The vote count is in, and the results are clear: if St. Louis is ever going to see change by way of its elected officials, those in the city who want change will have to coalesce behind one change candidate before the next election — if the City of St. Louis survives to hold another primary election.
Though a large majority of voters – 64 percent – voted against the incumbent, Lewis Reed still won the Democratic primary for St. Louis aldermanic president on March 5 because the change vote was divided almost evenly between Jamilah Nasheed and Megan Ellyia Green. Aside from the fact that Reed was an incumbent, it was a replay of the 2017 Democratic primary for mayor. Lyda Krewson won that primary with less than one-third of the vote, beating Tishaura O. Jones by only 888 votes. But there were no less than four African-American men, including Reed, also on the ballot. “The status quo won again,” Jones said of Reed’s victory on Tuesday. It goes to show what a “status quo” candidate Reed has become that Krewson endorsed his reelection – soon before she became the target of a recall effort by two aldermen who also endorsed Reed.
The recall of Krewson was prompted by her strong support for the Better Together proposal to merge St. Louis city and county. If the statewide ballot initiative to force this change succeeds, citywide elections for positions such as St. Louis mayor and aldermanic president will be a thing of the past after 2020. Krewson, who won her seat as mayor by less than one-third of the vote, would hand over regional governance to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who won his position against a first-time candidate by only 1,100 votes (0.6 percent out of nearly 192,000 Democratic votes cast). Stenger, who has never run for election in the city, would replace the city’s mayor as its chief elected official – and get to skip one election cycle to consolidate power, according to the terms of the ballot initiative.
Until the next election cycle – whenever that is, and whatever the political boundaries may be – there is another path to change. Those who want change can learn how to leverage the power of their clear majority in the city to force the status quo candidates that narrowly beat their fragmented field of change candidates to enact more progressive policies. As Kayla Reed, community organizer with Action STL, told us, “Both Green and Jamilah did exceptionally well against a resourced incumbent. This proves St. Louis is more progressive that the status quo wants to acknowledge and that voters are eager for change.”
Reed and Krewson must be made to recognize that progressive voters in the city have a huge voting majority and begin to govern accordingly. We need to find ways to show them our power and force them to make the changes the majority clearly desires.
First, however, we must decide whether we want a City of St. Louis or a municipal corporation in a proposed merged Metro City run by Steve Stenger in Clayton. Unfortunately, it will not be St. Louis city and county voters who will decide, but rather voters all over Missouri who will get to decide for us.
At the same time, there is no escaping the facts that the St. Louis region has lagged economically and the City of St. Louis is burdened with debt. Enlightened self-interest of the city’s business class should compel addressing more intentionally the problems of the vulnerable and marginalized that are exacerbated by neglect and indifference. Aside from greater equity and true justice, there is a need for collaborative, strategic initiatives to make this region more competitive for attracting more human and financial capital.