Within mere minutes of the overturning of the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that enshrined the nationwide right to an abortion, MO Attorney General and Republican Senate Candidate implemented Missouri’s trigger law to ban abortion within the state. In the stunning 6-3 decision released today that effectively wipes clean a half-century of legal precedent, dozens of states are quickly adjusting to an uncertain post-Roe future.
For millions of women in states like Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and more – that means reduced or completely eliminated access to a healthcare procedure that has been relied upon for decades. However, the implementation of these various trigger laws and near-term legislation poses additional questions and legal possibilities. In Missouri, the abortion ban triggered today is decidedly extreme: abortion is entirely banned, even in cases of rape or incest, save for very specific exceptions for the life of the mother.
Political leaders across the St. Louis area are reacting quickly online, with strong statements from St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page promising to protect women seeking reproductive healthcare to the best of their abilities. In the City, some legislative leaders have introduced legislation that would utilize ARPA funds to assist women seeking to cross state lines for an abortion. Even strong actions like these are likely to face future legal hurdles from the staunchly anti-abortion state legislators in Jefferson City who are considering laws like those in Texas that would criminalize and/or penalize travel out-of-state for abortions.
It remains unclear what clear avenues exist in the near-term for abortion advocates to embolden abortion access despite strong, majority national support for at least some access to abortion services. Although it may take years for the Supreme Court to change in political composition, reproductive freedoms will be challenged elsewhere across the states, including here in Missouri where some state legislators like Sen. Bob Onder are seeking to ban access to various forms of contraception. Though such legislative actions sound at first outlandish, they exist within the context of a state government that already was revealed to be tracking Missouri women’s period cycles.
It is likely that major demonstrations will take place at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood in the Central West End, the clinic that, until today, was the very last in the State of Missouri to provide abortion services.
On May 6, 2019, the ambitious “Better Together” plan to unite St. Louis City and County shelved its hotly anticipated and oftentimes controversial merger plan. With its chosen Regional Mayor, then County-Executive Steve Stenger, headed to Federal prison and other issues like concern from Black political leaders, the plan fell apart. The effort fizzled away, with no word on when it might return. It all began, however, nearly a century and a half ago when the City and County originally separated. For the many decades to come, the City hosted most of the regional growth. Quickly becoming one of the largest U.S. cities, bolstered by railroads, a huge river, and even a closer-than-many-expect plan to make St. Louis the actual U.S. Capitol, the City of St. Louis unquestionably thrived.
Of course, the tides shifted some in the mid-to-late 20th century. St. Louis City saw its population decline by historic proportions as the County gained residents rapidly through suburbanization. There were many forces at play, with some County municipalities created with segregationist motives, urban renewal in urban centers demolishing Black neighborhoods, redlining, restrictive covenants, “white flight”, and more. It is a complicated story to tell, but one worth in-depth research from those curious about the history of the St. Louis region.
Now, in what appears to be a decade of tumult in many ways for the City including crime and vacancy, there are many reasons to be optimistic. We cover a host of them here, but here’s the short of it. There are thousands of residential units under construction in St. Louis City, hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government, billions in building permits over the last few years, rising property values even in many Northern St. Louis neighborhoods, dozens of tiny homes and new services available for unhoused people, and tens of millions of dollars through Prop N.S. to renovate old buildings. Add to that a growing Central Corridor, tax base, annual budget, etc. and it appears as though the City itself is strengthening.
Looking at the region exclusively through the lens of there being one winner and one loser is part of the problem, however. The City doing well or the County doing well often comes at the expense of the other. For the City to grow its corporate base or lease new office space, it often poaches companies from the County and vice-versa. Municipalities play the game “Let’s see who can offer the most incentives!” to huge corporations, effectively nullifying the benefits and creating a race to the bottom. They will compete and do anything for precious sales taxes, even razing dozens of homes, schools, churches, and local businesses for a Costco in University City, for example. There are dozens of police departments, mayors, local council-members, school districts, urban planners, and more all doing the same work but competing against one another. There are even completely separate judicial systems distributing uneven justice.
Regional fragmentation leads to a host of duplicate tasks, uneven accountability, increased costs, and even a cultural/social divide that harms the region. There are many people who live in “St. Louis”, who would never step foot into Downtown STL and claim the region would be better off without the City. Of course, this view is bolstered by crime stats that truly don’t look too good, but neglects the importance of the many incredible cultural institutions, historic architecture, parks, hospitals, schools, urban form, local businesses, etc. that make the City great. The divide extends the opposite way as well, with many City dwellers looking down upon County residents for choosing to live in less-diverse, car-centric, often more conservative neighborhoods that were historically built to keep out Black residents.
If all this sounds unhealthy for the region – know that it absolutely is. No one talks more negatively about St. Louis than St. Louisans themselves, and we assume as a culture that all those outside the region view us unfavorably as well. The reality is that they really don’t. While we are bombarded with KSDK, KMOV, and Post-Dispatch stories daily detailing the violence and other problems we face, other cities are too – but with their own problems. National news is so focused on partisan affairs that they hardly pay us any attention. We are finely attuned to our problems, but others know nothing besides our beer scene, the Arch, Washington University, etc. Every family member or friend who visits me in St. Louis has left with a positive impression, and it is a region that kept me – a transplant from Los Angeles – post graduation.
