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In their own words: Mayoral candidates debate

ST. LOUIS – The two candidates for mayor covered a wide range of topics in a debate broadcast on Fox 2 Now, KPLR 11 and KMOX on Monday night. Here, in their own words, is what they said in opening statements and about three key issues. Comments were edited for space.

Opening statements

TISHAURA JONES: At the core of my campaign is a simple belief that you should be able to succeed here regardless of your skin color, who you love, how you worship, your ZIP code or any identity you hold. This pandemic has laid bare the inequities that have always existed in this city. Racism, the unequal delivery of city services and access to health care are issues that have permeated our policy-making decisions for generations. It’s time to say no to business as usual and say yes to a St Louis ready to tackle the 21st century.  

CARA SPENCER: St. Louis is in the fight of its life. We need a leader who will meet this moment of both crisis and opportunity, not with divisiveness, but with grit, unity and hope. Our city was struggling before COVID hit, but I know change is possible. As mayor, I will move us past the challenges of today. It is time for St. Louis to turn the page on cronyism and political dynasties that have presided over decades of decline and dysfunction. It’s time to bring St. Louis back and make City Hall work.

Violent crime

TISHAURA JONES: Not only has St Louis experienced this most violent year in decades, we also are tops in the nation for gun violence by our officers in officer-involved shootings, and we need to turn from an arrest-and-incarcerate model to a prevention model using all of the prevention methods and putting them on the table. And we need to make sure that we rebuild trust in our community. And let’s talk about the elephant in the room. We still have two separate unions for black firefighters and white firefighters, for black police officers and white police officers.  

CARA SPENCER: Crime is personal for me. As the victim of a violent crime myself, I know how important it is. That’s why when I decided to run for mayor I got serious about looking at what the city can and should be doing. Taking from cities that have effectively addressed violence, I put together a comprehensive 10-step plan to start to address violence on Day One. It is unconscionable that over 30 percent of the calls right now going into 911 are being answered by a recording, rather than a trained dispatcher who can actually respond and make sure that our law enforcement can respond appropriately. We have a major breakdown in trust between our communities and our law enforcement agency, and this is preventing the law enforcement community from getting the very vital information we need to solve crime.

Tax incentives

CARA SPENCER: There are real reasons why we need to use incentives, but we have to be judicious, because we have a limited tax base and a pie to to divvy out to those incentives. I have been fighting back when the deals don’t make sense at City Hall since the day I got down there, but it is important to recognize they’re important. We can have a more balanced approach to how we are giving out those incentives so that they’re put to the highest, best use.

TISHAURA JONES: I think we’ve overused incentives in some areas. We’ve spent over $700 million since the year 2000. That’s often to the peril of our school district. Because that money is 60 percent of every dollar that we spend on tax incentives, it takes away money from our schools. So my plan is also to reorient [the St. Louis Development Corporation] to make it more neighborhood-focused, recruit a new SLDC director who is also focused on neighborhoods.  

Spending COVID-19 relief money

TISHAURA JONES: My priorities are, obviously, making sure that we can keep people in their homes through rent/mortgage assistance; helping our small businesses get back on their feet through small business assistance; and also making sure that we set up multiple mass vaccination sites using our flagship hospitals as well as our federally qualified health centers to form a network where everybody can get a shot locally rather than driving for hours like we’ve seen people doing recently. We want to make sure that we’re getting community input as well as on how we can spend the money. 

CARA SPENCER: This is a once-in-a-century opportunity. The amount of money that the city of St. Louis is positioned to receive from the federal government is five times the national average. We need to first address the immediate needs, of course, making sure we have a plan and we are executing an equitable delivery of vaccines into the arms of the folks who are most vulnerable.     

City Justice Center disturbances 

TISHAURA JONES: Those problems existed for months, and our detainees are crying out for help. We don’t do a good job at taking care of our detainees, period. We don’t treat them with dignity and respect. We have to make sure that the doors lock. And we also need to hold everyone accountable for all of the things that are happening at the Justice Center. 

CARA SPENCER:  The folks that we’re housing in both those facilities are not convicted felons. For the most part these are people that are awaiting trial, and it is our responsibility while they’re in our custody to make sure that they are safe and healthy while they are awaiting trial; and we are failing to do those very basic things.  

Listen to the full debate here:

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in St. Louis, 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 four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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