Reform-minded leaders now at the helm in St. Louis
Mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones speaks to voter Jennifer Reyes outside the Hodgen Tech Academy polling station in St. Louis on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. “I came out to vote for Tishaura,” Reyes said. “I supported them in the last election and I am so happy to do it again.” (Sara Diggins / St. Louis after shipping via AP)
The daunting task of reversing the fortunes of St. Louis is now in the hands of a new era of leaders – specifically, three progressive black women of 40 something, all elected on the basis of a mandate of racial justice and change.
49-year-old new Mayoress Tishaura Jones will be the city’s first black woman to lead the city when she is sworn in on April 20. She will work with a Board of Alderman that will include four new members from a progressive list elected on Tuesday.
Jones joins Kim Gardner, 46, who was elected Circuit Attorney in 2016 and was easily re-elected last year – and Cori Bush, 44, a racial justice activist, who had an amazing surprise last year when she met longtime Congressman William Lacy Ousted Clay from the district to which she belongs all of St. Louis.
“I think voters have spoken that this is the kind of leadership they want to see,” Jones said in an interview. “The hypersegregation, the racist politics that existed in our systems of government, the systemic racism – these are things that we need to address directly in order to move forward.”
Jones is a former Democratic State representative who has been the city’s treasurer since 2013. Voters using the city’s new impartial voting format for March primary education have promoted Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer, another reformist progressive, to Tuesday’s general election.
Bill Hall, professor of political science at Webster University, said voters in St. Louis are clearly not happy with the status quo in a city with a declining population and one of the worst homicide rates in the country.
“St. Louis, like other cities, has a history of segregation, “Hall said.” Unlike many cities, St. Louis is still struggling to successfully break these old chains. “
St. Louis is almost evenly divided between white and black residents, with 48% of the population being white and 45% black. But racial segregation has haunted St. Louis for virtually all of its existence. Jones called it “the main problem holding us back”.
At the heart of Jones’ reform plan is a fundamental rethinking of the city’s criminal justice system. She has vowed to end St. Louis’ “arrest and detain” model of policing. She would like treatment rather than punishment for drug users and greater emphasis on social services programs to help the areas with the highest crime rates.
Jones’ plans resemble the changes in policing promoted by Bush and Gardner, and critics have questioned how a city with so much violence can consider scaling back policing.
Jones has also raised the possibility of replacing Police Chief John Hayden, who was hired by outgoing Mayor Lyda Krewson.
Krewson, a moderate Democrat, chose not to seek a second term.
Jones pointed out the need to restore confidence in the police. That includes trust in the department, she said, noting that the majority of officers are members of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, but about 260 mostly black officers have their own association, the Ethical Society of Police.
She said the city needs to “address the elephant in the room – as we still have separate police unions for black and white officers. If they can’t trust each other, how can they expect the public to trust them? “
Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, was an outspoken critic of Gardner and Jones. In 2017, Roorda called Jones a lazy “cop hater” and “race baiter” on Facebook. Jones says Roorda “has to go”.
Roorda declined to comment. The association’s president, Jay Schroeder, said in a statement that he felt an obligation to work with “everyone else who is willing to do the hard work to make this city a better and safer place to live”.
Gardner was elected on a similar platform to Jones and has been practically at odds with law enforcement since taking office. She was first elected in November 2016 after advocating restoration of confidence in the criminal justice system when the area was still cured from the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Michael, two years earlier in nearby Ferguson Brown, due to the police.
Gardner has stopped prosecuting low-level nonviolent crime and drug cases and has ended the bail system. She also angered police by compiling a list of officials who were not allowed to bring cases to her office after a national group accused the officials of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.
Despite the tension, the University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld believes the police might be open to some changes. For example, police might see the benefit of sending social workers instead of officials on some calls involving the homeless, Rosenfeld said.
Jones’ reform efforts are supported by the election of four new progressive councilors as a result of a “flip the board” campaign led by Alderwoman Megan Green. She said progressives now make up a majority of the 28-strong board of directors, and she hopes St. Louis can become a trendsetter in major criminal justice reforms.
“I’m the most optimistic I’ve seen in a long time, probably since I’ve been elected,” said Green, who took office in 2014. “I think there are good things for St. Louis.”