end of the month.
There were also moments of challenge and controversy. In 2018, Thao faced criminal charges for helping a 63-year-old Hmong American vote while he was mounting an unsuccessful campaign for mayor. A judge said Thao acted legally, and the council member pushed to change state law that placed restrictions on how voters can seek help casting their ballots.
More recently, Thao came under fire for a social media post that members of the Hmong community said sparked old rifts between speakers of different dialects.
“I hope that the next person that comes in will listen to the community,” Thao said. “Don’t pick sides — don’t pick clans or classes or neighborhoods. Pick everyone.”
Thao said he received a job offer from SURE in February but wanted his six kids to finish the school year before moving. He has family in Florida and is looking forward to warm weather that is more like that of Laos, where Thao was born before moving to Minnesota as a child.
In his announcement, Thao wrote: “I believe if a once starving refugee boy who couldn’t speak English, who grew up poor in the projects, who was raised by a single mother, who is not very tall, who is very average could become a council member and change the course of Ward 1, then you, too, can become any leader you wish to become for our Ward, schools, city, and country.”