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Krewson vetoes bill for new vote on ward reduction

CITY HALL – Some worry the mayor’s veto of a bill calling for an election to
keep the number of wards at 28 will hurt Black representation in St. Louis.
But Mayor Lyda Krewson recommended another way to protect that representation, in a statement after she vetoed the bill this week.

“The Board of Aldermen and the Administration must work together to redraw the new ward boundaries to ensure fair and equitable representation for all our residents,” she said.

In November 2012, more than 80,000 city voters approved a charter amendment cutting the size of the Board of Aldermen, Krewson noted.

“They sent a clear and convincing message to their elected leadership that they want a smaller legislative branch of local government,” she said. “As an original co-sponsor of the legislation to reduce the size of the board to 14 aldermen, I continue to be a strong supporter of this reform measure.”

Under that measure, the number of wards change from 28 to 14 at the start of 2022. Aldermen for each of those wards are to be elected in 2023.

But 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad pointed out that only 11 of the 28 wards in the city are represented by Black people. He sponsored the bill calling for the new election.

“This measure to reduce will dramatically hurt the majority of Black-populated wards,” Muhammad wrote in a text. “The reduction of Black aldermen will essentially take away Black influence in the city’s political spectrum.”

Muhammad said that voters weren’t properly educated on ward reduction and its impact on the city’s government when they voted to reduce the number of wards. He called the reduction plan “fiscally and socially irresponsible.”

The only hope for supporters of the bill is for aldermen to override the veto. The rules of the Board of Aldermen and the City Charter both say it takes a two-thirds vote, or about 20 votes, to override. Supporters would have to get about five more votes, because the bill narrowly passed, 15-13.

African-American aldermen have long opposed the reduction because they worry that it may cut the amount of representation they have. Citing the extra demands for services in their area, they say it would be harder to handle an area twice as big as they have now.

Muhammad stated: “I stand willing and ready to work with my colleagues in the Board of Aldermen and community leaders to come up with a real plan to reduce wards in an effective and transparent way that is inclusive to the needs of all residents – especially those who have been historically left out [of] the political process and ignored by Room 200 for the last three decades.”

Room 200 of City Hall is the mayor’s office.

Muhammad introduced the bill in June 2020. The bill received initial
approval in July 2020, one step away from final passage. But Muhammad held the bill from further consideration in September and brought it back for a final vote recently.

One alderman who strongly opposed the mayor’s veto is Joseph Vaccaro of the
23rd Ward.

“It was a big mistake,” Vaccaro said. “This has really hurt Black people in the city of St. Louis. It’s really going to hurt minority participation.”

However, 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard said she thought Krewson had done what she did for the best.

“I voted for it [Muhammad’s bill] only because some of my constituents expressed concern about reducing the number of aldermen. As a matter of fact, the 14th Ward voted in favor of the reduction back in 2012. I am fine with her decision,” Howard wrote in an instant message.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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