CITY HALL – The common thinking is that the four newly elected members of the Board of Aldermen are progressives. Not quite. In interviews with MetroSTL.com, they laid out positions that often matched what progressives believe. But there were differences.
As they prepare to be sworn in on Tuesday, here is what the new board members are saying:
“I consider myself a moderate-slash-progressive,” said incoming Fifth Ward Alderman James Page, who defeated incumbent Tammika Hubbard in the Fifth Ward, one of four that include parts of downtown. “I’m progressive on a number of issues in and around the city and moderate on some others.
Page said he supported an effort to “flip the board” and make it more progressive and more moderate and less conservative. “I am a participant in that on several issues; and on some issues, a little more moderate,” he explained.
Page said a major issue would be how to spend the more than $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief money coming into the city. “I am looking forward to working with newly elected Mayor Tishaura Jones and my fellow alderpersons to make sure that those funds are equitably and effectively and efficiently distributed throughout the ward for the best use or the best benefit of our constituents.”
Other issues Page sees include what will happen with the Medium Security Institution, also called the workhouse, and what happened with the City Justice Center, where there have been insurrections.
“I agree with our newly elected mayor or mayor-elect that I really want the city to take a deep dive into the root causes for crime.” Page said.
Page would like to see communications among neighborhood and business groups and others. He’d like something done about blighted buildings.
Stephens shies away from a title such as “progressive.” But in an interview, the newly elected 12th Ward Alderman laid out positions that match the progressives’.
“I’ve been called a Democrat, I’ve been called a progressive. I’ve been called many other things than that,” said Stephens, who defeated incumbent 12th Ward Alderman Vicky Grass. “What I am is a dedicated citizen of this city, and I think that I stand with many other dedicated officials. And to be on the Board of Aldermen will be an act of diplomacy, and it will be an act finding that common ground that won me that seat in the first place.”
The city needs to take a hard look at public safety and public services such as streets, said Stephens, whose ward is in far south St. Louis.
Stephens considers conditions in the workhouse to be a violation of human rights and supports its closing. But he doesn’t support relocating the detainees. He favors adding proper locking mechanisms at the City Justice Center and the maintenance of basic hygiene there. Also, he’s against cash bail as a way of regaining a person’s freedom.
The pandemic has presented the city with a big opportunity to fix many of its cultural and social and justice inequities, Stephens said.
“With the $500 million coming from the federal government and with having a new quote-unquote ‘progressive’ born in a new mayor, we are so uniquely positioned to address major issues such as the digital divide,” he said.
Schweitzer, who defeated longtime 13th Ward Alderwoman Beth Murphy, said she favored issues progressives favor. Those include closing the workhouse, making sure the airport isn’t privatized and addressing the root causes of crime. She said she appreciated that Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones wanted to get COVID relief money out to the public quickly.
Scheitzer said crime was a major issue that came up when she talked to residents during the campaign. She would like to see a focus on addressing its root causes, including poverty.
“The main thing comes down to one: There is no panacea. There is no ‘This is going to fix it and now we’re done,’” Schweitzer said.
In addition, Schweitzer said, she’s looking forward to the upcoming redistricting in which there will be 14 wards instead of 28. She’s like to see an independent committee help develop the ward lines as well as using best practices in developing districts.
“I am going to be sworn in to a two-year term and do the best I can,” Schweitzer said. She added that if the people wanted to keep her after that, they’d elect her again as part of a 14-member board.
“I would say I’m progressive in the way that I feel there needs to be changes here in St. Louis, there needs to be transparency and accountability,” said Tina Pihl, who replaces retiring 17th Ward Alderman Joe Roddy. She defeated Michelle Sherod in the general election.
Pihl brings to her new job experience as a professional city planner in Boston, Denver, Washington and St. Louis. That experience convinced her that the city needs a formal comprehensive plan to set direction for its future.
”What I’ve seen here is that our city is a lot slower in terms of change,” Pihl said.
Speaking of what’s possible, Pihl said Denver came up with a 20-year plan to revitalize more than 40,000 acres opened up when its airport moved. The city well exceeded its plan to move 30,000 people there.
An updated plan would deal with housing, health, public health, safety and community services. It also would show how everything goes together, Pihl said.
Pihl also said there had been a large amount of development in her ward, which is in the far western and central part of the city. She said there was a need for affordable and equitable development.
“People are being pushed out because rents are going up, rents are becoming higher,” Pihl said. “We’re losing some of the diversity here.”
She said spending of COVID-19 relief money should be based on accountability, community and equitable distribution.