Speaking to the public at the inauguration of a small-town mayor is the municipal equivalent of preaching to the choir, and 1st Ward Alderperson Faye Millett preached.
“I hope more people show up at City Hall,” Millett said to a crowd of about 60 in the municipal park across the street from Pagedale City Hall on Thursday, June 25. “Your being there makes a difference in how things go down. This is your city.”
Millett, serving her 29th year as alderperson of this North St. Louis County municipality of 3,300 (95% of them Black), was one of 20 people other than the new mayor himself who spoke or sang at the inauguration.
Mayor Ernest “E.G.” Shields spoke briefly, as did his many guests. This was remarkable, given that half of the speakers, including the mayor himself, are clergy. Shields was one of three preacher mayors from North County who spoke. Rev. Brian Jackson, mayor of Beverly Hills, and Rev. Tommie Pierson, mayor of Bellefontaine Neighbors, also spoke.
Like Millett, Shields called for civic engagement. He mocked what he called “living room revolutionaries” who “sit in their living rooms talking about what is wrong and how corrupt things are, yet do nothing.”
He pointed to one thing that everyone “can do,” and that is complete the 2020 Census form.
“Fill out that Census form you have been hiding,” Shields said. “They’re not trying to get too much into your business. They already know you’ve got more people living in your house than you’re supposed to.”
The crowd, many of them related to the mayor, laughed at that remark. His son ran his mayoral campaign, and that son’s son held up the Bible when the mayor was sworn in; all three men are preachers named Rev. E.G. Shields. When the singers delivered gospel selections, the crowd sang in response. It was in every sense a family affair, though enjoyed at a social distance behind protective masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shields said he campaigned on affordable housing, safe streets and community policing and will deliver on all three. He also promised “to continue the growth we’ve grown accustomed to in the past few years.”
His predecessor, the recently deceased Mayor Mary L. Carter, worked hard with Beyond Housing to develop Pagedale for decades. There is a Midwest BankCentre Branch, a grocery store, movie theater and two senior homes — one named for Rosie Shields, the new mayor’s late wife. The new mayor served on the Board of Directors for Beyond Housing until he was termed out last year.
Beyond Housing President and CEO Chris Krehmeyer spoke at the inauguration, touting new developments and expressing confidence that Shields will continue to work that Carter began in revitalizing Pagedale.
Shields called for a moment of silence for the late former mayor. Their relationship extended back four decades. Carter, then a church clerk, signed Shield’s ordination papers as a pastor in 1971. She later mentored him politically and endorsed him for mayor and died the day after he won on Election Day.
As St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell said, Shields is not starting a new chapter after 28 years of Mayor Carter’s service. “This,” Bell said, “is a whole new book.”