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UMSL professors reflect on historic election for mayor

CITY HALL – The election of the first African-American female mayor of St. Louis will go down in history, two political science professors at the University of Missouri-St. Louis say.

David Kimball and Anita Manion both use the words “historic” to describe what happened when City Treasurer Tishaura Jones won the mayoral election on April 6. Both professors predict that her victory will cause a sharp shift in the city’s government.

Jones defeated 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer 52 percent to 48 percent. Jones replaces retiring Mayor Lyda Krewson, the first city’s female mayor.

“It’s the first black female mayor of St. Louis, so I think, you know, there’s a certain symbolism there that it’s a historical milestone for the city, in that respect,” Kimball said.

Anita Manion
David Kimball

“In St. Louis’s history, we’ve only had one woman mayor and two African-American mayors, so Tishaura Jones would have been historic in either of those things, but the combination is groundbreaking,” Manion agreed.

A combination of factors helped lead to Jones’ success.

“Jones racked up big vote margins in North City, [which is] to be expected.” Kimball said. “Then combine that with pretty strong voter support in some wards south of Highway 40 south of Highway 44 in the southeast part of the city, so I think, you know, those two combinations put together put her over 50 percent in this election.”

Jones put together an enthusiastic coalition, Manion said, something that’s important when voter turnout is low.  

“Cara Spencer made it close, because in those wards where she did better, in the south part of St. Louis, those are wards that traditionally have higher voter turnout, and that held this year. But Tishaura Jones really won the districts more in north St Louis where we have heavier African-American populations – but also in the central corridor, where you have a multiracial coalition,” Manion noted.

 “She was able to bring together a number of different coalitions, and it’s the first mayor we’ve had in a while that’s won the African-American vote and that’s won in north St Louis,” Manion explained.

Residents can expect to see a shift toward the progressive wing of the Democratic party, Manion and Kimball said. But Kimball pointed out that financial constraints might hold that back.  

Although Jones is more progressive than mayors in the past, she still will have to work together with the comptroller and the President of the Board of Aldermen to make financial decisions, in the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. That body, made up of those three officials, makes financial decisions for the city. 

“I suppose if you are a progressive in St. Louis you’re feeling really good over the last year, seeing maybe younger people, women, women of color, people of color; and some of what they termed the old guard being pushed out,” Manion said.  “I think that there’s a lot of hope amongst progressive Democrats in St. Louis City.”

Manion and Kimball said they thought there might be a future in citywide politics for Spencer. 

“Cara Spencer has long been critical of the president of the board,” Manion said. “That position will be up for re-election in two years. I wouldn’t be surprised if she might be eyeing that.”

Kimball and Manion weren’t as hopeful about the future of Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, who came in third in the March primary race for mayor. 

“This is his third time running for mayor, and he’s lost each time; and he was a fairly distant third place this time around in the primary,” Kimball noted. “So I think that’s maybe a warning sign for his future, at least as a citywide elected official.”

The ward-by-ward ballot figures for the election show how Jones outpaced Spencer on April 6.

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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