One of the reasons that I stayed was the real potential evident across St. Louis. We have the architecture, the culture, the diversity, the sports teams, the river, the colleges and universities, the food, the beer, the coffee, the kindness, and much more. For how great the region can seem, we’re often operating with one hand tied behind our proverbial back. For example, we can’t make a real, coordinated effort on reforming policing if only the City and a couple County municipalities change their rules because there would still be dozens left with rules unchanged. We cannot truly address housing or income disparities on race if only part of the region chooses to do so. We cannot make investments in infrastructure that affect people equitably if we do so through a fragmented process. With hundreds of millions of dollars coming in to the City and the County, we CAN make historic investments together, but we will end up doing so without coordinating the effort for maximum effect.
Even if I could convince the average reader that a merger, or some furthered and comprehensive cooperation were to be for the better, a reasonable question regarding political leadership inherently emerges. Aside from the unknowns like how many council members there would be in a merged St. Louis City and County, or what those very districts would look like, there would have to be an agreement on who the Regional Mayor would be. Or, if no agreement is possible before a merger, what electoral process would take place to settle this question.
Perhaps the best solution could be to settle upon a “Caretaker Regional Mayor” – one who would oversee the unified City and County post-merger and serve until an election that they would be allowed to take place in. A one year term would be long enough to ensure there was durable leadership in the near-term but not so long that those who disapprove of said person would not have a foreseeable election date on the horizon. Newly elected Mayor Tishaura Jones is uniquely qualified for this position. Mayor Jones has strong support from broad sections of St. Louis, managing to pull in respectable numbers even in South St. Louis wards. She also has strong regional connections, with her former experience in the State Legislature, endorsement from County Executive Sam Page, and the large number of Aldermen who endorsed her in her run.
Many will likely cringe or even stop reading this opinion at the mere mention of Mayor Jones. Some speculate, even claim that without a reasonable doubt, that Mayor Jones is corrupt. Others fall back upon racial stereotypes and even sexist discourse suggesting that she will simply be a tool of her father. Here’s the thing – Mayor Jones has never so much as been indicted for a crime, so those who boldly claim that she is without a doubt corrupt do so as armchair prosecutor, judge, and jury. Some point to her international travel that was broadly related to furthering government competence, others suggest that she was even under investigation from the FBI for parking contracts while she was Treasurer. As salacious as these headlines can be, there has been zero follow-up or indication that such “investigation” was ever taking place following other commentary that any anonymous or politically motivated tip could lead to the actions written about in the McPherson report.
That leaves us with a host of allegations mixed with racist and sexist discourse – none of which has ever been proven in any judicial setting. Most see only the headlines, failing to check in on a story after it is published. None of these have panned out, and there is no reason to think that any must be true.
The reason for this aside is to suggest that the discomfort with Mayor Jones may, to some degree, be unjustified. When taking away these allegations, she is by and large the best candidate for the job. She is the Mayor of the City of St. Louis, home to the Gateway Arch National Park, Busch Stadium, Forest Park, and other cultural institutions that represent what the public knows of St. Louis. She is also a young, Black, progressive woman who could genuinely seem like a fresh, positive face and contribute to a more sunny narrative for the region to the rest of the country. This is merely anecdotal, but I have already seen threads with folks from other cities considering a move to St. Louis just because of Cori Bush and Tishaura Jones.
She has already shown a large degree of competence and community engagement coming out of the Pandemic as well. Her grassroots support is impressive, and her community-driven budgeting process for the COVID-19 funds from the Federal government enticed thousands of responses and her Stimulus Advisory Board has already released a draft of plans that will help tens of thousands of St. Louisans in accordance to their priorities given. She has shown that she is willing to take on excessive subsidies for corporate development, vetoing two Central Corridor tax incentives but also negotiating with The Lawrence Group at the City Foundry for a more equitable incentive package – one that the developer is publicly excited about and supportive of.
Even if I haven’t convinced you that Mayor Jones is the best choice for Regional Mayor, still consider the bigger picture. Our region is stagnant in population. A fragmented approach does little for our region, and a more unified face could help us prepare for the next century. We have so much potential, and too many cooks in the kitchen all with competing interests. It’s time to revive Better Together, but from the bottom up rather than the top down.
In 2012, St. Louis City voters approved “Proposition R”, a measure to reduce the size of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen from 28 members to 14. This would mean that the city would see its Ward count reduced to 14 as well. At the time, advocates suggested that the measure would increase efficiency, reduce corruption, and more sensibly represent a city less than half the size of its former population.
As the vote would amend the Charter of the City of St. Louis, it required 60% or greater support to pass. In 2012, voters were able to accomplish this goal after a few prior attempts with a citywide result of 61.5% in favor of the amendment. NextSTL has a useful ward-by-ward graphic that showcases the wide support the measure received almost 9 years ago. The proposition was written such that it would go into effect following the 2020 Census, a milestone we are nearing rapidly today.
In the near-decade since the passage of Proposition R, the Board of Aldermen has made few attempts toward implementation. With no proposed Ward boundaries whatsoever, the Board has declined to prepare for the inevitable. Rather, it has done just the opposite. Aldermen John Collins-Muhammad Jr. and Joseph Vaccaro have led the charge.
