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For Cara Spencer, the road to mayor’s race started at a pool

MARINE VILLA – You could say Cara Spencer’s run for mayor began when her neighborhood pool closed. 

Spencer, a single mother, started working to get the pool reopened. She wound up running for 20th Ward alderman in 2015, beat a longtime alderman and went on to get the pool reopened.

Now 42, she’s been involved in a number of projects on the Board of Aldermen, the best known being her effort to stop the privatization of St. Louis-Lambert International Airport. Now she’s pushing to bring her message to a citywide audience.

“I see our community as one that has a phenomenal history and a phenomenal future,” Spencer said. “We have some rocky roads ahead. We have some real challenges facing our city and our region.”  

Statements such as this came after Spencer saw the closing of a major source of enjoyment in her area, the Marquette Recreational Pool. 

“When it was closed by the city, there was no communication, there was no communication, there was no plan to reopen it, and I thought, ‘What a waste, we have this phenomenal asset, and here it is a giant gaping hole in our neighborhood,’” Spencer said.

She ran for office against two people, including an incumbent who had been in office for 20 years. After that, Spencer didn’t stop at getting the pool opened.

“I look at that as a way in which we can reorient our priorities as a city towards what our citizens want and need,” she said. 

“I decided to run for mayor first and foremost because I love St. Louis, and I believe in us. I think we’ve got tremendous opportunities ahead, but we have got to change course. The elected leadership of St. Louis, we’ve got to have a new direction. We have an archaic form of government, and the same old way of doing business, and it frankly hasn’t been working.”

When Spencer worked to stop the privatization of the city-owned airport, she argued that the only time such privatization of an airport was tried in the United States, in upstate New York, it was a complete failure.

“I was very worried about the process through which we were considering the privatization of the airport,” Spencer said. “Without public dialogue, transparency, without an elected body that’s really communicating effectively to the general public.”

“I fought like heck to make sure that we did not go down dangerous path,” Spencer said. “I didn’t just stand on the right side of that issue, I worked tirelessly to make sure that the public was informed. The proposal failed.”

Spencer said that violence was clearly the No. 1 issue for the city, particularly because it most affects people with lower incomes and those of color. She said she’d been working with national experts who have helped bring crime down.

“St. Louis has been sticking out like a sore thumb on this issue. There are cities throughout the nation very successful in dealing with violence,” Spencer said. “I’m going to bring these folks to St. Louis to help us rewire our public safety system to be more effective to get in line with national standards.”

Spencer said she remained committed to closing the city’s controversial Medium Security Institution, also known as the Workhouse.

“We are unusual as a city to have not one but two incarceration facilities, and that needs to be rectified,” she said.

The recent disturbances at the City Justice Center are cause for serious concern, Spencer said. She is particularly worried that there were not locks on doors. 

“We have to put the public safety first, and we have to put the safety of those in our custody and employees of the city at the top of that priority list,” Spencer said. 

Spencer also said she would emphasize bringing the two sides in the racial divide together. 

“Healing this divide is, I would argue, one of the most important things that the next mayor does,” she said. 

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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