CITY HALL – To many, the question of whether to reduce the number of St. Louis wards to 14 from 28 seemed settled. But it returned to the Board of Aldermen last week, when black aldermen made impassioned pleas to put the question on the ballot one more time.
“For some reason, people have framed an argument that 28 people is too much,” 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd said at the June 14 board meeting. He spoke in favor of a bill calling for one more election on the issue. “What it’s saying is, ‘Let the people decide.’”
City voters approved a charter amendment change in 2012 that called for the reduction in the number of wards and aldermen. Starting in April 2022, the board will consist of 14 member plus the president of the board.
“We are a majority population in our city,” said 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, the bill’s sponsor. But blacks hold only 11 seats out of the 28 seats on the board, he said.
“The intent is to take complete control over black wards,” he said. “Black aldermen stand united in putting this back on the ballot box.”
Mayor Lyda Krewson, who would have to sign any bill that reaches her desk in order for it to take effect, said she still supported the 2012 proposition that called for reducing the number of aldermen. She said that at the time, as 28th Ward alderman, she was one of the primary sponsors of the bill. The proposition won heavily at the polls.
Collins-Muhammad said at the June 3 meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee that reducing the number of wards without a solid plan would hurt the North Side and other wards.
“Right now our communities are ravaged by decay,” Collins-Muhammad said. “Systematically, it is impossible to create equity within two years of a reduction.”
Collins-Muhammad also said that voters had rejected the ward reduction four times before they voted for it in 2012. Because of that, it wouldn’t be wrong to ask the public one more time, he said.
Black aldermen stressed the need for more representation in distressed wards both in north St. Louis and in certain parts of the south side.
“Doubling your ward may be a great thing, and maybe somebody will give you some staff to support you,” Boyd said. But there are greater challenges in the hard-pressed wards, he said.
The speeches at the June 14 meeting, most of them by black aldermen, came before what was to be the first of two votes required for approval. But just before a vote on the matter normally would take place, Collins-Muhammad pulled it and put it on the board’s informal calendar. He could bring it up again at any time.
Collins-Muhammad wouldn’t say why he had pulled the bill. But one likely “yes” vote was missing: 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, the measure’s cosponsor. That was important, because supporters needed his vote.
Opponents of the planned reduction spoke out at the meeting.
“It’s very hard to get hold of an alderman now. How will that be?” 1st Ward Alderman Sharon Tyus asked. “Tricking people into doing what is not in their best interest is not in their best interest.”
Fourth Ward Alderman Samuel Moore said the only people who would benefit from the legislation were the millionaires and the billionaires.
“It will hurt the African-American community,” Moore said. People need to be informed, he said. “It will make it impossible for north St. Louis to develop ourselves.”
Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley read a long list of ways in which African-Americans in the city are struggling, including poverty, children’s emergency room visits for asthma, lead poisoning and other concerns. He also mentioned the number of shootings of children in recent days.
“We’re talking about reducing leadership,” Bosley said.