In the 2018-2019 session, Collins-Muhammad Jr. introduced Board Bill 25, which would reverse Proposition R and maintain the original 28 Wards. This Board Bill was eventually withdrawn by Collins-Muhammad Jr., but was co-sponsored by Aldermen Bosley, Moore, Kennedy, and Williamson. At the time, Collins-Muhammad Jr. had suggested that without a plan, they should not move forward. nearly 3 years later, it is unclear if he has worked to create one.
In June of 2020, Collins-Muhammad Jr. introduced Board Bill 77A, which would reverse Proposition R and maintain the original 28 Wards. Board Bill 77A was co-sponsored by Alderman Vaccaro. This Board Bill narrowly passed the Board and was vetoed by then Mayor Krewson in early 2021.
On May 27, 2021, Collins-Muhammad Jr. again introduced a nearly identical bill. Board Bill 38 would again reverse Proposition R and maintain the original 28 Wards. There are no co-sponsors just yet. However, if passed via the Board, it would require city voters to again vote on a measure they approved nearly 9 years prior that the Board has failed to implement or prepare for.
There is a growing tendency in U.S. politics for elected leaders to eschew democratic norms. By “democratic”, we mean in relation to democracy itself and respecting the will of the voters and the results of free and fair elections, not specifically the Democratic Party. This is particularly evident in national politics with some Republican leaders espousing “The Big Lie”, a conspiracy with no grounds that could not win a single court case of dozens tried, that former President Trump won the election. Some may assume that this tendency is limited to the Republican Party, but that is very much not the case, even if it may hold the most insidious and notorious example. Rather, respect for democratic norms can and has degraded some across party lines.
The actions of Alderman John Collins-Muhammad Jr. represent just that at a local level. His consistent reintroduction of Board Bills that would nullify Proposition R would reverse the clear will of the voters in 2012. While there is nothing illegal strictly about doing so, it undermines the decision-making authority of a voter-passed Charter amendment that by no means was controversial. Instead, Proposition R passed with nearly two thirds of the vote. Collins-Muhammad Jr. claims that this was the case without support from North City, an entirely disingenuous claim that is easily disproven. While few North City Wards approved the amendment, there was strong support in each Ward generally still above 40% support. We encourage readers to view NextSTL’s graphics mentioned earlier. Even if none supported the amendment, the entire city shares a Charter, and he is seeking to change the rules of an entire city for an incredibly unpopular structure backed by fewer than 40% of St. Louisans.
Given that the Board of Aldermen has not prepared for the Ward reduction or drawn new boundaries, not to mention the many conflicts of interest that could arise when working to redraw their own seats, many St. Louisans have gathered to wrestle this power away from the Board. The group, Show Me Integrity, was able to fundraise over $100,000 and has begun work to gather the 30,000 signatures necessary to allow a nonpartisan commission to independently redraw the Ward boundaries. If they reach their signature goal, then their measure dubbed “Reform STL” will go before St. Louis constituents for a vote.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch, like many print newspapers across the U.S., must confront a more difficult environment as online media diverts customers away from more traditional news sources. Even as legacy organizations like the Post seek to adapt, growth seems nearly out of the question. Rather, of the 25 largest legacy print newspapers across the country, including the Post, average weekday circulation was dropping at nearly double digit rates year over year as of 2010 – when the Post publicized its own circulation woes.
It is within this context of a changing media landscape and a shift to online readership that allows us to begin to make sense of the Post’s newer business model. Like many of its online peers, from legacy news media to online powerhouses like BuzzFeed, there has been a growing importance of a sensational headline. Angèle Christin, a researcher and Assistant Professor of Communication at Stanford found that newsrooms across the country are being transformed by metrics and data to increase advertising revenue, often utilizing “clickbait” to draw interest in to an article.
“As online advertising became increasingly competitive, news organizations did what they had to do to survive in this new environment,”
The Post is doing just that, relying on clickbait to increase digital advertising revenues as a result of a greater number of clicks. Of course, as explained by the BBC, clickbait can also be a harmful journalistic strategy. With sensationalized headlines fueling clicks, and therefore revenue, the actual substance of the article behind the headline may be entirely unlike what readers expected. These headlines can be misleading, incorrect, or downright harmful. And while there is nothing inherently bad about news organizations utilizing more modern techniques to drive revenue, there is something wrong if this strategy puts real lives in danger or dilutes truly important stories.
Before diving too deep into the Post Dispatch, it’s important to recognize just how important local news organizations are. For reducing or exposing corruption, explaining hot-button political issues, or simply building community, local news is very valuable. Local issues can often be the most impactful and tangible issues that people face. Local corruption and potholes affect you every day. The decline of local news has already resulted in tangible harms to democratic norms. Of course, without the veneer of national political partisanship that national news organizations adhere to, they can also carry a greater degree of trust. That trust and responsibility can, however, be ignored or abused.
There are certainly enough examples of major publications using misleading or vague headlines to lure readers in. The Post Dispatch has plenty of company in this practice. In fact, CNN’s homepage on the morning of 4/21 has a COVID story with a headline that could possibly mislead.
In this example, the article pulls a reader in because vaccines are currently mired in partisan controversy despite the scientific evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective and remarkably safe. This article utilizes the public controversy to its benefit, ideally bringing in vaccine skeptics who wish to prove their viewpoint while simultaneously intriguing people who already view vaccines as safe. After all, if you see “concerning” next to “Covid-19 vaccine demand”, it raises some questions. While this headline might be dangerous, perhaps that is only the case on the margins. There are much more dangerous examples and this headline likely does nothing beside reinforce existing beliefs.
