Tishaura O. Jones

As I sat in my bed on June 10 recuperating from a surgery that many women, especially black women, experience daily, I received an email from Tod Robberson, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As I read the email I was once again reminded of the utter disdain and toxic masculinity that Robberson suffers from.

There is a reemergence in the streets of this nation from the anger and frustration that black people are feeling about the continuing systemic racism that has plagued black people since 1619. The country is in the throes of a pandemic that, according to official statistics from the CDC, has killed at least 30,000 black people. That’s 23% of the total fatalities, when black people are only 13.4% of the total U.S. population. In the City of St. Louis, where Robberson and I both live and work, 65% of COVID-19 cases and 63.8% of COVID-19 deaths have been black people, when blacks form only 45.9% of the city’s population.

And yet, amid unprecedented simultaneous crises, Robberson sends an email with loaded questions about a historic contract awarded to a black woman-owned business by St. Louis’ Treasurer’s Office, which I was elected to lead. The email implies that the only reason this person received this contract is because she is “the single largest” donor to my campaign (which is not true) – and that I should have recused myself from voting for the contract.

If that is the measuring stick that Robberson is using, then no elected official in City Hall should be voting on any contracts. These spurious accusations – and the source of this inquiry by Robberson – is not a news story in his paper, but a complaint from Alderman Jeffery Boyd, a candidate for treasurer on the August 4 ballot; Boyd and I are the only Democrats who filed in the primary election.

Before I continue, I would like to provide a few facts about the black female businesswoman Robberson and Boyd are attempting to smear.

Sheila Hudson began working for the Parking Division in 2009 as an employee when then-St. Louis Treasurer Larry Williams decided – upon advice from his financial advisors – to outsource certain functions of the Treasurer's Office. In 2012, Hudson was given the opportunity to become a subcontractor to Duncan, the company that was awarded an outsourcing contract in 2008 to provide on-street parking maintenance and collection. From 2008 to 2020, she has been a subcontractor – first with Duncan and subsequently with the Xerox corporation. In 2015, Xerox (now Conduent) was awarded a five-year contract to provide collection, meter maintenance and installation of new meters and pay stations. Xerox then subcontracted these services to Hudson. The contract expired in 2020.

When the contract was put out to bid, Hudson submitted and won a portion of the RFP to provide meter maintenance and supervision of the Parking Violations Bureau with a bid that will save the Parking Division more than $500,000 a year after a full year of implementation. I won’t go into the details of how the contract was procured – because the entire procurement process is online and open for everyone to see (https://tinyurl.com/Treasurer-procurement).

Robberson’s attack on Sheila Hudson, at a time when the entire country is focused on an attempt to create racial and economic equity, is both shameless and reckless. Hudson's rise from an employee to subcontractor to a prime contractor is the American dream the whites-only liberals like Robberson like to write about.

What I will talk about, however, is Robberson’s continued racist and misogynistic attack on black women – specifically his vicious attacks on me and Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner.

At one point, Robberson wrote three attack editorials about me in the short span of 10 days. He must have been sick, obsessed with me – or both. The attacks were ridiculous to the point of hilarity.

His first jab was at 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green and myself for endorsing Bernie Sanders for U.S. president. As a follow up, he attacked me – not once, but twice – for shutting down the parking enforcement activities of the Parking Division during the crux of required social-distancing regulations within the city due to COVID-19. Not long after I was attacked for making this move, other city and county officials issued a more sweeping shut-down of government and businesses – and were praised for it by the editorial board led by Robberson.

Keep in mind that his vitriol towards me came at a time when health officials were still deep within the learning curve regarding how the virus was spread. Robberson still took it upon himself to assert that I had no legal authority – despite being the parking supervisor – to shut down parking. He also claimed that there was no evidence that the new coronavirus could be transmitted from parking meters. Yes, this is what he actually wrote.

In addition to having an undergraduate degree in finance, I also have a master’s degree in Health Administration from the St. Louis University School of Public Health and Social Justice. My educational background aided my observation of case studies as the virus was spreading. My decision was to protect, first, the health and safety of my employees.

The vast majority of employees within the parking enforcement department are black women. One of the first municipal employees in Chicago to die of COVID-19 was a parking enforcement officer. These are mature black women who are the most vulnerable to getting infected with and dying from the coronavirus. In fact, I was the first elected official in the St. Louis region to issue a shelter-in-place order for my employees – and the only one attacked for it.

His next editorial attacked my decision by stating that not writing parking tickets would hamper emergency response to the coronavirus because people would illegally park cars and potentially block access to emergency vehicles. That never happened.

I found Robberson’s most recent attack on Hudson and me particularly problematic because one of my goals as treasurer – and as a public servant – was to improve the minority participation goals of the Treasurer’s Office. Our office has done this through the hiring of a firm that is a 50/50 joint venture of PFM and CCG Asset Management. This contract has yielded $30 million in investment returns over the last six years. This is a 10-fold increase from the previous returns with a 50% reduction in fees paid to the consultants from the previous contract. Robberson and the Post-Dispatch editorial board’s attacks will not stop my office from pushing inclusion for minority and women-owned businesses.

As was eloquently stated in the viral clip by Kimberly Jones on YouTube, white people have been playing an emotional Monopoly game with black people for 400 years, and this is a game where we didn’t get to play. And, in the last 50 years, when black people built up our own wealth, and white people didn't like what we were doing, they burned it down or took it away. How can we win when the game is fixed?

This latest attempt to ruin my reputation, and the reputation of Sheila Hudson, is Tod Robberson’s latest, tired effort to keep us from passing Go on the Monopoly board.

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Keep up the good work. Thank-You All! We see you. Hopefully we can all work together during this time and transform the Human race.

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