It’s been a week since Lewis Reed defeated both Jamilah Nasheed and Megan Green to win his fourth term as President of the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, March 5. Since that night, the St. Louis Board of Elections has released its breakdown of how each ward voted. An analysis of the results reveals just how Reed won and how Nasheed underperformed in key wards.
Nasheed won more wards than any other candidate. The term-limited state senator with roots in north St. Louis won 11 of the city’s 28 wards. Green won 10 and Reed won 5. If St. Louis picked its Aldermanic President using the same electoral college system that we use to elect the President of the United States, Nasheed would have won by a landslide. But we don’t (nor does any other city that I know of). We use votes. And those 11 wards—all majority-black wards—produced just 12,517 votes (36% of the total votes casted in the election).
Reed came in first or second place in 25 wards. He came in second in all but one of the 11 wards Nasheed won. As a result, Nasheed netted only 3,012 more votes than Reed in those 11 mostly north side wards. Meanwhile, in the 5 wards that Reed won—all south side, majority white wards—Reed netted 3,306 more votes than Nasheed. Those five south side wards produced a total of 8,454 votes.
Green most benefited from the underperformance of the better-funded Nasheed campaign. Not many people expected Green to get as large a percentage of the vote as she did. I think much of that is due to Nasheed’s failure to make her case with white progressives, who she wound up blaming on election night for her loss. That left the door open for Green to claim much more of the anti-incumbent vote.
Green also got a boost in the last days of the campaign by publicizing an online attack from the St. Louis City police union which labeled Green as an anti-cop communist. Green has called herself a socialist, but not a communist. Anyway, claiming to be a victim of online bullying may have scored Green a few points with “the enemy of my enemy must be my friend” voters, allowing her to over-perform in wards like 6, 24 and 25.
The 10 wards that Green won—all south and central wards—produced 13,872 votes. Green got 2,239 more votes than Reed in those wards, but she got 3,349 more votes than Nasheed. Reed came in second in eight of these wards.
The thing that should be most disturbing to the black community is the low turnout among black voters. In the 11 majority-black wards that Nasheed won, average voter turnout was below 15%. Each ward averaged just 1,138 votes per ward. In contrast, the five wards that Reed won averaged almost 21% turnout and 1,691 votes per ward. That’s 1.5 times as many votes per ward.
This imbalance could be a reflection of apathy, or a general displeasure with politics, or lack of interest in the candidates. It could also reflect a continued decline in population in north St. Louis or a decline of St. Louis’ black population in general. Recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest St. Louis City is no longer majority black.
Whatever the cause, the result is that it will continue to be difficult for north side or African-American candidates to win citywide without strong support in south St. Louis. Reed largely benefited from his longtime name recognition and his moderate political stances.
As his opponents raced to the left, pandering to progressives, Reed became the clear option for older, more conservative south side voters who are not anti-business or anti-police. To them, the idea of closing down the city jail and releasing prisoners into the community with ankle monitors, as was proposed by Nasheed, is a non-starter. As is the idea of cutting the police department budget, as was proposed by Green, at a time when the number one concern among city residents is crime and safety.
In the days following the election, Nasheed supporters and Green supporters argued back and forth online about who cost who the election, both sides taking pride in how close their candidates came to victory and expressing frustration about “what if” the other candidate wasn’t in the race. But that’s not politics. Politics is about power. Politics is about winning. Politics is about building the coalitions necessary to win. This isn’t the game of horseshoes. Coming close is still losing.
The challenge moving forward for black voters and white progressive voters, neither of whom alone have the votes to win in St. Louis today, is building coalitions to accomplish specific goals. That’s impossible to do as long as compromise is viewed as capitulation.
The battle is over. Reed is the winner. He is not right-winged, not a Republican, not a MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter. He is what a few years ago would have been clearly identified as a progressive black Democrat. In other words, he’s someone black and white progressives can work with, if they choose to. The alternative, perpetual infighting, will only lead to more losses for everyone.