We all know that a lot has happened since the 2017 Mayor election.
For the past 4 years, I've been focused on the development side of things. Writing stories about real estate development projects in the City has taught me more than a lot of people may realize. I see the trends of developers and politicians pushing for continued Central Corridor revitalization while leaving out the places where a majority of the citizens live, the North and South sides. Those are the areas of town where our culture lives, and to see them being ignored by many is saddening to me. I know that we cannot force developers to invest in neighborhoods that they don't want to, but City Government should start making attempts to make currently "undesirable" neighborhoods desirable again. It's really one of the only ways to hopefully lead us to population growth.
I've also learned that the start-up scene here is one of the strongest in the nation. Coupled with more affordable housing options across the entire City, an overall cheaper cost of living, and neighborhoods that are full of character, St. Louis has a lot that we can capitalize on. However, I've also seen the issues of crime, our schools, and homeless raised on posts I share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. People who comment about these issues say that they're what's holding us back along with an outdated government system. I agree with them.
The two candidates running for Mayor in the General Election this cycle, Treasurer Tishaura Jones (previous ran a close race for Mayor in 2017 and won reelection as Treasurer in 2020) and 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer (won reelection as 20th Ward Alderwoman in 2019), both have crime as one of the pillar issues of their campaigns. Both understand the burden that crime is placing on our City and have different, but similar, ways of attempting to tackle the crime issue. Both candidates indicate their support for a better public school system, which is crucial if we want future generations of St. Louisans to have a bright future. Both candidates have also indicated their support for expanding transit access in the City of St. Louis.
I've also listened to interviews both candidates have done over the past several months, watched some of the candidate forums both have taken part in, and have seen what their respective supporters have tweeted and posted on Facebook about their preferred candidate and the opposing candidate and her supporters.
After reviewing both candidates platforms, listening to interviews and candidate forums, and seeing how supporters act on social media, I recommend 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer for Mayor of the City of St. Louis.
The vision she presents is clear and well thought out. Her campaign website and numerous interviews with Public Radio and McGraw Milhaven on 550 KTRS showcase her plans in more detail than you might expect, especially from a candidate. The solutions that Cara Spencer presents utilize data that is readily available to those who seek it. Instead of proposing ideas that may of worked in the past, Cara is looking to modernize our City government and use modern solutions to hopefully lead to fixes of problems that have existed for years. Cara also refrains from tweeting attacks at members of the media and public who question her and her motives, which was a fixture in politics over the last several years and continues for some politicians, both locally and nationally. In other words, she has a calm demeanor that doesn't seek to divide us, which is refreshing.
Her campaign website highlights 8 pillar issues, those being:
Standing up to Special Interests.
Racial Equity in Decision Making.
Responsiveness in City Hall.
Building an Economy that Works for Everyone.
The issues I put in bold are the ones that I believe could turn our trajectory around. While standing up to special interests, including racial equity in decision making, responsiveness in City Hall, and building an inclusive economy are all very important, I see those issues as "branch issues" from the primary issues at hand. COVID-19, while important right now, will eventually pass but we do have to continue navigating it, even if for a few more months.
Perhaps the biggest issue, and the one hurting many families in St. Louis and our national image, is crime. In particular, violent crime. Homicides in 2020 were the highest that they have been in decades with 267 lives being claimed throughout 2020. Already in 2021, the SLMPD states that we have had 36 homicides (as of March 12th). That's about 3.6 per week. If this rate holds up, we could have 187 by years end, which is not good but a little bit better than 2020 (which saw 262 homicides). This is not a good image for our City. We need a plan that can hopefully put us on the right track and avoid numbers like this.
Cara Spencer has outlined a 10 point plan to reduce crime in the City. Focusing on "focused deterrence", answering all 911 calls (which presently, about 35% of 911 calls are answered by an answering machine), implementing a 311 system for non-urgent calls, and maximize intelligence to getting the bad guys off of the streets. Her plan also calls for rebuilding trust with the police department. It's all something that we need to do in order to reduce our violent crime, make us safer, and lead to change in our national, and even regional, image.
The second biggest issue, for me at least, is our schools. Future generations need to have a good education to succeed. We need to make sure that our schools are funded enough to keep them open and competitive with other schools in the City and region. It's how we will keep, and maybe even grow, the number of families living in the City. Right now, why would young families stuck around in the City when they can hop across the City-County line and have access to better school districts (examples: Mehlville, Lindbergh, Clayton, University City, Rockwood, Parkway, etc)? If we can improve the quality of our schools and invest money where it's needed, we can earn back points from families and may even see an increase in the St. Louis Public School population.
Beyond this though, Cara makes it clear that closed school buildings should be maintained and kept as a community center of sorts. Efforts to turn former schools into loft apartments have been ongoing across the City for several years now. But as the stock of school buildings in desirable neighborhoods starts to decrease, it's time to think about the future and saving school buildings for community usages, or maybe even schools again.
While the Central Corridor is on the right track for development, North and South City are lacking significant investment. This lack of investment is causing some neighborhoods to deteriorate and some to lose their shine. Coupled with crime in some neighborhoods, it's clear to see why developers are leaving some neighborhoods out. In Cara Spencer's 20th Ward, neighborhoods such as Gravois Park and Dutchtown have started to see upticks in development through partnerships that benefit the community. Chippewa Park is a primary example, which has renovated several former dilapidated buildings and turned them into new affordable and market rate housing developments with some include commercial space to activate the sidewalks a bit. Another example is the stabilization and resilience of the Cherokee Street business district. New businesses come and go there, but it's still a strong business district and the success is now spreading to nearby areas.
Across the City, similar steps to Chippewa Park can be taken, which Cara makes clear in her campaign issues. One big step is to stabilize as many of our city-owned (LRA) vacant buildings as possible to improve safety in neighborhoods. Next would be to promote equitable investment into neighborhoods that doesn't leave the poor out, but also doesn't leave the more well off people out. Finally, the plan calls for holding landlords responsible for the conditions of their properties. Whether occupied or not, buildings needs to be held up to code for the safety of all St. Louisans and, in my opinion, preserve our past for our future (which has it's environmental benefits).
The 2021 General Election, on April 6th, will be the first election in the City to be a "run-off election" thanks to the newly implemented approval voting system. This style of voting was approved during the November 2020 election as "Proposition D". This means that the April 6th election is more important than other general elections for all competitive elections across the City.
Make sure to vote on April 6th and help make your candidate for Mayor, whether it be Treasurer Jones or Alderwoman Spencer, or Candidates for Aldermen in 13 contested races, victorious. And if your candidate of choice loses his or her respective election, don't fret! The City we all love and want to see better off will still be here. No matter who wins or loses, we have work to do and should work towards becoming a more unified City in the hope of resolving, or working to resolve, the issues that effect all of us.
Edit on March 21st: Story changed to focus on the April 6th general election rather than the Primary. Republished on March 21st.