Any action that reduces vaccine trust and subsequent demand puts the public at risk. There have now been over 560,000 deaths resulting from COVID-19 in the United States, with a total of 31 million infections. That puts the death rate from COVID-19 at approximately 1.8%. Of course, many skeptics suggest that a 98% survival rate makes the U.S. response COVID-19 nothing more than an overreaction, but this death rate is simultaneously incredibly high still and not the full story. There are often lingering effects ranging in severity for COVID survivors.
“Nearly one-third of people with COVID-19 had lingering symptoms a median of 6 months after infection onset”
The study also suggested that people who experience these long-lasting symptoms may face ranging effects from fatigue to persistent loss of smell or taste. As the study notes, many of these individuals are young and otherwise healthy, indicating that even those who are at low risk of death still may well face lasting effects.
This is a long way of suggesting the very clear and obvious notion that the risks of getting COVID-19 on your health are substantially – almost unbelievably – higher than any risks from the vaccine. There are now over 86 million fully vaccinated individuals in the U.S. alone, and there have been some cases where fully vaccinated individuals get sick. The number, as of last week, was 5800 – a miniscule 0.006% of those fully vaccinated. We already knew the vaccines were not 100% effective, but these numbers suggest that they are even MORE effective than the numbers initially suggested. Of those infected post-vaccination, only 74 died. That means that your odds of being infected post-vaccination and dying are 0.00008%.
The Post Dispatch, however, went a full step further than CNN with a headline on April 19 that could fundamentally harm vaccine trust and increase hesitancy. Any person who subsequently choose to not get vaccinated puts their lives at significantly higher risk and damages the public health and potential for herd immunity for the entire region.
This headline is simple and impactful. Writing only that “71 in St. Louis County test positive for COVID-19 after full vaccination” leaves more questions than answers. Most of those questions intentionally would center around vaccine efficacy. The headline capitalizes off of vaccine concern and is the kind of material that can easily be shared as vaccine misinformation. Of course, reading the article or the very small text beneath clarifies that these cases are uncommon, but that’s not the part most people will notice.
In other words, the Post Dispatch is using vaccine hesitancy as a source of profit through clickbait. They are doing so at a time where vaccine demand is meeting supply, both in the region and more broadly across the United States. The effort needed to push the U.S. and the St. Louis area toward herd immunity will be gargantuan, and it will require institutional stakeholders and media doing the opposite of fear mongering for profit. If the Post Dispatch had altered its headline to include a note about vaccine safety or the unlikely chance of “breakthrough cases”, then at least it could have been neutral.
Users on social media were quick to call this headline “irresponsible”, noting just how difficult it has been to coordinate a coherent public health response with a skeptical public. Giving material to conspiracy theorists who do not trust vaccines is certainly not helpful for beneficial for anything but their bottom line. But, as should be expected, evoking anger and anxiety leads to more clicks.
While there is certainly an argument to be made about the unhealthy connection between news media, particularly local news, and capitalism, that is not the point of this article even as it should still be explored. While local news can be instrumental for the health of a region through exposing corruption and informing the public, staff writers need to make enough to support themselves and the infrastructure of a print-media organization doesn’t come cheap either. Even here at Missouri-Metro, we use ads to pay for the site infrastructure. You’ve probably seen a few in this article alone.
Of course, while we should be rooting for the success of the Post Dispatch and hoping for its staff to shape a positive presence in the region, neither their headline writers, editors, or Editorial Board seem particularly interested in doing so.
On the heels of Mayor Jones’ victory on April 6, a dramatic electoral shift we covered here, the Editorial Board at the St. Louis Post Dispatch quickly released a number of articles that showcased some extreme racial insensitivities and cognitive distortions.
The first dropped on April 8th, titled “Editorial: New Mayor, same jail crisis. Someone needs to convey a sense of urgency.” This article, as you probably noticed, similarly uses clickbait to lead the reader to incorrect conclusions. Of Course, Mayor Jones would not even be inaugurated for another 12 days and was still building her transition team following an electoral victory just 2 days prior. The headline is written to direct the reader to the conclusion that Mayor Jones had already been slacking on her job. It does not use the correct term for her position, which at the time was simply Mayor-Elect, not the actual St. Louis Mayor.
While the article brings up valid concerns about how the city must address its jail crisis, it does so first by tearing down the city’s first Black woman Mayor 12 days before she’d even hold the role. The Editorial Board goes on to suggest that Mayor-Elect Jones’ plan to close the “workhouse” jail will just make the current situation worse at the Downtown jail.
That may or may not be true, but the article suggests that then Mayor-Elect Jones lacked a sense of “urgency” on the matter, using a loaded term that suggests a lack of preparedness or care. Where they could possibly reach that outcome is unclear given that Jones had released a statement about the Community Justice Center uprising the very next day.
In her statement, she addresses the very concerns noted about locks and conditions that the Editorial Board unceremoniously roasts her for not considering. They also give no airtime to the reason why Jones and other city progressives are looking to close the “workhouse” jail, simply chocking it up to adopting “the mantra of progressive activists”. However, this position completely talks down the importance of the various reasons progressives and others are seeking changes to the city’s jail and criminal justice systems. The average inmate at the Community Justice Center spends 344 days behind barsbefore their trial. The city’s other jail, known as the “workhouse” has an international reputation as a “modern-day debtors’ prison” full of black mold and rats.
