March 30 mayoral debate

Mayoral runoff candidates (l. to r.):  Alderwoman Cara Spencer and Treasurer Tishaura Jones

St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer on Tuesday evening took the stage at Nine PBS for the second and last televised debate between the two candidates prior to next week’s unprecedented election.

The debate, unlike last week, took a turn about halfway through when the candidates began a back-and-forth regarding various criticisms of their campaigns and career track records.

Jones questioned Spencer’s transparency after her campaign committee failed to report around $13,000 in campaign contributions within 24 hours of receiving them prior to the March 2 primary election. 

The 13 donations in question were received by the Spencer campaign after the cutoff date for the last pre-primary campaign finance report deadline, but the campaign was supposed to file them as supplemental reports within 24 hours of receiving the money. Instead, Spencer disclosed those contributions on Monday in the last financial report due to the Missouri Ethics Commission before the April 6 election.

Spencer then criticized Jones for giving a $7 million parking contract to a company which has contributed to her campaign, without a single bid or proposal attached to the contract. Spencer also asserted that 65% of all Jones’ contracts had no bids or proposals attached to them. 

“We need transparency in city government,” Spencer said, saying that while it’s not required, Jones should be holding open bidding for city contracts.

“There’s nothing nefarious about this contract, we saved the city $5 million with this contract,” Jones said.

They also took shots at each other about receiving campaign money from major political players in the region.

Jones criticized Spencer for accepting money from the city firefighters union after Spencer voted in favor for a pension governance change.

The treasurer was referring to the International Association of FireFighters Local #73, which contributed $10,000 to Spencer’s mayoral bid.

Jones said the bill Spencer voted for would have increased pension costs, ruined the city’s credit rating and “would have been detrimental to” the city’s budget. Mayor Lyda Krewson vetoed the bill.

Spencer defended receiving their financial support, saying she supports the city’s first responders. 

The alderwoman went on to assert that Jones received campaign money from all of “the old cronies whose names we know” who are trying to privatize Lambert Airport —  mentioning Joe McKee, president of Paric Corp. and Jeff Rainford, who worked as an aid for Mayor Francis Slay.

Also unlikelast week’s debate, Tuesday’s discussion touched on the race of each candidate.

The treasurer and alderwoman were asked why they were the most qualified to address the city’s deep racial disparities and whether a white mayor can successfully do so.

Jones noted that St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in the nation.

“I have grown up unapologetically Black all of my life in St. Louis,” Jones said, adding she’s watched the intentional disinvestment in certain areas of the city over the years.

“It’s time to turn the tide,” Jones said.

Jones said while she appreciates white allies, she does not believe they can understand the lived experiences of Black people and people of color — making her the best candidate to address these inequities.   

“We have had white mayors that have been allies and white people who have been allies — but I don’t think white people can understand the lived experiences of Black people,” Jones said.

If elected, Jones would be the first Black woman to hold the office of mayor in St. Louis. 

Spencer said St. Louisans all have very different lived experiences and the city has a role in breaking that down. 

“I acknowledge as a white person I don’t understand the lived experiences of communities of color,” she said, noting that rather she can talk about her role as an alderwoman representing a diverse area of the city.

“As your next mayor I will use data to address a very different delivery of services,” she said.

Spencer said she understands that communities of color are filled with skepticism when it comes to white politicians — and with just cause. 

“Skepticism that is born out of real, lived experience. It is my job as an elected official to break that down – not with words but with actions,” Spencer said.

When it came to crime, Spencer once again touted her 10-step plan to address crime, starting with the program of focused deterrence.

Spencer said she projects her crime plan would bring down the city’s homicide rate by 30% in her first term.

Jones said that immediately the city needs to declare gun violence as a public crisis and said she’s been talking about using social workers and focused deterrence since the last time she ran for mayor in 2017.

Jones said she will measure her success on reduced gun crimes, increased trust and satisfaction of residents. But the number one measure would be the decrease in number of police-involved shootings.

When asked about the spy plane bill considered by the Board of Aldermen, both candidates said they opposed the bill and would consult with the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations to protect residents’ privacy when it comes to government security cameras around the city. 

Other issues addressed were the federal stimulus headed to the city in May, education, city development, and merging with the county.

April’s mayoral ballot, for the first time, features two democratic candidates — making the April 6 election the most competitive mayoral election in St. Louis’ recent history. 

The St. Louis American, Nine PBS, 5 On Your Side, and St. Louis Public Radio partnered to host the live debate.

Moderating the debate were 5 On Your Side political editor Casey Nolen, St. Louis Public Radio’s political reporter Rachel Lippman and Nine PBS’s senior producer Ruth Ezell. In addition to the questions by moderators, the public was given the chance to submit questions online.


The St. Louis American, Nine PBS, 5 On Your Side, and St. Louis Public Radio partnered to host a live debate between Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer for the 2021 St. Louis mayoral election that aired on March 30th, at 7pm.

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