On Tuesday, March 5, voters in St. Louis City will have an opportunity to select the candidates who will represent their party in the April general election. Since every member of the Board of Aldermen is a Democrat and that is not likely to change this year, the winner of the March primary election will almost certainly be a member of the next Board of Aldermen.
In our democracy people are free to vote (or not vote) for any candidate, no matter how qualified or not, for any reason, no matter how logical or not. In municipal elections like these, historically, most St. Louisans don’t even bother to vote at all.
One reason often cited, especially by young people, for not voting is that none of the candidates “inspired”, “motivated,” or otherwise “spoke to” non-voters. And while it is true that local government isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, it is also true that everyone has an opinion about it, even those that didn’t bother to vote.
Whether it’s crime, education, property values, lack of places to shop in your neighborhood, how clean the bathrooms are in the park where you play basketball, or even if your park has basketball courts or bathrooms at all — these are all local decisions, made or influenced by people elected in these low-turnout elections.
Someone is going to be selected on Election Day, whether by a small group of uninformed people or a large group of well-informed people. We at The NorthSider believe, as Thomas Jefferson once stated, “wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
Over the last few weeks, we have profiled for you, our reader, races for alderman in the north side wards. We created a voter guide to help you make your own informed decision. And now here we will give you our opinion on the best choice in each aldermanic race, as well the President of the Board of Aldermen.
We want to make clear a few things first. No candidate we have chosen to endorse is without his or her flaws. No candidate aligns perfectly with our own values on every issue. And just because we have determined today that one candidate is the best of the available options on the March 5, 2019 ballot, should they ultimately be successful in their election, we will hold them as accountable, cover their deeds and misdeeds, and report on them as fairly as any other elected official. The same goes for any candidate that we do not endorse. If they ultimately win, we will cover them fairly as well. An endorsement is not a statement of friendship or alliance. This is about making an informed recommendation based on what we know as journalists and members of the community.
With that, here we go…
In the race for President of the Board of Aldermen, incumbent Lewis Reed is facing three challengers: State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green, and perennial candidate Jimmie Matthews.
Reed was first elected in 2007, having benefited from one of the last great, diverse and effective coalitions in the city. Keeping such a coalition together after an election, much like governing the Board of Aldermen, is a lot like herding cats. Over the years, as cats have run away, Reed has been largely successful at rustling some of them back in, or finding a few new ones as needed, for important votes or elections. It hasn’t always been pretty, but such is the nature of this sport. Reed is the first African-American ever elected to that position (though Eugene “Tink” Bradley was the first to ever hold the position, albeit in an “acting” capacity from 1979-1980). As captain of this ship, he has steered the Board of Aldermen through some rough waters over the years: the 2011 redrawing of ward maps; bitter fights over minimum wage increases and Paul McKee’s failed NorthSide Regeneration project; and battles over various stadium financings, just to name a few. After years of being in the fight, his opponents point to his scars and wounds as evidence of weakness. That’s an easy position to take, especially for those too new to appreciate the difficulty of the job.
Alderwoman Green moved to St. Louis in 2005 and was elected to her first office in 2014 when she won her seat on the Board as an Independent in a special election. Green switched to the Democratic Party soon after and has made a name for herself as a vocal representative of the socialist movement in the left wing of the party. We find Green’s positions to be more liberal than the majority of St. Louisans. She favors less money for police and shutting down the city jail immediately. These are not popular ideas. We also find hypocrisy in her politics. She describes herself as “woke” (that is, aware of and actively attentive to issues of race), however, her only path to victory in this contest is to benefit from more experienced, black candidates splitting the vote. That’s not woke at all.
Nasheed is Reed’s biggest threat. She has done a masterful job of reinventing herself and is attempting to channel the youthful energy of many of the same young activists who previously supported Bernie Sanders and Tishaura Jones, both of whom had energetic campaigns but ultimately lost. The problem is Nasheed’s record is long and not consistently progressive.
During a Saturday, Jan 26 debate at Harris-Stowe State University, Nasheed told the crowd “All I have done for the past 12 years… was fight for reproductive rights for women and pro-choice issues.” That is false. Nasheed began her legislative career as a pro-life Democrat, joining with Republicans in 2011 to vote for a bill restricting some abortions.
In October 2007, Nasheed stood on the steps of City Hall at a rally with the activists of that day and said then-Mayor Francis Slay had “continually played racial politics in the City of St. Louis” and called for his recall from office. But by the time Reed challenged Slay for mayor in 2013, Nasheed had accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Slay, ultimately endorsing him over the African-American candidate.
Nasheed has tried to convince her new liberal followers that she is against mass incarceration, a popular issue with progressives today. But her record says otherwise. In September 2014, Nasheed stood with then-Police Chief Sam Dotson in the middle of north St. Louis and called for a return to mandatory minimum sentences.
“Those with violent crimes and those with gun crimes—they will serve 10 years in prison if we can pass this legislation,” Nasheed told St. Louis Public Radio. The penalties would have applied to all gun crimes, including something as simple as concealing a weapon without the proper permit to do so.