Simply ignoring these horrendous conditions that predominantly impact the Black community in St. Louis, while writing off the preparedness and care for the issue of the city’s first Black Mayor, is not a good luck. 90% of those imprisoned at the workhouse are Black, and evidently their conditions are of little importance to the Editorial Board.
In another April 8th piece, titled “Editorial: Jones must employ deft diplomacy to build bridges with those she has attacked”, the Editorial Board nullifies Jones’ regional relationships, diplomatic capability, and the validity of her entire campaign and the platform she ran on. Ignoring that the Post Dispatch Editorial Board endorsed her opponent, Cara Spencer, who ran on a fairly similar progressive platform, these claims should be validated if they bother to make them.
In one example of Jones’ supposedly having a tenuous relationship of those she must work with, the Editorial Board bring up Police Union head Jeff Roorda. Jones did in fact say that Roorda would not have a seat at her table, but Spencer also called for the very same thing. The Board calls this an example of Jones’ “vengeful tendencies”, but if that was the case, why is the same not applied to her opponents or most progressive St. Louis politicians? Moreover, why use Roorda at all when he lobbed insults at Jones like “laziest-legislator-of-all-time”, “cop-hater” and “race-baiter”. Despite his herculean efforts to appose police reforms, his own actions get no airtime with the Post Dispatch Editorial Board in this piece.
If the Editorial Board took the time to write a whole piece about her broken relationships, then there must be other examples, right? The only others mentioned are the Board of Aldermen, Board of Estimate and Apportionment, and the city bureaucracy itself. Perhaps there is some distrust between the Aldermen and the Mayor as that usually tends to be the case. It is not as though Mayor Krewson always got along with the legislative body. In fact Krewson was steadfastly in favor of Board reduction, a position that did not gain much favor with many Aldermen. Moreover, she had a tenuous relationship with the more progressive members of the legislative body.
So where does Mayor Jones stand with these important relationships? Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed promised to endorse Jones if he did not proceed to the runoff, as would end up being the case. She already has his support, but what about the rest of the Board? With the success of the #FlipTheBoard and the newly dominant progressive majority on the Board, Jones has a rare opportunity to make progress on her progressive agenda. Jones had a full 14 current members endorse her run, versus just 4 for Spencer.
On the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, made up of just 3 elected officials including the Mayor, Board of Aldermen President, and Comptroller, Jones has similarly strong relationships. With Reed’s former endorsement and a strong statement of support by Comptroller Green, there seems to be far less strife than the Editorial Board would suggest.
With little real support for their strangely mean-spirited claims of poor diplomacy and relationships, the Board ends their piece with claims that Jones cannot be trusted with the $500 million windfall coming from the Federal Government and that her victory is anything but a mandate. They suggest that the money is not “solely hers to spend as she likes”, as though Jones had ever suggested that it would be. Rather, she has adopted a community input plan for the funds alongside a promise to “work with the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and Board of Aldermen to appropriate stimulus funds”.
The Editorial Board falls victim to stereotypes about Black people that are still woefully common to see today. It’s a common stereotype that Black Americans just don’t know how to manage their money, or that they cannot be trusted with their finances. There is a rather good explanation on this stereotype here that I recommend you take a few minutes to read. Regardless, it is evident that the Post Dispatch Editorial Board simply does not trust Jones to uphold her responsibility even though the voters widely adopted her as their new Mayor. Even that victory is downplayed, with her majority 52% support not counting as mandate to the Editorial Board.
We’ve covered just how important the role of local media can be for cities. Here in St. Louis, the responsibility is even greater. With historic levels of violence, the COVID-19 pandemic, a State Government that seems intent on neutering big city agendas, and politicians who need to be held accountable, there is certainly enough material. Yet, instead of utilizing the very real issues responsibly, the Post Dispatch utilizes racial tropes and stereotypes to further false narratives. They also use fear mongering and misdirection through clickbait, influencing potentially deadly behaviors and sowing distrust in the most important public health battle of our generation.
Where did the Post Dispatch take this turn toward racism and irresponsibility? That will be important to explore, and even more important will be the necessity of resolving these issues to resume and correct its important role in our society. For now, it is incumbent on readers to beware of its recent tendencies and to demand better from what can and should be one of our greatest assets.
In one of the biggest electoral shifts in St, Louis’ history, Mayor-Elect Tishaura Jones and multiple progressive Aldermanic candidates changed the entire political dynamic of the city. Mayor-Elect Jones defeated Alderwoman Cara Spencer with 51.68% of the vote compared to Spencer’s 47.77%. The April 6 election also had nearly 30% voter turnout – a significantly higher percentage than the March primary’s 22%. Contrary to some opinions that have spread online to varying degrees that suggest this was a low-turnout election, 30% voter turnout is significantly higher than average for municipal elections.
Jones will be the first Black female Mayor of St. Louis in the city’s long history, and only the second woman to be Mayor following Mayor Lyda Krewson. Her win is also unique in that she carried significant, majority support not just in the overall percentage but also in terms of the various North City Wards and even some in the Central and Southern Wards. Due to the changes recently adopted through Prop D’s Approval Voting mechanism, Jones and Spencer faced off with no other contenders in the April election. Jones, as a result, carried a majority of the voters unlike previous elections where the winner generally only received a plurality.
