ST. LOUIS – State Rep. Steven Roberts, who is vacating his seat for a Senate run, publicly endorsed community activist and pastor the Rev. Darryl Gray recently at a Fourth Ward Community Meeting.
The available seat that Roberts, a lawyer and chairman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, is seeking is that of Jamilah Nasheed, who has reached her term limit.
Roberts’ Missouri House of Representatives predecessor is current City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardener.
As for his choice of a successor to his House seat, Roberts said Darryl Gray had earned his confidence.
“I think he will be a good fit for the Missouri House and a strong successor for me given his experience in state government,” Roberts explained in a telephone interview from Fort Lauderdale, Texas, where he was attending the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ annual conference.
Gray’s resume includes serving in the Kansas senate and his current post as secretary of the Missouri Democratic Party. He has a degree in political science and worked beats on that front as an editor and journalist.
A longtime pastor and Army veteran, Gray has more than 40 years as a community activist.
Roberts and Gray met during protests of then-County Prosecutor’s Robert McCullough’s refusal to charge former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the controversial shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014.
Roberts said of Gray, “I saw a lot of his work with the activist community in St. Louis city, and he has that foundation of understanding of how to build coalitions and work with people.”
Further, Roberts said, “He’s really able to relate to and identify with people from all types of backgrounds, and I think his experience as a pastor is a great skill that has helped him to make those kinds of connections.”
Gray said the nod from Roberts meant a lot. However, he isn’t taking it sitting down.
“He’s my representative and we have talked a lot, but I don’t expect to be entitled to a seat,” Gray said. “I’m going to knock on every door in the district; I’m going to earn it, and I think he appreciates that sentiment,” Gray said.
Gray also knocked on doors earlier this year campaigning for 18th Ward alderman after Terry Kennedy gave up that seat. The ward’s longtime committeeman Jesse Todd beat Gray in that race, but Gray said he had won more experience and knowledge.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Jesse Todd; he earned the win,” Gray said. “He has 20 years of service and you can’t take that away from him, but my commitment is to work with him and I’ve tried to do that and I told him that I would never work against him because he’s my alderman.”
Knocking on doors, talking and listening to people during that campaign, Gray said, he found that those constituents were tired of the norm.
“We’ve got to move from protest and politics to policy,” Gray said, explaining that “it’s one thing to be political and a protester, but if those two things are not resulting in policy, then all we’re doing is spinning our wheels.”
Like Roberts, Todd is big on criminal justice reform, crime reduction and social policy.
Although filing for the 2020 state House and Senate races doesn’t begin until the last Tuesday in February and runs until the last Tuesday in March, Gray finds it important to start his campaign now.
“People need to know your intentions,” he said. “That way, when you’re going into the community, people know. Everything is above board, everything is transparent.”
Gray is currently in talks with city and state governing bodies and the St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens School Districts to promote after-school programming. He recently met with Gov. Mike Parson, who told him to come up with an initiative that Parson could support and find resources for.
That initiative is The Village, an after-school program encompassing prevention (including mentoring and scholastic support), intervention, enforcement and re-entry.
Both successfully operating city schools and those on the verge of closing will participate in the program. Gray and St. Louis schools superintendent Kelvin Adams have identified nearly 15 buildings in wards Three, Four, Five, 18, 21 and 27. The wards are considered to contain high-crime areas.
“We say if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a village to save a child,” Gray said, who may be campaigning to become policymaker during that time.
The primary is scheduled for Aug. 4 and the general election for Nov. 3, 2020.