We have argued for many years that the unrealized potential in St. Louis’ black community is one of the primary problems holding back St. Louis and also Missouri, given that our region has the state’s largest economy. From that perspective, 2019 could be an exciting and even breakthrough year, with more African Americans taking major leadership positions in St. Louis and elsewhere in the state.
Perhaps most notably, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell has an opportunity to transform criminal justice in the county made internationally notorious by the Ferguson Police Department and Bell’s scandalous predecessor, Bob McCulloch. Not only is he the first black to serve as county prosecutor, he will try his cases in a county court system presided over by an African American for the first time, Judge Gloria Clark Reno.
In the Missouri Senate, with the elections of state Senator Karla May from the city and state Senator Brian Williams from the county, they join state Senator state Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) Shalonn “Kiki” Curls (D-Kansas City) to give our community four black legislators in the state legislature’s most powerful chamber. If new voter-mandated reforms of the state’s redistricting process survive Republican attempts to undermine them, these positions could become even more powerful in the years ahead. Moreover, a strong new group of black state representatives’ stature will gain as more Democrats are elected in a redistricted Missouri.
On the national scene, with Democrats now ruling the U.S. House of Representatives, the state’s two Democratic congressmen – U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay in St. Louis, with 17 years of seniority, and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver in Kansas City, with 13 years of seniority, both black – are now in a position to net truly impactful committee assignments and become more significant change-makers for their home districts.
However, much hard work must be done to overcome all kinds of opposition and inertia to bring positive change to this region and state. County Executive Steve Stenger, who unfortunately survived a primary challenge by a whisker, has been a severe disappointment at best and quite possibly (judging by dogged reporting from the Post-Dispatch, the newspaper that once stumped for Stenger) an outright fraud. Both Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson (another disappointment) make encouraging sounds about regional cooperation, but Stenger has not been trustworthy and Krewson has not yet shown the necessary leadership and energy. Add the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to the list of potential change-makers that mostly have been inadequately focused and engaged. Unfortunately, our region and the state are paying a high price for years of feckless leadership.
As for the Republican leadership in this state and country, needless to say, any progressive change agents can expect obstruction and opposition from them. We hold some hope for the newly appointed Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a St. Louis County resident who cares about the region and made some progressive policy stands as a state senator, though his support for his Trump-toady predecessor Josh Hawley in his bid for U.S. Senate contributed to a major setback for the state.
Yet, all in all, we offer the St. Louis region a guardedly optimistic New Year’s resolution for 2019: in the face of determined conservative opposition and potentially catastrophic national Republican leadership, let us resolve to make the most of some very real opportunities to take corrective action to improve the fortunes of African Americans in St. Louis – and thereby the entire St. Louis region and Missouri – in 2019.