Mayor-Elect Tishaura Jones and Campaign Volunteers
With a voter mandate at her side, Mayor-Elect Jones also has considerable wind in her sail powered by a strengthening progressive Aldermanic coalition. Progressives across the city had commendable electoral showings, with the #FlipTheBoard movement claiming 4 out of 5 Aldermanic targets. Led by Alderwoman Megan Green, #FlipTheBoard intended to create a more progressive majority on the Board of Aldermen, making it theoretically easier to pass more progressive legislation. In St. Louis City, the Board of Aldermen holds the majority of the policy and legislative power, meaning that whatever Mayor holds the executive office also needs to rely on a BOA that shares similar goals.
Due to COVID-19, the inauguration will be physically limited with attendance capped to only a few guests at City Hall. The ceremony will begin at noon, however, and will be available to stream via YouTube for all who would like to watch. If you are interested in attending in person, the third and fourth floors in the rotunda will be available until they reach max capacity. You can stream the inauguration below and witness the historic ceremony.
In the short time between the April 6 election and the April 20 inauguration, Mayor-Elect Jones has been working to build her Transition Team and build her future executive staff. The Transition Team includes many St. Louis activists and policy experts, including:
Les Bond, chief executive officer of Attucks Asset Management, LLC
Jared Boyd, chief of staff and counsel of the St. Louis City Treasurer’s Office
Rodney Boyd, partner with Nexus Group
Patrick R. Brown, former chief of staff in St. Louis Mayor’s Office and community development executive with Ameren Missouri
Nancy E. Cross, former vice-president of SEIU Local 1
Nahuel Fefer, Justice Catalyst Fellow at ArchCity Defenders and former senior advisor in St. Louis Mayor’s Office
Bob Fox, retired business owner
Sandra M. Moore, managing director and chief impact officer with Advantage Capital
Rosetta Okohson-Reb, managing partner and chief executive officer of MO Political Consulting
Kayla M. Reed, executive director of Action St. Louis
Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders
Mike Talboy, former Missouri state representative and director of governmental affairs of Burns & McDonnell
For other positions available in the Jones Administration, visit her Transition Website here.
While Jones works to build her team, she is also seeking input from the community for how her Administration should spend the $517 million that St. Louis City will be receiving from the Federal Government. Her immediate plans prioritize direct relief for those most impacted by COVID-19. Her plan can be viewed here, but include key provisions like Emergency Shelter & Rapid Re-Housing, Small Business Grants, and Rental, Mortgage & Utility Assistance. Jones has released a survey for those interested in sharing their input regarding how the funds should be spent on her website as well.
St. Louis City is a notoriously difficult city to lead. In its “Weak-Mayor System”, the executive often finds their plans stymied by a Board of Aldermen not too keen on pursuing those same goals or the lack of a voter mandate. Mayor-Elect Jones, however, finds herself in a different position entirely. With majority support through St. Louis’ new Approval Voting system, St. Louis’ general shift toward progressive policy solutions, a significantly more progressive BOA, and support that extends far beyond only North City wards, Jones might find success in ways previous Mayors have not.
There is no doubt that the job will still be incredibly difficult. Leading a city scarred by COVID-19, centuries of institutional racism, uneven opportunity, and doing it all while simultaneously combatting a State Government that generally targets St. Louis area policies will be no walk in the park. However, Jones has real opportunity, perhaps a historic chance to steer the city towards equity and solutions for all, including those who have been hardest hit not just through COVID, but throughout the city’s long-lasting history of racist policies.
When St. Louis City voters wake up on April 6, they will have the opportunity to cast their ballots in the first Approval Voting runoff in the city’s history. On the ballot are two progressive women vying for Mayor, a multiple propositions including the City’s Earnings Tax that makes up 36% of its revenue, and many Aldermanic races that could determine what policy looks like over the next several years.
For Mayor, voters can choose between Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer. Both candidates have detailed policy platforms that lean more on the progressive side, versus fellow Democratic candidate Lewis Reed who was more centrist and did not make it to the runoff. Both Jones and Spencer have debated each other multiple times, and their most recent KSDK debate is below.
Unique to this election is that both Jones and Spencer are the two most “approved” Mayoral candidates of those who were on the primary ballot in March. St. Louis is the second U.S. city to adopt Approval Voting, and the theory behind its adoption is that the ultimate winner and both candidates who proceed to the runoff are the actual favorite candidates of the most voters.
In a normal election in other cities or previously in St. Louis, typically there might be two politically opposite candidates, or voters may instead choose a “lesser of two evils” candidate to avoid their worst option. Rather, in this election, voters can achieve a superior outcome if they vote honestly. We have a video explaining this process below.
Of course, there are many other choices that voters will make on April 6. Propositions E, Y, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 may have sizable impacts on the city, its services, and its budget.
Proposition E, which represents the renewal of the Earnings Tax if passed, would continue the 1% income tax on all STL residents and employees who work in the city. These funds make up over 36% of the city’s funds, ranging from fire protection to roads and critical social support services. Missouri-Metro has a opinion article in favor of supporting the Earnings Tax here.
Proposition Y is proposed by MSD, the Metropolitan Sewer District, to issue $500,000,000 in sewer revenue bonds. According to MSD, these bonds are “For the purpose of designing, constructing, improving, renovating, repairing, replacing, and equipping new and existing MSD sewer and draining facilities and systems…”. If you are unsure how issuing bonds on large public works projects works, you can read more about issuing bonds here.
