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Jones tops Spencer in historic contest for mayor; ‘I believe in St. Louis’

CITY HALL – City Treasurer Tishaura Jones won the mayor’s office on Tuesday in the first all-women race for the city’s top job. With all votes counted, Jones defeated 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer by a vote of 30,099 to 27,819, or 51.68 percent of the votes vs. 47.77 percent.

Out of the 201,409 registered voters in the city, 58,593 people exercised their right to vote by casting ballots. That’s 29.09 percent of registered voters.

In her victory speech Tuesday night, Jones thanked her backers and cited her strong family ties to St. Louis, vowing to work for all city residents whether they voted for her or not. She pledged to respect and help provide opportunities for everyone, particularly members of marginalized groups.

“We’ve begun breaking down the historic racial barriers and the racial divides that exist and have existed for generations in our city,” she asserted. But, she warned, “as we move forward, transformational change will not be immediate.” The process will demand patience, hard work and determination, Jones acknowledged, citing a “substantial amount of work” to be done.

“I will get up every day, day in and day out, and I will work for you,” she promised.

Jones, the daughter of former St. Louis Comptroller Virvus Jones, touted her experience during the campaign. 

Tishaura Jones became 8th Ward Democratic Committeewoman in 2002.  She served two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives and was the first African-American woman to be Assistant Minority Floor Leader. 

Named treasurer in 2012, Jones is the first African-American woman to serve in that job.

Early in Tuesday’s victory speech after a neck-and-neck campaign, Jones offered hope, saying, “St. Louis, this is an opportunity for us to rise.” And she rounded out that theme by challenging the audience, asking, “I believe in St. Louis; do you believe in St. Louis? I believe in our future; do you believe in our future?”

Spencer, who lives in the Marine Villa neighborhood, entered city politics after learning of plans to close the Marquette Recreational Pool. She wound up running for 20th Ward Alderman in 2015, beat longtime Alderman Craig Schmid and went on to get the pool reopened.

Since then 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.  

On Tuesday night, Spencer thanked her family and other supporters and conceded the race to Jones, saying, “I’m proud to be a citizen of St Louis tonight. The treasurer was my opponent, but she is not my enemy.”

“The road ahead is going to be long, we have a lot of challenges ahead, but I’ve never had more hope for our city than I have right now,” Spencer said. “I promise you this, I will continue to do the work.”

She pointed to the historic nature of this election: “Our city broke a glass ceiling tonight, a ceiling that should never have been there, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.” She celebrated other historic facts: The city will have its first mayor who is a single mother (as both candidates are) and its first Black woman mayor (Jones is Black; Spencer is white).

Spencer and Jones entered Tuesday’s election under a new system approved by voters in November. Under Proposition D, all candidates are nonpartisan. In the March primary, people could vote for as many candidates as they wanted, and the two with the most votes advanced to the general election. 

Jones and Spencer came in first and second, respectively, in the March 2 primary, while two other candidates – Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and businessman Andrew Jones – came in third and fourth. 

Comptroller Darlene Green was unopposed and easily won re-election. 

Earnings tax to continue

Residents also voted overwhelmingly, at more than 79 percent, to keep the 1 percent earnings tax for another five years. Currently, 36 percent of the city’s general fund revenue is earnings tax collections. Without that tax, the city would have to raise property and sales taxes or sharply cut services, supporters said.

Under a statewide proposition approved by state voters in 2010, residents of St. Louis and Kansas City must approve ballot measures every five years approving extension of their earnings tax. Voters in both cities approved five-year extensions in 2011. That proposition also prohibited any other cities in Missouri from introducing an earnings tax.

Mayor Lyda Krewson thanked voters in a statement Tuesday night, saying that “the vast majority” of city voters continued to support the tax because they understood “how critical it is to providing sufficient funding for essential municipal services that save lives, protect neighborhoods, and benefit the entire St. Louis region.”

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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