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The year that was: 2020 in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – It looked as if St. Louis was starting just another year, when news came that a mysterious new disease had come to the city.

By year’s end, hundreds had died of the COVID-19 coronavirus in St. Louis, and thousands had contracted the disease within in city. Intensive care rooms in area hospitals were dangerously close to their maximum capacity. Vaccines designed to halt the illness finally arrived in December, but it looked as if months would pass before everybody could get a shot.

Without COVID-19, other events might have been the biggest St. Louis stories of the year. Among them were the local reaction to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis; the international coverage of a Central West End couple who pointed guns at a crowd of protesters; and the news that St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson would not run for re-election. And the St. Louis Public Schools were slammed with protests over a proposal to close 11 schools.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories:

Disease turns city upside down

COVID-19 forced the closings of schools, Cardinals baseball games, churches, businesses and any other place where the infected might spread it to the healthy. A new technology called Zoom allowed the newly isolated to see and talk to others, but the experience still fell short of being there in person.

Everywhere in town, people trying to stay safe wore masks over half the face, covering the nose down. But many didn’t wear them, either because they forgot to wear them or didn’t think they were necessary.

By Dec. 28, the St. Louis Department of Health reported that 294 people had died of COVID-19 so far, while 15,821 had contracted the disease in the city.

Although the statistics seemed grim, there was hope in the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of two vaccines in December. However, only small amounts have arrived so far, and it may be months before everyone can get vaccinated.

Police killing brings major protests here

Protesters demonstrate against police brutality in the death of George Floyd.

The killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 set off a night of violence in St. Louis the night of June 1-2. Nonviolent demonstrations escalated to looting, shooting and attacks on law enforcement. Retired police Capt. David Dorn was killed, and four city police officers were shot but survived.

Perhaps the worst affected shopping district was MLK Plaza just off Page and Grand boulevards. Nine of the 14 stores in the plaza were damaged. The anchor store, a Save-a-Lot supermarket, was not touched.

The violence notwithstanding, the killing of Floyd brought new life to the Black Lives Matter movement here, as it did nationally.

Demands for mayor’s resignation

It was bad enough when Krewson used a Facebook Live event mainly about COVID-19 to identify people who had sent in comment cards demanding the defunding of police.

It got really bad for her when more than 50,000 people in and outside of the city signed a petition saying Krewson should resign because she had identified those who had sent in the comment cards. Even after she apologized and took the program down, she got worldwide publicity.

Patricia and Mark McCloskey confront protesters walking by their home in the Central West End on June 28.

Soon, demonstrators showed up at Krewson’s house in the Central West End to protest. The situation escalated when two lawyers, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, pointed guns at hundreds of protesters headed to the mayor’s house.

Video posted online showed Mark McCloskey, 63, and his wife, Patricia, 61, standing outside their Renaissance palazzo-style home in the city’s well-to-do Central West End neighborhood. He could be heard yelling while holding a long-barreled gun. His wife stood next to him with a handgun.

The event brought the McCloskeys national notice and made them folk heroes among conservatives. They were among the speakers at the Republican National Convention.

The McCloskey were charged with felony gun charges for waving guns at the crowd, the Associated Press reported.

Kim Gardner

The Associated Press also reported that Circuit Judge Thomas Clark II later dismissed Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner from the case.

He cited two campaign fundraising emails about the time she filed the charges against the couple in July. Clark contended that Gardner’s office was using a criminal prosecution for political purposes.

Mayor won’t run again

Krewson didn’t take the protester’s advice to resign, but she did announce in November that she wouldn’t run for a second four-year term in the spring elections.

Krewson said the protests had nothing to do with her decision. She said that after her recent 68th birthday, she had discussed running again with her family and decided it was time to retire.

As of Monday, four people had filed for election as mayor in the March 2 primary. They are Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, 20th Ward Alderman Cara Spencer and City Treasurer Tishaura Jones. Filing ends at 5 p.m. Jan. 4.

After the passage of Proposition D in the Nov. 3 election, candidates will no longer run by party but on a nonpartisan basis. In the primary, people may vote for as many candidates as they wish. The top two vote-getters will advance to the April general election. That guarantees that the winner will get more than 50 percent of the vote.

An era passes

In one more election-related highlight of the year, activist Cori Bush ended the Clay family’s half-century dominance of the 1st Congressional District, when she defeated Rep. Lacy Clay in the August Democratic primary.

Clay was elected in 2000 and replaced his father, Bill Clay, who was elected in 2000.

Like Bill Clay, Bush was known as a civil rights protester. She started in Ferguson in 2014 after Michael Brown Jr. was killed by a police officer. She’s been in a number of demonstrations after that, including the 2017 protest of the shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith by St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley.

Lacy Clay defeated Bush in 2018. She worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in this year’s race for the Democratic nomination for president and is a friend of progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

School closure, consolidation plan sparks outcry

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen joined others speaking out in opposition to the proposed closing or consolidations of 11 schools, mostly on the North Side.

The St. Louis Board of Education had planned a vote on the proposal, but delayed the vote until Jan. 12 after the opposition arose.

Seven of the closings would be in the northern part of the district, while four would be in the south. There are more people in south St. Louis than in north St. Louis. The shuttered schools would include Sumner High School, which is the oldest African-American high school west of the Mississippi River.

A resolution passed by the Board of Aldermen said the consolidation and closing plan would continue a practice that harmed the north side more than the south side. It said school closings hurt an area and urged the Board of Education not to act hastily.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams said that after the closings and consolidation, the district could offer more electives and advanced placement classes at high schools, increase school site budgets and hire full-time nurses, social worker-counselors and security officers for all schools.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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