The next month, Nasheed was arrested with a gun.
On October 20, during the protests in Ferguson as the grand jury’s work in the Mike Brown case was ongoing, Nasheed showed up during the night, just after the organized protests had concluded. She and a 22 year-old campaign worker proceeded to go into the middle of the street and block traffic. They were arrested. Nasheed was armed with a fully loaded nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol and eight rounds of 9mm ammunition.
“People every single day threaten me about this Michael Brown killing and so it’s not unusual for me to have my gun on me,” Nasheed told Fox 2 News after she was released the next day. “I have it with me every single day. It’s like putting on my shoes.”
According to police, Nasheed was also visibly intoxicated, though she refused to take a breathalyzer. “I said no. Why should I? I’m not intoxicated. I don’t need to have a breathalyzer,” she told reporters.
Nasheed has a compelling personal story, rising from public housing to the state house and then the state senate. She is now term-limited, forbidden by state law, from seeking another term, and so she is looking for her next office. We don’t believe that challenging Reed, whose record has been at least as good as Nasheed, arguably better, was the best course for her post-Jefferson City career.
Reed, while not perfect, is clearly the most successful of these candidates at forming and maintaining difficult coalitions across geographic, economic and racial boundaries. His popularity and name recognition, comparable to the other candidates, especially in large voting wards in south St. Louis, make this his election to lose. With the recent announcements of endorsements from labor unions, the teachers union, and a majority of aldermen, it appears Reed’s campaign is quietly doing the work to secure another term as captain of the old, creaky ship known as the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Choppy waters are ahead: reduction of the number of wards in 2021; possible city-county merger; airport privatization, and more. Voters need a hand more steady than Nasheed and more effective than Green.
Voters should select Lewis Reed for Re-Election.
And now, the ward races…
Following the retirement of longtime Alderman Terry Kennedy, for the first time in decades, the 18th Ward will have a new representative on the Board of Aldermen. Five candidates are vying for the position. Pastor Darryl Gray, urban planner Judith Arnold, social worker Elmer Otey, and activist Jeffrey Hill, Jr. are among them. But only one candidate, longtime Democratic committeeman and retired school teacher Jesse Todd, has as long of a record of service to the 18th Ward. For 20 years, Todd has served his ward, without pay, election after election to increase voter turnout and education. He’s sponsored and participated in countless community events. He knows his community and the people in it. He has been outspoken and fearless. And the people of the 18th Ward have elected him time and time again. They should again on March 5th.
Voters should select Jesse Todd for 18th Ward Alderman.
In Ward 22, veteran alderman (as well as actual veteran) Jeffrey Boyd is facing a challenge from Tonya Finley-McCaw. Boyd is a sometimes controversial figure, largely because of his strong independence and sometimes petty beefs with other elected officials. His conflict with Treasurer Tishaura Jones dates back to the treasurer’s race in 2012 in which Jones defeated Boyd in a four-person race. It continued through the 2017 mayoral election and beyond. But it has also benefited taxpayers to the tune of almost $10 million. Boyd is chairman of the important Streets Committee and also sits on the Parking Commission, which oversees a large part of the operations of the Treasurer’s Office. Boyd was part of a lawsuit challenging state laws governing the treasurer and parking operations. A judge ruled in April that those laws were unconstitutional. Jones is appealing the ruling. In the meantime, Jones bowed to pressure from Boyd and others to hand over $10 million to the city’s general reserve fund. That money comes from the Parking Division’s unrestricted reserves, where aldermen say the treasurer has been hoarding tens of millions of dollars for years. So controversial? Yes. Petty? Maybe. Effective on behalf of taxpayers? Clearly, yes.
Voters should select Jeffrey Boyd for re-election in Ward 22.
In Ward 4, Alderman Sam Moore is facing a challenge from Robert Dillard, Leroy Carter, and Edward McFowland. All of Moore’s challengers point to the blight of the 4th Ward as proof that Moore is ineffective and needs to be removed. That’s not fair. The 4th Ward, like much of north St. Louis has been neglect, forgotten and ignored by city and state leaders for decades. Blaming Sam Moore for the blight of the 4th Ward is like blaming 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar for Hardee’s moving it’s corporate offices from downtown to Nashville. No alderman can single-handedly reverse what’s happened to the 4th Ward. But Moore has given it his best, even through illness and personal tragedy. He has been an outspoken member of the board on many issues and has earned the nickname “The Brick” for his work to stop brick theft and the destruction of north side buildings.
Voters should select Sam Moore for re-election in Ward 4.
And now, the rapid fire portion…
Elected in a special election in 2017, Lisa Middlebrook is still new to the job. Her opponent, Thomas Bradley, is young and energetic, but lacks experience.
Voters should select Lisa Middlebrook for re-election in Ward 2.
Following the retirement of 26th Ward Alderman Frank Williamson, three candidates are seeking to replace him: 27-year-old architect Jake Banton; cosmetologist Shameem Clark Hubbard, sister-in-law of 5th Ward Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard; and Leata Prince-Land.
Voters should elect Leata Price-Land in Ward 26.