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Grewing steps onto new stage at City Hall

Lobbying for greater Minnesota cities at the state Capitol wasn’t a job requirement for being St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s chief of staff.

But Sara Grewing says it sure didn’t hurt.

Grewing, who became Coleman’s chief of staff Aug. 6, says her work as a lobbyist for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities gave her valuable insight and connections at St. Paul City Hall.

“I know there is life outside the 494/694 loop and there are good people we should be working with,” Grewing says.

Grewing, 30, was raised in St. Cloud. She became a metro dweller when she attended the University of Minnesota, where she received a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and sang in operas.

She went on to get a law degree at night from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and worked for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. She now lives in St. Paul with her husband, Jonathan Schmidt, who is also an attorney, and their basset hound, Sasha.

Grewing, who landed the City Hall job after working for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, was the coalition’s chief transportation lobbyist in 2004 and 2005. She worked long days and nights during the 2005 session, when budget negotiations broke down and a partial government shutdown lasted into the summer.

Grewing understands that metro and rural cities have different needs when it comes to issues like transportation and economic development. But Grewing says all Minnesota cities share the need for state financial support.

“I think what I bring to this is … a way to build a coalition around LGA [local government aid] and understand that we rise and fall together,” Grewing says.

St. Paul, which faces a $16 million budget deficit for 2008, is among the cities that are calling on the state to provide more LGA funding.

Recently, Coleman outlined two different budget scenarios for 2008: one in which state lawmakers increase LGA in a special session and another that follows the status quo. Coleman proposed a 7 percent levy increase with the added LGA and a 14.6 percent levy increase with the current amount slated for St. Paul.

Coleman’s communications director, Bob Hume, said Grewing’s experience will help St. Paul form a “united approach” with other cities in advancing key issues like LGA at the state Capitol.

“She brings tools to the table that can advance that agenda,” Hume says.

In her new position, Grewing replaces Ann Mulholland, who became deputy mayor.

Coleman, who was elected in 2005, is almost halfway finished with his first term.

Besides the city’s push for more LGA, St. Paul city officials have several important events and projects in the works.

The city will host the 2008 Republican National Convention. The city is also keeping a close eye on the future of the Ford Assembly Plant in Highland Park. There’s also planning for mass transit along the Central Corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Grewing has federal experience to go along with her work for local government. She left the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities in 2005 to work for Klobuchar’s U.S. Senate campaign. Klobuchar, a DFLer, defeated former GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy in 2006. Grewing became Klobuchar’s state director after the election.

While working for Klobuchar, she tackled issues ranging from immigration to health care.

“It was like my own little Ph.D. program. … I just dove in and learned everything I could,” Grewing says.

While her experience in the political arena earned her the job as chief of staff, her background as a classically trained soprano has influenced her career in law and public affairs.

Grewing performed in operas at the University of Minnesota, where she learned how to keep her composure in ways that have resonated with her even as she went down a different career path.

“The show must go on,” she says.

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