A debate for Board of Aldermen president on Saturday, January 26 turned into a showdown between the two African-American candidates – incumbent Lewis Reed and challenger Jamilah Nasheed.

Reed, who has served as board president for 12 years, repeatedly called Nasheed a “double agent,” and Nasheed called him “Lying Lewis.” Both attacked each other’s voting records, claiming that their votes countered the goals of the Ferguson Commission ‒ which was the basis of the debate’s questions. Several black-led organizations hosted the “Questions from the People” forum, held at Harris-Stowe State University.

Another challenger, Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green (D-Ward 15), came out mostly unscathed.

Nasheed started the scuffle by taking a shot at Reed in her opening remarks.

“We know there will not be a change under Lewis Reed ‒ 20 years is long enough,” said Nasheed, a state senator. “We cannot have individuals who’s willing to make back door deals on the backs of our airport.”

Lewis later alleged that Nasheed recently met with conservative billionaire Rex Sinquefield, a leader in the effort to privatize St. Louis-Lambert International Airport, and expressed her support. Nasheed denied that claim. The St. Louis American followed up with Reed’s team for his source on this alleged meeting and was not provided one.   

All three candidates said they support a public vote for airport privatization.

Nasheed said Reed uses his role as board president as “an aldermanic seat on steroids” and to serve his own interests.

Reed fired back that Nasheed has voted with Republicans in the state Legislature “more often than not.” He pointed to a bill that reduced unemployment benefits (Senate Bill 673 in 2014) and one that increased small loan bank fees (Senate Bill 345 in 2015).

Moderator Blake Strode, executive director of the Arch City Defenders, asked Nasheed, “Are those specific votes accurate or inaccurate?” Nasheed responded, “Lewis is lying.”

In fact, Nasheed did vote with Republicans on these two bills. On SB 345, then-Gov. Jay Nixon sent the bill back to the Senate with his disapproval, stating that it was the second time in two years that the Legislature had raised fees on small loans and that “allowing lenders to charge Missourians more in fees is not the way to move Missouri forward.”

Senate Bill 673 reduced the amount of time that Missourians could receive unemployment benefits that they’ve earned, Nixon stated with his dissent in 2014, and that it would be “unfair to communities that experience a spike in unemployment.”

Reed also pointed to Nasheed’s vote supporting a bill that increased court costs to fund an array of local capital projects (Senate Bill 67 in 2015.) Democrats opposed the bill, saying raising court fees was the wrong way to pay for capital projects.

And, finally, Reed said that Nasheed as a state representative in 2009 was one of the lone Democratic votes on Senate Bill 306 that limited Medicare expansion, especially  for working parents. In negotiations on the bill, the House refused to accept Missouri hospitals’ offer to provide $52.5 million, the state’s entire cost for a Medicaid expansion in order to qualify the state for $93 million in matching federal funds, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report.

Nasheed argued that Reed hasn’t used his power to implement any of the Ferguson Commission’s recommendations. She called him “unethical,” pointing to a Post-Dispatch story last week that stated he hasn’t paid a Missouri Ethics Commission fine for failing to report eight campaign contributions during his 2017 mayoral campaign.

After Reed criticized her for “vigorously” supporting Mayor Francis G. Slay in the 2012 mayor race, Nasheed said, “Lewis Reed has carried the water for Mayor Slay for over 16 years, and now all the sudden I’m the bad guy? When he dismantled the strongest black ward in the City of St. Louis, he was the deciding vote to dismantle the 20th Ward under the leadership of Mayor Slay.”

Green received a couple of passing comments from Reed, but he largely was focused on Nasheed, who he apparently feels is the bigger threat. Green and Nasheed both worked together on Tishaura Jones’ 2017 mayoral campaign (when Reed also was running) and did not criticize each other all night.

Green said she was “proud” to be endorsed by the national Democratic Socialists of America, which was an involved process of proving her record on equity, sustainability, among other things. It’s the same group that backed U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, whose win last year stunned many in the mainstream Democratic Party.

“The status quo in this city is not working,” Green stated in her opening statement. “We are known nationally right now for our problems, whether it is our high crime rates, the number of officer-involved shootings, our STDs rates, our infant mortality rates, our child asthma rates – the list goes on and on. I’m tired of us being known for our problems. I want us to be known for our solutions.”

Green proposed several action steps, including creating a citywide plan for tax incentives and development, putting social workers on the police department, prioritizing ward capital funds for the wards with the lowest investments, and passing legislation that keeps lobbyists off the floor during the Board of Aldermen Friday meetings. Being smarter about tax incentives would also help with funding for public schools, and she argued that the Board of Aldermen needed to have an education committee.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund needs to be fully funded every year in order to address homelessness and reduce crime, she said. And the $975,000 in Prop P funds that was promised to voters who passed the proposition in November 2017 for youth employment needs to be met.

“Last year it didn’t go to youth jobs,” Green said. “It went to the police cadet programs, which doesn’t count as youth jobs.”

The debate’s speed round attempted to get a “yes” or “no” answer out of the candidates. Reed was the only candidate who said he was seeking the police union’s endorsement, and Green was the only candidate who said she wouldn’t accept it if it was offered. Green also was the only candidate who opposed Prop P, which was a sales tax increase to raise police salaries.

Prior to the debate, organizers asked the candidates questions that were submitted from community members, and those answers are available at https://actionstl.org/board-of-alderman-voter-guide. They then asked more specific questions at the debate. The debate is also available to view on ACTION St. Louis’ Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ActionSTL.

“We got a lot of feedback appreciating the fact that we didn’t take it easy on the candidates,” said Kayla Reed, an organizer with ACTION St. Louis. “This being our third time hosting a debate, we really want to make democracy accessible and we believe that the candidates need to answer the questions that everyday voters don’t know to ask.”

The organizing groups included ACTION St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders, Mound City Bar Association, WePower, Missouri Faith Voices and HSSU Student Ambassadors.

According to their Twitter poll with 200 votes, Green won the debate. However, the organizations did not proclaim a winner.

“Each candidate has a wealth of knowledge and different things to offer,” Kayla Reed said, “but they need to lead with that and less with the arguments of ‘I’m more deserving.’”

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