Propositions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 also reflect changes to the city’s charter in relation to the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).
Proposition 1, if adopted, would be less controversial than others. It would modernize certain language and provisions, reflecting current names of city institutions and adding language that is more inclusive to different identities.
Proposition 2 would change the how the MSD Board votes on certain provisions. MSD summarizes this proposition on its website below as:
Current Charter requires yes votes from a minimum of 2 Board Members from each appointing authority, the City and County, to pass any ordinance, rule, etc.
a. New rule: If 5 present and with unanimous consent, any 4 yes votes will suffice for passage
Ordinances shall take effect immediately
Proposition 3 is related to the Rate Commission and transparency on Rate Reports. It would, according to the ballot language, ensure that the rate is fair and reasonable to all users of MSD. As summarized by MSD:
Clarifies Rate Commission voting delegates and timeline.
Requires consideration of financial impact on all classes of ratepayers to determine a fair and reasonable burden.
Proposition 4 clarifies that a trustee at MSD would earn $25 a day they serve the Board at a Public Safety Meeting. Additionally, members of the Civil Service Commission also would earn $25 a day they serve on the Board. For both, the maximum yearly earnings would be $625.
Finally, Proposition 5 would allow MSD to utilize the same auditing firm for longer than 5 consecutive years if MSD conducts a fair and competitive bidding process and the lead audit partner is changed.
Candidates in most of the city’s 28 Wards are running in some very competitive elections. With the city tilting generally more toward the progressive end of the political spectrum in recent elections from U.S. Representative Cori Bush to its most “approved” candidates in the March 2 runoffs, incumbents are facing some tough challenges.
With so many Wards, there are too many candidates to delve into. However, we will include their websites when applicable below and display the various candidates facing off in each Ward.
There are also many choices available for the St. Louis Board of Education, which will be of increased importance as the public school system faces challenges maintaining its enrollment and facilities. Voters may opt for up to 3 candidates. Each elected member will serve for 4 consecutive years. Although we included every candidate on the ballot in the list below, please be advised that candidate Bill Haas passed away. A very controversial figure in the St. Louis political sphere, Haas was known for his many candidacies and, by others, abusive messages. The St. Louis Post Dispatch covers Haas here.
The last race that voters will see on this ballot is for Comptroller, which is essentially the city’s Chief Financial Officer. The current incumbent, Darlene Green, is running for reelection and does not have an opponent. The Comptroller can audit city departments and ensure that funds and resources are utilized as planned.
How to Vote
Polling stations open tomorrow, April 6, at 6AM and will stay open until 7PM. It is important to remember that if you are in line at your polling location at the time the location closes, you will still be allowed to cast your vote. Do not leave the line if there is one.
The Missouri House Budget Committee, led by Republican legislators who carry a supermajority, voted 20-9 along party lines to deny funding to the Medicaid Expansion. Missouri voters authorized the Medicaid Expansion last August, with just over 53% of voters choosing to back an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals and families up to 138% of the Federal poverty line. As Missouri’s Medicaid program stands right now, most adults without children are not covered and its income eligibility is one of the lowest in the nation.
Republicans in Missouri have argued that Missouri cannot afford the expense of expanding Medicaid coverage. However, 90% of the funding is provided to states by the Federal government, and many believe that the program may even save Missouri taxpayers money. As reported by NPR, a Washington University in St. Louis study found that over 230,000 Missourians would benefit from the program in a state where over 9% are uninsured. The study also showed that Missouri may save nearly $39 million a year.
Although nearly 1 in 3 rural Republican voters in the August election voted in favor of the expansion, some Republican legislators are distorting the outcome of the election. According to House Rep. Sara Walsh of Ashland “Rural Missouri said no…I don’t believe it is the will of the people to bankrupt our state.” Democratic representatives have responded in force, arguing that with higher than expected state revenues, more than $1.1 billion from the Federal government specifically allocated to the expansion from the latest relief bill, and expected cost saves that Republicans are not following the will of the voters or the facts.
Missouri Democrats plan on re-introducing the funding measure to the broader House floor alongside the rest of the budget presented. However, there is no guarantee that their efforts will be successful. The end result is likely to still result in a funded measure, but whether it is through legislative action or lawsuits remains unclear.
St. Louis City is poised to have its first municipal election utilizing ‘Approval Voting‘, a method of voting that voters overwhelmingly adopted in November 2020 with the passing of Proposition D. Tomorrow’s March 2nd municipal primary election will be the first time St. Louis voters get to vote for more than one candidate for a given office. St. Louis is one of the first U.S. cities to adopt such a measure, with Fargo being the first just under a year ago.
While voters are used to choosing a single candidate, the city’s new voting system passes with Proposition D allows voters to choose multiple candidates that they approve of. There is still a primary and a general election, with the primary taking place March 2nd and the general/runoff on April 6th, but the candidates in the runoff will no longer represent the top candidate from either party.
Instead, Proposition D has instituted nonpartisan Approval Voting, which seeks to create more opportunity for different ideas and parties to gain momentum and make an impact on elections usually dominated by the two-party system. Moreover, the new system is intended to better reflect actual voting preferences. Proponents of Approval Voting explain that under the more traditional ‘Plurality Voting’ method utilized in most of the U.S. and formerly in St. Louis, voters often chose the “lesser of two evils” rather than their most preferred candidate. The reasoning behind doing so rested in seeking to prevent your worst case scenario rather than improving the chances for your favorite candidate.
Just how does Approval Voting supposedly better reflect real preferences? On the March 2nd primary ballot, voters will not see party identifications, despite each candidate (at least in the Mayoral race) publicly tying themselves to a party. Moreover, and perhaps the most significant difference to St. Louisans, is that voters may vote, or “approve”, of as many candidates as they like on tomorrow’s ballot.
The top two “approved” candidates, which are intended to reflect voters’ real interests, then would advance to the general election runoff on April 6, where only two candidates for a given seat will face off. Proponents of Approval Voting suggest that the top two candidates who make it to the runoff in April will have broader support than candidates who squeak by on a plurality.
The list of candidates for the March 2 primary can be found via St. Louis city here. Polls are open from 6AM to 7PM, and you can find your polling place here.
St. Louis City has for years relied upon its Earnings Tax revenue for a significant portion of its annual revenues, now comprising of over a third of the city’s expected revenue each year. In 2020, St. Louis raked in just over $191 million, a sum that has quickly grown over the past few years. With the city seeing incredible investment and high paying jobs in the medical, geospatial, and tech sectors at the Cortex, Downtown, and beyond, it has seen a 9.97% increase in revenue over the last two years alone.
Although there is a real and warranted debate over how the city allocates its funds in relation to equity and incentives, there is no doubt that eliminating the revenue in one swift motion would be disastrous for the city, its growth, and its most vulnerable communities. Gregory Daily, the city’s Collector of Revenue, has been waging a long education campaign on the tax for some time, pointing out the direct impact on city services that residents rely on every day. From parks to streets and lighting, the Earnings Tax impacts every city resident. While many communities might not know their Neighborhood Stabilization Officers by name, these civil servants work incredibly hard to make our communities safer and more economically resilient.
Parks are imperative for public health, while emergency services are critical for maintaining the day-to-day safety of St. Louisans. While I share the views of many in our city that St. Louis, among most U.S. cities, spends too much on policing with too few positive results, police are but one aspect of critical emergency services. Moreover, the City is just now experimenting and investing in community-driven violence reduction through Cure Violence and emergency dispatch that redirects some calls away from police. These measures are not enough, but they are an important start as we strive to prevent horrific tragedies that have predominantly affected communities of color. Even now, we have difficulty adequately funding these new services. While I share the hopes of many that some police funds will be redirected to other innovative and community-driven programs, addressing inequalities becomes many times harder when lower revenues have to be split among the same number of services.
Perhaps the conversation would be different if opponents of Proposition E, the Earnings Tax, actually presented an alternate funding source for the City. If you’ve been paying attention – they haven’t. There is no plan to replace these funds, and the end result would be a City that has its budget nuked, cratering its budget with little time for the City to prepare. If you felt that St. Louis Streets crews were slower than you’d like already with plowing snowy streets or filling potholes, I expect that their performance would decline much more with significantly less money for employees or vehicle maintenance. For our already cash-strapped fleet of refuse vehicles much in need of service, citizens might expect less consistent trash pickup and more frequently overfilled dumpsters.
While some might feel this is a deserved consequence for a bureaucracy that has not served everyone adequately, such a drastic and reactionary loss of revenue would do nothing to resolve the City’s shortcomings. Instead, St. Louis would struggle that much more to attract investment, new residents, and to invest critical dollars into its low-income neighborhoods. Tax dollars should go back into our communities, and it would be incredibly difficult to pass individual tax measures for individual programs that would be lost. Others might argue that the Earnings Tax prevents growth, population, and investment. At first glance, that argument is reasonable, but with hundreds of municipalities across the United States levying income taxes, including cities like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus, New York City, Philadelphia, and more, this argument falls flat quickly. In fact, St. Louis’ Earnings Tax tends to not even fall in the higher percentages of income taxes levied in comparable cities.
I urge all St. Louis City residents to Vote YES on Proposition E, to preserve our Earnings Tax, and to preserve our critical city services.
Following a significant delay in vaccination shipments allotted toward St. Louis City and County, the St. Louis Department of Health began mass vaccinations at Union Station Downtown. St. Louis Mayor Lydia Krewson shared on Twitter that “approximately 4,000 individuals in Phase 1A and Phase 1B” were able to receive their first doses of the highly effective vaccines.
According to Fox2Now, all of the city’s first responders have now been vaccinated. The vaccine is now open to the public in limited availability, although the city hopes to bring doses to the more than 30,000 people on their notification system as soon as possible. The first members of the public to receive the vaccine, who attended the event at Union Station, were predominantly in higher risk categories, including those above 65 years of age or those with underlying health conditions.
As Missouri-Metro recently reported, shipments toward the St. Louis metro area have lagged behind earlier promises by State and Federal officials. While availability is increasing and the rate of vaccination has increased to more than 1 million a day, it still may take some time for the majority of the public to enjoy the safety promised by the vaccines.
According to Mayor Krewson, the city has applied for an additional 5,850 doses and may receive 3,900 doses in the coming week. However, there is a high degree of uncertainty as vaccine distribution depends on allotments from the State Dept. of Health. State governments across the country have been responsible for distribution in absence of Federal guidance or logistical support. However, the new Biden Administration plans to support mass vaccinations and distribution efforts for states in order to reduce the load on understaffed and underfunded state health departments.